2023 - A Year of Firsts

2023 - A Year of Firsts
The Baseball Champions League was one of a number of milestones for the WBSC in 2023, on and off the field.

As has been already highlighted recently, the year 2023 was a very successful one for the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) and particularly ground breaking and significant for a number of "firsts" for the international baseball and softball community.

With inaugural tournaments, new competition formats and various attempts to engage new audiences, the WBSC continues to evolve and adapt.

Here's a run down of some of the historic moments of an impressive year for the WBSC and global baseball/softball.

The Baseball Champions League

The Baseball Champions League "is going to change international baseball forever,"
Tournament Commissioner Guillermo Ramirez and Mexican Baseball League (LMB) Executive President Horacio de la Vega said as the newest WBSC competition, the first-ever club tournament in the history of international baseball, was launched in September.

The Fargo Moorhead RedHawks (American Association, USA) will go down in history books as the first-ever champions. They defeated Barranquilla Caimanes (Colombian Professional League) in the final to claim the Baseball Champions League Americas title.

WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari remarked that the Baseball Champions League signals "the start of a new era for our sport, a new beginning for clubs, leagues, players and fans worldwide".

More firsts among WBSC events

The WBSC launched three new events in 2023 as well as a new tournament format.

The Youth Baseball5 World Cup, which will become a qualifying event for the Youth Olympics in 2025, held its inaugural edition in October. It was won by Cuba and was marked by another first - the host country, Türkiye, had never previously hosted a WBSC event.

The WBSC also launched two new softball events. Australia won the inaugural U-23 Men's Softball World Cup in April, while the United States claimed the first-ever U-15 Women's Softball World Cup in October.

The XVII Women's Softball World Cup and the IX Women's Baseball World Cup became the first WBSC tournaments played under the new two-stage format.

Italy will host the Women's Softball World Cup finals from 15 to 21 July. The country had never hosted a Women's Softball World Cup before. Also Ireland and Spain, the hosts for Group A and B during the first phase, saw the competition on their soil for the first time.

Canada will host the Women's Baseball World Cup finals from 28 July to 3 August.

eSport making new milestones

In February, the WBSC attracted new audiences to the sport through the launch of the WBSC eBASEBALL™: POWER PROS, the latest title in the PAWAFURU PUROYAKYU (Powerful Pro-Baseball) series, a Japanese baseball video game series created by Konami Digital Entertainment Inc. (KONAMI). 

The WBSC followed that up in September with the launch of another big concept together with KONAMI, revealing the WBSC eBASEBALL™ Series and the WBSC ePremier12™ at the Tokyo Game Show 2023, one of the biggest gaming Expos in Japan.

Europe on top of WBSC Rankings

France became the No. 1 Baseball5 programme and the first European country to top the WBSC World Rankings. They accomplished the feat after finishing second in the European Championship in November.

Australia also made history as they climbed to the top of the Men's Softball World Rankings for the first time. The Aussies started the year at No. 4 and clinched first place on 22 November, after the U-18 World Cup.

Firsts happen also off the field

In March, the WBSC published the first edition of its annual Governance Report.

The WBSC Integrity Unit compiled the report and has made it public to share the latest progress in the WBSC’s commitment to good governance and improving organisational transparency.

A vital area of the WBSC Strategic Plan 2022-2028, aligned with the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, is establishing a culture of good governance across the WBSC family. The report will be made available on an annual basis moving forward.

The WBSC also published in May the first edition of its annual Integrity Unit Report.

"The report covers every key principle of integrity - anti-doping, governance, prevention of manipulation of competition, safeguarding, sustainability - as well as others, to keep members updated regarding all the WBSC integrity matters," commented WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari. "The WBSC will continuously address best efforts to make our sport stronger, better and more accountable."

In August, during the XXXI WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup, the WBSC Integrity Unit held the first-ever on-site Safeguarding Workshop.

“While it is equally important for everyone involved in the tournament to understand the importance of safeguarding issues, it is a great opportunity to bring the concept of safeguarding to the young athletes and to discuss the issues face to face,” commented WBSC staff member Amy Park, the Athletes Commission Liaison. Park earned an IOC International Safeguarding Officer in Sport Certificate in 2022 with Commission members Randolph Oduber and Erika Polidori.

The WBSC launched its Safeguarding campaign in 2021

Honour the best of the best

Last but not least, a new initiative by the WBSC Media Department. At the end of 2023, staff went through the year's tournaments and elected the best plays of the season.

Samaria Benitez, Mexico's everyday shortstop at the Women's Baseball World Cup, was honoured for the best Baseball World Cup play.

The best play in the 2023 Softball World Cups was the last play of the international season. Japan's centre fielder Ryuga Umeda hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to give his nation the WBSC U-18 Men's Softball World Cup.

Will 2024 be a year of firsts?

When Panama takes the field in the third Premier12, it will mark the first time the Central American country participates in the WBSC flagship event. Panama is currently the No. 10 baseball programme in the world.

Add to that the first-ever WBSC eBaseball PowerPros Series World Finals and the World Baseball Softball Day on 10 May, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the WBSC, and already 2024 is looking like a year which will match 2023 for the number of ground breaking moments, or at least go close.