NEW YORK -- Thursday began for Major League Baseball senior vice president of international business operations Paul Archey with a gavel in his hand as the opening bell clanged to start the day's session of the New York Stock Exchange, and it would end for him aboard a long and much-awaited flight to Taiwan. On the other side of the world, a sellout crowd at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium would be in store for the Pool B opener between Australia and Chinese Taipei, officially starting another World Baseball Classic at 11:30 p.m. ET Friday.
"It was a lot of fun, very exciting to be up there to ring the bell and kick off this tournament," Archey said on the NYSE floor amid traders. "What's going through my head is getting on a plane today to get to Taiwan. We have an exciting tournament. I think this is going to be the most competitive World Baseball Classic.
"There's been exhibition games already in Asia, where they've been playing. Australia's played Japan really tough, The Netherlands beat Cuba, so that's already started. I mean, we have 50 All-Stars who play in this thing, we have MVPs, a Cy Young Award winner, Triple Crown winners, MVPs from the Japan League, Korean League, Taiwan League -- so this really is the best international baseball tournament there is, with a lot of talent. It really is going to be competitive."
The opening bell ceremony for the third such tournament also included Al Leiter of MLB Network and Candy Maldonado of ESPN Deportes, broadcasters of the World Baseball Classic; MLB Players Association director of communications Greg Bouris; and the 16 fans from around the world who each will represent a participating country or territory while watching in the MLB Fan Cave.
The sound of that opening bell also was also a metaphor for what was about to happen at Spring Training camps throughout Arizona and Florida. Now it is time for the participating Major Leaguers to join their heritage teams, to shift their focus from World Series to World Baseball Classic. It is a fact of life now for MLB fans, whose favorite clubs will make do without key players for much of the next month.
"It's a collection of [great] players. They're excited," Archey said. "If you listen to [Brandon] Phillips or [Ryan] Braun or [David] Wright, those guys are talking about wearing the USA uniform. All those fans of those teams are just going to have to hop on board and follow those players for their country."
Bouris, representing the union as MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner leads his annual tour of all the spring camps, said players are eager to join their World Baseball Classic teams. As for the always looming worries of a Major Leaguer being injured or adversely affected by this tournament, Bouris said the risk is worth it in the eyes of baseball's union.
"Growing the game globally is vital," he said, "and if you are going to grow the game in this way, you have to do it with the game's best players. ... We're all excited to get this started."
Leiter was a member of Team USA for the first World Baseball Classic in 2006. It was so important to him then that it is the main reason he had come back for one last Spring Training, before retiring at Yankees camp right after that inaugural tournament. He says much has changed, now that Japan has taken the 2006 and '09 tournaments and nations have sized up each other along the way.
"I think every World Baseball Classic, there gets a little more traction, there gets a little more interest every time," Leiter said. "The first one, I was grateful to be part of 2006. There was kind of an uncertainty of this tournament: 'Let's get it going.' But I think now, because of the competitive aspect -- especially with countries around the world wanting to beat the U.S. all the time -- there's another level of heightened excitement.
"I know for sure the USA team, they realize what's in front of them. They want to win this thing. It's serious. It's the best baseball tournament in the world."
The U.S. team will be in Pool D along with Canada, Italy and Mexico, with that group's games scheduled to be played starting March 7 at either Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., or Chase Field in Phoenix. Two of those four teams will advance to the second-round Pool D action at Marlins Park in Miami.
For the U.S., which plays its opener at 9 p.m. ET against Mexico on March 8 at Chase Field, Leiter predicts it will a tough road again. But he said Joe Torre's club is doing things a little different.
"The problem is, there are some countries that really, really want to win this," Leiter said. "I'm not saying the U.S. doesn't want to win it. But when you look at some of the opportunities that are putting these countries in position to practice extensively, work together as a unit over a period of time -- all of those things are part of the cohesive aspect of having a team work together.
"While the time period is what it is, I think it's a little more difficult for Team USA to ramp it up quickly. [They are] starting Spring Training earlier, they're getting their innings in, getting their at-bats in, they're flying out to Arizona, there's going to be a couple of practices and scrimmages and exhibition games, then they get right into it. So that's a little different. The more Joe Torre and the coaching staff reach out to these respective players and say, 'Look, you've got to get this going a little sooner,' I think it could only make these players better. It's not that Team USA is inferior, talent-wise, it's just bringing it together. And having it together as a more cohesive unit a little sooner."
What do you look for in the 2013 World Baseball Classic? Here's what Leiter has in mind:
"It's pretty easy to look at the respective Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, certainly the U.S., as the dominant teams. We know what Japan has done the last couple of tournaments. There are some other teams. I talked to my old friend and teammate, Mike Piazza, and he's excited about Team Italy. The Netherlands is emerging as a country that's excited about baseball. Chinese Taipei, talking to people in Taiwan about the excitement there.
"My excitement would be when you get a key matchup of a premier marquee pitcher and an MVP-caliber player. I'd love to see [Team USA pitcher R.A.] Dickey facing one of the premier Major League guys and see how that plays out. There is a level of excitement and it just grows as the tournament goes along."
In the half-hour before the opening bell, the MLB contingent was in a green-room area and an NYSE staffer had to drop in to hush the group. That's what happens when 16 fans from each World Baseball Classic country or territory get inside the same room. Get ready for a lot of that.
"Nothing like the World Baseball Classic bringing down a big deal like the New York Stock Exchange for being too rowdy," Archey said with a smile.