By Duncan Mackay

World Baseball Classic flagMarch 2 - The World Baseball Classic began in Taichung, Taiwan, today when the hosts beat Australia 4-1 as the sport hopes a good tournament will help it regain its place in the Olympic programme for 2020.

Taichung is one of a number of venues hosting the tournament, which is officially sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), along with Fukuoka and Tokyo in Japan, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Phoenix, Miami and San Francisco in the United States.

The final round is due be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the San Francisco Giants - last year's World Series winner - on March 19.

The event was launched in 2006 partly as a reaction to the controversial decision the previous year by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to cut baseball from the Games after Beijing 2008. 

But it was also started in the hope of demonstrating that baseball does have a global following outside the US, particulary in Asia and the Pacific. 

The field for the 2013 World Baseball Classic has been expanded from 16 to 28 teams with 16 teams having participated in four qualifiers last year.

Besides traditional baseball countries like the US, Japan, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic other countries taking part include the Brazil, Italy Netherlands and Spain. 

Organisers were given an early boost when the Netherlands beat the 2009 runners-up South Korea 5-0 in their opening match in Taichung. 

"Growing the game globally is vital," said Greg Bouris, communications director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

"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."

Among the other reasons that the sport was cut from the Olympic programme was because of the lack of MLB stars who take part in the Games.

A number of top MLB players are representing their countries but there are many more who have by-passed the opportunity to take part to instead concentrate on spring training with their clubs in the US.

World Baseball Classic Fukuoka March 2 2013Japan's Seiichi Uchikawa (right) arrives at the home plate in the eighth inning of the World Baseball Classic first-round match in Fukuoka, where the defending champions beat Brazil

The US have never won the tournament.

They were knocked out in the second round in 2006, and it lost in the semi-finals in 2009 to Japan, who have won both previous tournaments.

The US team for this year's event is being managed by Joe Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series victories.

"It means a lot to us," said third baseman David Wright, who plays for the New York Mets and is one of the to players in the US team. 

"Some of these other teams, they're actual teams.

"It's not just a bunch of individuals.

"We're going to try to become a team, but you have a bunch of individuals that are with different teams now.

"We have to come together in less than a week to form a team.

"Sometimes that's difficult to do."

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