Our series on the most recent WBSC rankings continued yesterday with a glance at three nations that fell well below their usual Top 5 and Top 10 rating. Our third part in the series looks at a North American nation that achieved a record ranking and may be in a position to maintain it. We also look to Africa, which easily surpassed its previous mark for number of nations in the poll and hear from the manager of the African bronze medalists, who return to the rankings for the first time since 2010.
Mexico Makes Rankings History
We were impressed by the slugging Mexican national team at the Under-23 World Cup in Colombia in late 2018 and the win there was the first of many excellent performances over the next 53 weeks. In 2019, Mexico finished fifth at the Pan-American Qualifier and Under-12 World Cup and sixth at the Under-15 Americas Championship. It also drew a two-game series with Japan, punctuating its year with the Premier 12 bronze medal and Olympic Qualification.
The result is a peak position of No. 5, the highest in Mexican baseball history. Between 2009-15, Mexico averaged a ranking of 9.4, never advancing higher than seventh. Its last four results, however, are sixth, sixth, sixth, and fifth. It will host the Baseball5 and Under-23 World Cups in 2020.
With much of the success coming at the youth levels—even with the absence of ranking points from the Under-10 Pan-American Championship, which Mexico hosted and dominated—it looks like baseball in Mexico may be poised for a sustained run among baseball’s giants. This all the more true after the various baseball organisations in Mexico reached a truce on player participation on the national team.
A Banner Year for African Baseball
The inclusion of baseball in the Olympics meant a massive push for baseball in Africa, with four tournaments held. It was the first organised international action since 2003 for four of the eight teams involved.
“I am truly very happy to have the chance to participate in the WBSC qualification,” the Kochi Fighting Dogs’ and Burkina Faso native Sanfo Lassina told us [translation from French by Gabriel Fidler]. “Baseball is a little known sport in Africa and, especially in Burkina Faso, it is in the process of development.”
“It is up to us young African players to develop it,” continued Lassina, one of only two active African professional baseball players [Louis Okoye] from outside the continent’s southernmost nation. “For the classification we are also surprised because we thought we would not reach this level. We are very happy to see that African baseball is evolving little by little.”
South Africa were the expected and eventual champions and remained at No. 23. However, Uganda (No. 49), Burkina Faso (No. 57), Kenya (No. 62), and Tanzania (No. 73) all entered the rankings for the first time in history. Joining them were Zimbabwe (No. 53), Nigeria (No. 70), and Ghana (No. 74), all rated for the first time since 2010.
“We are very happy as Zimbabwe Baseball to be back on the world ranking,” commented Americo Juma, Head Coach of the southern African country’s senior national team. “It was an achievement [for] us. [The] world ranking will motivate our players and other baseball stakeholders.”
Zimbabwe will build off the success of its first competition since 2007 with an ambitious plan for 2020.
“This year we have so many planned events in Zimbabwe, such as a club championship, schools development programmes, and we also going to introduce women’s baseball from [children] to seniors in Zimbabwe,” explained Juma. “We are also going to have baseball5 league for primary school, club, provincial, and national [leagues]. Baseball5 will be our league preseason activity […] to spread baseball in all corners of Zimbabwe.”
“Currently, we are preparing for the National Baseball Championship that is going to be held in South Africa,” explained Zimbabwe’s skipper. “The tournament will be juniors and seniors, but this year we are going send our Under-18 team (Juniors) as we are building a long-term player development for the senior national team. We want to send both juniors and seniors, but due to our small budget we can’t.”
The three East African nations ought to have already been in the rankings thanks to the 2017 East Africa Baseball Championship. The tournament, like many other sanctioned tournaments, went unrated, however. For more on baseball in the East African nations, our preview breaks down the three active nations [link]. We covered West Africa similarly [link].
Photos of Mexico copyright Extra Innings UK, remaining copyright respective federations.