As I have previously mentioned, the World Baseball Classic’s qualifying rounds are about to start. I have, of course, done extensive projections for many of the already-qualified teams, but I am also doing overviews for each qualifying pool as rosters are released. This time: the pool in Regensburg, Germany.
Go after the jump. All rosters are from Baseball America.
About the Venue: Armin-Wolf Arena is one of the finest baseball stadiums in Europe, located in the Bavarian city of Regensburg. It’s usually a pretty small place, holding maybe 2,000 to 4,000, but it’s expandable to 10,000 seats for big events like the WBC. Here’s what it normally looks like from space:
About the pool: For all intents and purposes, this is the European pool: all of the countries are from Europe, except for Canada, which only has to qualify in the first place due to a heavily disappointing 2009 Classic (where they lost to the USA and Italy). Canada should easily win this pool, at least on paper, but, much like in Jupiter, the WBC’s lenient eligibility rules have enhanced the European teams, and in baseball, almost any team can win on any given day if some players perform well and there are a few breaks.
About the country: The world’s second-largest country in land area, it’s border with the United States is the world’s longest. Among the things Canada has given the world over the years include the modern concept of peacekeeping forces, lacrosse, ice hockey, Blackberry, and, of course, William Shatner.
Baseball history: Canada’s history with baseball is almost as old as the game itself, with some evidence that they were playing a game called baseball, but not necessarily the baseball we know, as early as 1838, one of the earliest references to the sport. Throughout baseball’s history, there have been some Canadians playing it in America, although they did not begin arriving in large numbers until the past few decades. Professional Canadian teams have played against American ones since at least the 1870s, when a London, Ontario club played in the International Association (an early minor league), and clubs from Toronto and Montreal were mainstays of the International League before they gained Major League teams.
Canada’s Baseball League: Canada doesn’t have a baseball league, instead being joined at the hip to America’s baseball system (MLB, the Minors, the Indy Leagues, etc.). However, there are some high-quality amateur and semi-pro leagues, such as the Intercounty League in Ontario.
Canadian MLB Players: Over 200 MLB players were born in Canada, including 20 who have seen action on big league rosters this year. A projected roster of what the Canadian team might look like with them on it can be found here. The greatest Canadian player of all time, however, is almost certainly Ferguson Jenkins, the only Canadian currently in the Hall of Fame.
Notable names: The Canadian roster for the qualifiers has several notable names. Larry Walker, easily the greatest Canadian hitter of all time (although several active Canadians may one day take that title from him), is the team’s hitting coach. Long-time Blue Jay and Canadian Manager-For-Life Ernie Whitt is, again, the team’s skipper. Amongst the players themselves can be found former MLBers such as Shawn Hill, Mike Johnson, R.J. Swindle and pitcher-turned-outfielder Adam Loewen. Rene Tosoni is on the roster that Canada has on their website, but Baseball America doesn’t list him, which is weird.
Highest achievers: Besides the former Major Leaguers, there are also some good prospects on the team, as well as players who have done well in previous international competitions. Andrew Albers, for example, was a key part of a Canadian squad that twice upset Team USA last year (in the Pan American Games Gold Medal Game and in the World Cup Bronze Medal Game). Baseball America mentions Kellin Delgan, Tyson Gillies and Philippe Valiquette as prospects to watch.
Outlook: Excellent. At least on paper, the Canadian team, which is made up entirely of currently or former professional players and several former MLB players, should cut through the Europeans like a knife through butter. The only thing that should really worry the Canadians are that the Germans or British might have a pitcher that gets hot and equalizes things, much like how a good goalie in hockey (to use a metaphor Canadians will appreciate) can equalize an otherwise lopsided match-up.
The Czech Republic
About the country: Once half of the nation of Czechoslovakia, the modern Czech Republic came into existence when it and Slovakia peacefully split in the early 90s not long after ther end of decades of communist rule. The capital of the Czech Republic is Prague.
Baseball history: For decades, then-Czechoslovakia had baseball banned, probably due to it’s western connotations (baseball was banned in the People’s Republic of China in the decades following the Cultural Revolution for similar reasons). By the eighties, however, baseball was again being placed, and picked up further interest and government funding when it was added to the Olympics in the late-80s (sadly, because of the sport being dropped from the regular Olympic program, this funding is probably now greatly decreased). In the 1990s, some baseball-specific facilities began to be built, and, as “Mop-Up Duty” notes, the “Prague Baseball Week” began, an event that Jim Caple of ESPN once named as one of the “Ultimate Baseball Experiences”. In 2005, the Czech Republic hosted the European Baseball Championship, some of which was televised on Czech television.
The Czech Republic’s Baseball League: The Czech Republic is home to a small semi-pro league called the Extraliga, which has eight teams.
Czech MLB Players: Three Major Leaguers were born in either the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia, but all of them had lived in America since childhood.
Notable Names: The Czechs don’t have many players who are only there thanks to the lenient WBC eligibility rules, but they do have a few, most notably Mike Cervenak, who had a cup of coffee with the Phillies in 2008.
Highest achievers: Besides Cervenak, players on the roster that have had experience in North America include the Phoenix-born Alex Sogard, as well as actually-Czech minor leaguers Marek Minarik and Martin Cervenka. Sogard has made it to AA, but neither of the Czech-born players have gotten above rookie ball so far.
Outlook: Bad. Much like France in the Jupiter pool, the Czechs should be commended for primarily using players who actually are from their, but they are also likely doomed to going 2-and-out because of it.
About the country: Although the residents of that part of Europe had been called “Germans” since the time of the Romans, the current country of Germany can most formally be traced to when most of the region was unified in 1871. Since then, Germany has been involved in historical events that even the most crummy history student knows about, so I won’t go over them here. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West Germany, the country has grown to be the European Union’s largest economy and it’s most populous one.
Baseball history: The beginning of baseball in Germany comes during one of mankind’s darkest hours: the rise of Nazi Germany. To be more specific, it came during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler’s coming out party to the world. Two teams of Americans (originally it was going to be between Americans and Japanese, but the Japanese team backed out) played an exhibition game in front of a packed Olympic Stadium. Not surprisingly, in the years after this exhibition the German government had no interest in promoting anything American, so it wasn’t until after WWII that baseball began being played in Germany, as American troops stationed there shared it with the locals. To this day, most of the German baseball hotbeds are areas where US troops were during WWII and the Cold War, primarily in southern towns like Regensburg, which was part of the American Zone of occupation in the years following WWII. Germany is in the upper-tier of European baseball, but is still far behind countries like Italy and the Netherlands. Much like many of the other European countries, big thanks to “Mop-Up Duty” for it’s article on German baseball.
Germany’s Baseball League: The top baseball league in Deutschland is the Baseball Bundesliga’s top division, a 15-team semi-pro league that is one of the better ones in Europe.
German MLB Players: Germany or West Germany have had a few dozen players make Major League Baseball, although, much like most of the European countries, most of them moved to America at a young age, either as immigrants or because they were born to American servicemen in Germany. The three German-born MLB players who were active in 2012 (Will Ohman, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Baker) were all born to servicemen in Germany, for example, as was Twins manager and former Mets player Ron Gardenhire.
Notable Names: Germany normally uses almost exclusively domestic players, Baseball America notes, but this time around they will have some players who are only in because of the WBC’s lenient citizenship rules. Will Ohman, no longer with a MLB team, will be playing for the country of his geographical birth (although no doubt he’s also hoping to catch the eye of MLB teams in hopes of getting a contract for 2013). Also taking part due to the eligibility rules will be former Twins minor-leaguer Toby Gardenhire, son of born-in-Germany Ron. There are also a few other passport imports who are playing in the minor leagues (such as Aaron Altherr and Matt Weaver) , although nowhere near the same extent as exists for, say, Israel or Spain.
Highest Achievers: Germany actually has several honest-to-goodness German minor leaguers on their roster in addition to the passport players, some of whom may actually one day play in the Majors. The most notable among them is Reds’ prospect Donald Lutz, who, although born in America, was raised by his German mother in a town outside of Frankfurt. He didn’t even play baseball until he was a teenager. He hit 22 HRs between three levels of baseball this season. Another prospect, one who is highly-touted, is outfielder Max Kepler, one of the best prospects in the Twins’ system. Kepler (also known as Max Kepler-Rozcyki) is the son of two prima ballerinas and hit .297 with 10 HRs in rookie-league Elizabethton this season. Other affiliated players include Mets farmhand Kai Gronauer and Detroit minor-leaguer Alex Burgos.
Outlook: Germany is probably Canada’s biggest threat in this pool. This isn’t to say that will beat Canada, merely that they are the biggest threat. Part of this is because they have the home crowd with them (whatever that might be worth), but it also partly comes from the fact that they will have several affiliated players, as well as a pitcher (Ohman) who was pitching in the Majors this very year. Okay, Ohman is a reliever and isn’t exactly a starter who could hold back the Canadian bats for five-to-seven innings, but experience does count for something. Expect Germany to be facing Canada in the final game to determine who wins the pool.
United Kingdom (AKA Great Britain)
About the country: Once the owners of the world’s largest empire, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland no longer rules the waves, but remains one of the world’s most powerful and influential cultural, economical and political powers. Technically the United Kingdom is actually a country made up of the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland as well as other territories such as the islands in the English Channel, each of which have varying degrees of independence in domestic affairs. However, that’s a lesson for another day and probably another blog.
Baseball history: Baseball, as I noted in family-tree form back during my look at the game’s child sports, is in many ways descended from various games back in the mother country, some of which even were called “baseball” or “base ball”. In fact, Jane Austen even mentioned “base ball” in her 18th century novel, Northanger Abbey. Many of baseball’s founding fathers, most notably Henry Chadwick, came from there. The United States and United Kingdom are forever linked by history, blood and language. To this day, many sports similar to baseball, such as rounders and cricket, are played in the British Isles. All of these facts, however, have proven to be both a gift and curse to baseball’s place in Britain, where, despite a long history and a few spurts of popularity, it remains a curiosity sport at best and a weird American obsession at best. Baseball as we know it was introduced to the Brits in the late 19th century after tours my MLB teams led by Albert Spalding. It had two brief spurts in popularity, at least relative to the rest of baseball’s history over there. The first came in the 1890s after it initially arrived, and a second increase occurred in the years just before WWII, where some teams were getting enough fans where they were playing in soccer stadiums and a semi-pro team actually beat a team of Americans in what is now considered the first Baseball World Cup. Since then, however, baseball has been an afterthought at best in the UK.
Great Britain’s Baseball League: Baseball in Britain is strictly amateur, made up of a few tiers of leagues that are all under the British Baseball Federation Umbrella.
British MLB Players: About 42 players in MLB history have been born in the UK, although basically all of the more recent ones had left that country during childhood.
Notable names: The most notable name on the British team is Chris Reed, a London-born (but not raised) pitcher who played in the Futures Game this season.
Highest Achievers: The Brits don’t rely quite as much as Israel and Spain do on passport players, but they definitely do have a bunch of them, such as Michael Roth (a key member of South Carolina’s NCAA championship teams), Hamilton Bennett, Chris Berset and Antoan Richardson. Richardson, who had a cup of coffee in 2011 with the Braves, is from the Bahamas but is eligible because his grandparents were British citizens.
Outlook: So-so. If this were a 162 game schedule, the British would almost certainly end up in third place. They shouldn’t be able to beat Germany and they definitely shouldn’t be able to beat Canada, even with their passport players added. However, they are good enough that, maybe, if everything broke right, they could conceivably pull it off. But I doubt it.
Unlike the Jupiter pool, which has three teams that could conceivably win it and no runaway favorite, the Regensburg pool does have a favorite: Canada. They should win it. And easily. They have the best players in the group, they have the most experience in the group, and they are, by far, the best “baseball country” in the group. If they lose, it will be a major upset. If I had to pick any country that might be able to pull it off, it would be Germany, due to their nice mix of both homegrown and passport players and the home field advantage. The UK could conceivably also win, although it is extremely unlikely. The Czechs will probably go two and out, but they deserve a pat on the back for having only minimal amounts of passport players.
Until next time….