Another round of WBC qualifiers starts on Thursday, with two pools going. One of them, in Mexicali, is a odd mix of two Latin American countries mixed with two European nations. While Mexico is most definitely the favorite, it’s not inconceivable that a shocking upset will take place… just very unlikely. You can see the rosters here.
Go below the jump for more:
About the Venue: Estadio B’Air AKA Estadio Nido de los Aguilas is a 19,000+ capacity stadium in Mexicali, near the US border. It’s the home of the Mexican Pacific League (winter league)’s Aguilas de Mexicali. It hosted the 2009 Caribbean Series and has fairly standard dimensions of 400 feet to center and 330 feet to left and right.
About the Pool: As I mentioned before, this is a odd pool of two Latin powers and two of Europe’s better baseball programs. Of the four, only Mexico has actually made the WBC tournament, and is only looking to qualify due to coming in last in their pool in the 2013 classic.
About the Country: Gaining recognized independence in 1821 (11 years after it was declared), Mexico is built where the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs once lived. Mexico is home to a rapidly-modernizing economy, the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (Mexico City, narrowly beating out New York), and was the first Latin American host of an Olympics (1968, in Mexico City).
Baseball History: Although it is not nearly as popular in Mexico as futbol, baseball still holds a long and storied history there. Nobody is quite sure how it was first introduced, although it is likely the Americans were involved in some way. Notable events in Mexico’s baseball history include the formation of the Mexican League in 1925, the back-to-back victories of a Monterrey team in the 1957 and 1958 Little League World Series, and Fernando Valenzuela‘s debut with the Dodgers in the early 1980s.
Mexico’s Baseball League: Mexico has two top-level leagues: the Mexican League that plays in the summer (and is classified as a AAA league by affiliated baseball), and the Mexican Pacific League, which plays during the winter and contributes it’s champion to the Caribbean Series.
Mexican MLB Players: 118 MLB players in history have come from Mexico, and plenty of others of Mexican descent have also made their mark, for example with the Gonzalez brothers of Edgar and Adrian, who were born in California but who spent most of their childhood in Mexico. Edgar will be managing Team Mexico this year, while Adrian will be one of two active major leaguers (along with pitcher Oliver Perez) to play for Mexico in the qualifier. While not currently on a big league rosters, outfielder Efren Navarro has also had time in the majors, with 280 plate appearances spread across four seasons. Pitcher Carlos Fisher also has some MLB experience.
Notable Names: Besides the MLB players, some names you might recognize include catching prospects Sebastian Valle and Xorge Castillo, and Leo Heras, who is in the Houston system.
Highest Achievers: A bunch of players on the Mexican rosters have made it to AAA or play in the Mexican League (which made a last-minute deal to allow their players to take part in the tournament). Among players in the lower minors, keep an eye on Sebastian Elizalde, who did well for the Reds’ A-Ball team in 2015.
Outlook: Very good. They should, in theory, win this fairly easy, due to their depth and talent. However, this is baseball, and especially with the final game being a winner-take-all where in theory one bad pitch could mean elimination.
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.
Czech Baseball League: The Czech Republic is home to a small semi-pro league called the Extraliga.
Czech MLB Players: Three Czechs (or at least people born in what is now the Czech Republic) have played MLB, but those were decades to over a century ago. Mike Cervenak is of Czech descent and is on the team, and had a cup of coffee with the Phillies back in 2008.
Highest Achievers: Catcher Martin Cervenka, who actually is from the Czech Republic, is the only the Czech player who was actually born there to currently be active in Affiliated Baseball.
Outlook: Not good. While the Czechs should be commended for actually having a lot of players on their roster who are actually Czech (with only a few “passport” players), the fact is that they are clearly the worst team in this pool and will likely go two-and-out.
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: 43 MLB players have been born in Germany or West Germany, but most of them either moved to America at a young age or were the children of American servicemen. Among them is former MLB pitcher Will Ohman. In addition, there is Donald Lutz, who, while born in the USA, was raised in Germany by his German mother. While he is now in the minors, when he first made it to the majors he was the first German-raised MLB player in history.
Notable Names: The most notable name is that of the manager: former MLB infielder Garth Iorg.
Highest Achievers: Bruce Maxwell was born in Germany to American parents and has made it up to AAA for the Athletics and may make it to the show in the future. Markus Solbach has done time in Germany, the Twins system and the Indy Leagues, and is now in the Diamondbacks’ organization, where he is expected to start in AA this season.
Outlook: Could be better. With Max Kepler missing out as he tries to crack the Minnesota roster, their best player isn’t there. That, along with a general lack of depth that plagues most second or third-tier baseball national teams, means they are outgunned and outmanned against the Mexicans and probably the Nicaraguans, but they should be able to beat the Czechs.
About the country: Nicaragua has had a volatile, complicated and often violent history, so it’s often forgotten that it once was the first choice for the canal between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The plan was abandoned for the Panama option -and I’m not making this up- because the American politicians who were planning the canal saw postage stamps from Nicaragua that featured a volcano erupting. Nicaragua today is a presidential republic based out of the capital city of Managua.
Baseball history: It’s complicated, so I’ll quote Callum Hughson on this:
Baseball was introduced to Nicaraguans in a bit of a roundabout way. An American businessman named Albert Addlesberg convinced two cricket teams made up of ex-pat British players to switch to the game of baseball. He imported all of the needed equipment from his home in New Orleans. As the popularity of the sport began to grow, new teams began to form and those new teams required new players. As a result, the native Nicaraguans were invited to join and try their hand at baseball. At that moment, the flame of Nicaragua’s national passion was ignited.
Nicaragua’s baseball league: Nicaragua has a small professional league, but baseball is primarily an amateur sport there.
Nicaraguan MLB Players: 14 players from Nicaragua have played in the Majors, but sadly for them, none of them are playing in this tournament. Former MLBer Marvin Benard is the manager.
Notable Names: Jairo Beras of the Texas organization is Nicaraguan through his father, and is one of the top Rangers’ prospects, although his career has been controversial in the past due to a age-lying scandal.
Outlook: Okay. They have more depth and talent than every other country in the pool except for Mexico, but it’s doubtful they will be able to beat the Mexicans in the title game.
- Czech Republic