In our series with Croatian head coaches, Goran Supraha already talked with Branko Nenadic of Olimpija Karlovac, Ivan Racic of Nada SSM Split and Neven Marinic of BK Zagreb. Next up is Aleksandar Bekic of Vindija Varazdin.
Aleksandar Bekic: I started my baseball career back in 1988, when our present president Goran Vucetic came up with an idea to recruit new members, cause “old” guys who started and formed the club where starting to quit to play and by his opinion, the only way to hold the club together was with new, younger players. After that he went to schools and got some 20 guys years from 16-19, what was then a “new generation” where I started also to practice baseball and immediately fall in love with the game.
The game was a lot different than today, we didn’t know much, but we used all possible ways to learn and develop, from TV, books to talking to other players and coaches. My generation helped to survive and transfer our club to new era, which started in early 90s, specially when we signed our 2nd sponsorship contract with our present general sponsor Vindija d.d., in 1994. That’s the year when we started our youth program, where I was put as a head coach and still work with kids age 8-18 today.
As I mentioned my playing career started in ’88 and still lasts, but generally as I player started to change in early 90s under influence of different American players and coaches, but the turning point was when American/Croatian player Stephen Sabo joined our club in 1996 and played couple of years for us and also meeting with our long year coach Bill Percy. As long as I am in the game I was always willing to learn and working hard, what I think kept me so long, still capable to compete at highest level of game here.
GS: After winning 2009 Inter league title and playing in finals of Croatian championship and Croatian cup that same year, 2010 wasn’t even close….
AB: Yes, there are a couple of things that defined our last seasons. First is that we have been working with group of young players for some years, trying to get them able to match the best players in the league. Our problem was all other foreign players who are playing or played in other clubs, who where just too strong for our guys. That all changed in 2009 when we started friendship with coach John Vodenlich a head coach of Whitewater University, Wisconsin. That relationship brought to us his 2 players, Ben Prather and Greg Harder, who helped not only playing wise, specially pitching, but on all level from practice, attitude, etc. That was the reason of our “great 2009 season”. In the year 2010 those guys went back home and we lost some key players, pitchers and main catcher, what make us to present new, younger players to first team and we just couldn’t compete like we did a year before.
GS: Your club is good organized, great baseball school, juveniles, cadets and juniors are almost best every year but you don’t have proper baseball field, what’s secret…
AB: Our youth program, named “Vindi Iso-Sport Baseball School” started back in 1994, as I mentioned before and we didn’t stop since then. The secret is basically not a secret, its hard work, as always in life, nothing can happen if you don’t invest, time and money also, of course. We visit schools from town area every spring, getting new young players, play a lot of games, after our season ends and most of team release their kids, we spend whole July and second half of August practicing every day and traveling aboard to different youth tournaments, mostly to Italy where we have a lot of friends and great contacts with local clubs. After the season, during winter months we continue to work with kids in gym, so basically all year around program for them.
GS: You have had a great start in the fall (3-0), what are your expectations at spring 2011….
AB: Well yes, we had good start, our team is together, we got some players back, but still have some problems on some position. I can’t tell much, cause we played with weaker teams, and I don’t know how will we look when we play with our strongest Croatian teams. We will introduce again a couple of new young players this season and just giving our best and hope to get back to the finals of league or cup.
GS: Your club was against autumn-spring season, may you explain why…
AB: There are a lot of reasons for that, by our opinion. But some main are, for example: the biggest one is that playing baseball like that just don’t compare to “spirit of baseball season”, there is no league, I think, in the whole world that is playing like that right now. Next thing is that now we have almost 4 months of break in between 2 parts of season, the autumn part was just too short and with no desire of playoffs or “autumn baseball”.
Another big reason is that our playoffs and most important games are played end of May and beginning of July when majority of our players, who are students have exams in high schools or colleges. Then we have a break in the middle of playoffs, cause some teams compete in European cups. All these makes us and me personally think that this is still a big step back or in wrong direction, how every you might interpret it.
GS: You played for national team for long time, may you give some comparison between those times when you played and these “new” kids, and what you expect from national team this summer at Qualifier for European Championship in Holland 2012….
AB: Well, as you said I was in the national team from the beginning, although I was not on the first official team in 1992, but on next European Championship in Ljubljana 1994 I was there and all the way until year 2001, a new era of national team. The times where different then, cause we had turbulences in Croatia regarding war with ex Yugoslavia, what also strongly reflected on all the people here, and us players also, who had great desire to play for their new, independent country.
The next reason of player’s enthusiasm was maybe also the part that Croatian baseball started to get uplift in quality with our generation, who started to play and practice modern game of baseball. Influence of American players and coaches started to get in our country and we raised our level, cause we were thrilled to learn and perform like pro players. All that reflected to national team, we had a bunch of good players who played just for “the love for the game” and that’s why we, in my opinion had some great results, playing better and better year after year. And put us in A pool of European baseball. But as things are changing all over the world, Croatia was not bypassed in years that followed. Today we are witnesses that money is everything, a lot of sports are professionalized, and that reflects to young players in baseball too, who think they need to be paid for playing, and just the love to play for your national team is in second place.
That is, by my opinion one of the reasons of worse results last years, but maybe the bigger one is the policy or ambition from our association that national team was needed to stay in A pool on every costs, what results in getting a lot of “foreign” players outside of country, who just helped us artificially to stay in A pool and spending a lot of money on that, but on the other side, in the same time there was not good program with other, youth national teams or generally in the whole country to develop the foundation of players who will continue to be the main core of national team. So right now, I think national team finally reached a point where there is not more enough money to get over some players from states or other countries and we don’t have enough quality of our own players to compete at highest level of European baseball.
So my expectation don’t point towards sport results of national team, but more on results that will try to develop good foundation of younger players here in Croatia and having them play quality games. If that means we have to stay another 5 years maybe in B pool, its fine with me. We can’t and must not rush thing, not taking care of other parts that are needed to have strong national team.