Ty Eriksen talked to Justin Prinstein for Mister-Baseball.com. The right-hander is coming back for a full season with the HSV Stealers. He also will serve as pitching coach for the Hungarian National Team and will scout European prospects this year.
Justin Prinstein: I got into the whole European baseball thing by sheer coincidence. Before my senior season at George Washington University I felt that I may have some draft possibilities if I put together a good season. I ran into our former volunteer assistant coach from the previous season who had gone over to play and coach in Holland. He gave me his number and told me if the draft didn’t work out to give him a call. I didn’t get any serious consideration to be drafted because I’m undersized for a RHP. While trying to hook on with an independent team I got in touch with Brad and he put me in touch with his agent who specialized in recruiting Americans to Europe. I got offers in winter 2006 from teams in Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, and Belgium. I ended up choosing the Hoboken Pioneers in the Belgium first league, their pitcher the year before was Leon Boyd who had a great season and went right into the Dutch Head Class, which became my goal from the beginning – to be a foreign player in the Dutch Head Class,
Ty Eriksen: Tell us about your different stops and your journey through the leagues in Europe:
Justin M. Prinstein: Starting in Belgium in 2007, Hoboken release me after only 4 weeks even though I pitched a no-hitter and a one-hitter in my two first regular season starts. It was my first pro ball job and I was already out, and I felt like that could have been the end of my career right there. A team in the Belgium league (who I no-hit) tried to sign me but Hoboken blocked any move. I had the options of trying my luck at independent ball or signing with the upstart professional league in Israel that was getting a lot of publicity. In May I heard that the Israel Baseball League offer was still open, and it turned out to be a great experience. The league had a lot of talent, Tel Aviv was an awesome city to live in and I ended up being an All-Star pitcher for my team.
I had the opportunity to go down to Adelaide, Australia, to pitch for 3 months in winter of 2007/08. I decided to go straight back to Holland to play in 2008 because I thought it would give me the best chance of reaching my goal of pitching in the Dutch Head Class. I didn’t know much about the Netherlands baseball but I took a chance on a team in the Dutch First Division (2nd league) – Tex Town Tigers. I had a great season and a wonderful experience in Holland – I really took to the culture and I established myself as a dominant pitcher and DH. The Almere Magpies, demoted from the Dutch Head Class and looking to get back, they signed me for the 2009 season. We had one of the greatest teams I had ever been around, losing maybe 3 times all year . We faced off against RCH in the promotion/relegation series, and in the 5th game I came out of the bullpen, down 2 runs and pitched 6 innings of 1 run ball to get the win that gave us a promotion into the Dutch Head Class. I came back to Almere the following season, 2010, after playing the winter in Perth Australia. It was a great experience, but the team was bankrupt and both of us foreign players left. I had a great opportunity to finish the season in the German Bundesliga season with the HSV Stealers in Hamburg. I pitched the best I had all year throwing 2 complete games and helping them get into the playoffs and I recently resigned with them for this upcoming season.
Ty Eriksen: You’ve seen a lot of baseball from all over the continent, what is your view of the talent level in Europe?
Justin M. Prinstein: It’s a difficult question. It’s kind of all over the place… there’s no one consistent level where you can say – “Belgium is like college ball or Holland that’s like AA.” I had teammates in Belgium that would have been starters on my D1 college team, on the same team a young 15 year old kid was our starting Right Fielder and was signed by the Mets the following year. We also had guys on that team who probably couldn’t play on my varsity high school team. I think that dichotomy makes things very interesting in Europe. At its best – as the Dutch, Italian and German national teams have proven – they compete with Major League caliber players, and yet I always feel that in team sports, especially in baseball, you are only as good as your weakest link. When you get into the individual leagues sometimes that weakest or least talented player is a kid, 16 years old, because European teams struggle to get numbers sometimes, the kid is talented enough and playing on a top European team with guys twice his age. I thought that in my 3 years in Holland, between the First Division and Head Class – the level of baseball fell somewhere between college ball and low level minor leagues, even independent ball at best. My two seasons with Almere, I could easily place some of our guys on a good college team or some lower level of pro ball. Facing DOOR Neptunus, Dutch Head Class champions last year, I thought was one of the best hitting lineups I had ever seen, and they could have definitely been competitive, stacked with ex minor league and major league guys, in pro ball in the States.
As a scout I’ve seen a lot of young talented prospects throughout the various countries, but these days those guys are signing to play in the States which brings down the talent level of the leagues a lot, however those spots are being filled by foreigners, Americans like myself, Latin Americans, Australians, Canadians: guys with some great experience. Eventually the talent ends up back in Europe at some point and those experiences in pro ball infuse the league with more well rounded players that European leagues probably lacked a few decades ago.
Justin M. Prinstein: I’m really excited for this year. I’ll be the game 2 (foreigner game) pitcher for HSV Stealers in the German Bundesliga. We had a good finish to last season in the North Division, sneaking into the playoffs. We’re shooting for first place with the team GM Sven Huhnholz and Manager Jens Hawlitzky built this off-season. I’ll probably do some clinics and youth trainings in Hamburg while I’m in town.
I was also recently named Assistant Coach/Pitching Coach of the Hungarian National team that will be competing in the European Championships Qualifier this July in Barcelona, and I will be travelling to Hungary every month to do training with the national team in preparation for the tournament. Part of my role is actively recruiting players with Hungarian ancestry in the States, and I hope that I will be able to provide the Hungarian national team and the region with valuable baseball instruction and resources from my experiences for the years to come.
For the last two years I was working as a scout for the Houston Astros in the Netherlands. In going to play in Germany this year I had to leave the major recruiting ground of Holland, but allowed me to look at a more expanded scouting role in Europe with an MLB team that I am currently in the interview process with. I’ve also been assisting the Almere Magpies on management/personnel/sponsorship decisions and will be visiting Holland quite often to scout and look forward to helping out at Almere as much as time will allow.
Lastly, I’m very excited to play this year with a sponsorship from 3n2 Baseball company, they’re outfitting me with some awesome products including their cleats/turfs/running shoes and they’re hoping that they can enter the European market.
Ty Eriksen: You’ve been involved in the full range of the business side of baseball, what do you see as the biggest barrier for US companies like 3n2 when looking at the European Market?
Justin M. Prinstein: Shipping costs. Whether the American company has a distributor (like Covee or Sidney de Jong’s company in Holland), or if they are just looking to sell through their own website and ship themselves, there has to be enough demand that they can ship over in bulk. A small company like 3n2 or Sam Bat make such good niche products that they can be a bit more expensive, especially to ship. Once they have the definite demand for their products it will be much easier to send over in bulk or work out a distributor partner. I the mean time, they talk to top players and especially foreign players because of the attention, and get their name and product out into the market through this attention.
Ty Eriksen: What has been your best experience over the years in Europe?
Justin M. Prinstein: The girls. Just kidding, the whole experience is pretty amazing – learning new languages, new cultures, seeing great cities and the lasting friendships with teammates and other people you meet along the way. Without a doubt, being the winning pitcher in the Dutch First Division championship with Almere in 2009 against PSV-Eindhoven, and then a few weeks later winning the decisive Game 5 of the Dutch Head Class promotion series, just pitching on adrenaline and fumes. Proving that I could be “the foreign ace” on the highest level. I’ve been fortunate to be in the position to train a lot of great young players, and it’s been really fulfilling to see a lot of them become really good ballplayers over the years – from Tex Town to Scimitars Academy to Almere, I’ve worked with hundreds of Dutch youth players … and I get a lot of satisfaction sharing my baseball knowledge and helping young players.
Ty Eriksen: How long do you see yourself staying involved in European baseball
Justin M. Prinstein: After graduating from GWU in 2006, my goals were to play professional baseball and eventually work in government. I had never been to Europe, let alone outside of North America. Now, heading into my 5th year, I can’t foresee a time not involved. Either playing, coaching, scouting, or administrative/consulting level. I know I have a few good years left to play, but I also really look forward to my post-career with scouting/coaching and finishing up my law degree. I like to live by the motto that if you want something you have the ability to make it happen, I hope that I can continue to be involved with European baseball as long as others (teams, MLB, etc.) want me to be involved here.
In my wildest dreams I never really imagined these opportunities happening and you can’t plan for it – you can only just hang on tight and go along for the ride while it lasts.
Ty Eriksen: Any last thoughts or comments?
Justin M. Prinstein: I’m looking forward to this season with my teammates at HSV, and I appreciate the support of my family and friends along the way. TT, and my law school, University of Detroit Mercy, for allowing me to work towards my degree while I continue my professional baseball career. I do a bit of blogging on www.justprin.blogspot.com about my experiences along the way. Thanks to Mister-Baseball, its a great service for baseball in Europe, and you for this interview, I appreciate your time.
Mister-Baseball thanks Ty Eriksen and Justin Prinstein for the interview.