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Jul '08 05

Cherry Picking – a Preview of the EC Qualifiers



by Peter Ferak, http://coverguy.wordpress.com/

Climbing cherry trees for a good part of my youth I remember a seeming abundance of cherries in our garden. But not all cherries were meant to safely land in my basket. Some where out of my reach, some damaged, some too young, and sometimes my fingers were too clumsy to secure a nice juice pair of cherries that was barely within my reach. As a result I watched them sail all the way to the ground, with my taste buds gasping for air.

The question now is which cherries will drop during the Qualifiers and which will secure a cozy spot in the basket that is the European Championship 2010 in Germany.

The term Cherry Picking also refers to picking the best from a field of objects, like picking the ripest cherries from a tree. Let’s take a look at who the best in field are:

Qualifier Trnava, Slovakia:

Finland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine

Ukraine is the only team with A-Pool experience. Slovakia was closest to the A-Pool when they lost to the Greek National Team in the Final game. But this was nearly five years ago and this year the Slovak organization already received a warning sign: Neither Eurocup team recorded a win in the Qualifiers, including an unexpected loss to the Greek team, which this time around didn’t include Greek-American players, and scored three runs in three games prior to their clash with BK Apollo for a second to last place finish.

Maybe organizing the Qualifier Event can turn things around in Slovakia. However, the Ukraine Team is strong and experienced, and owns a very fine pitcher in Roman Yatsyuk who has done well in A-Pool play, as a member of the well-known Czech club Draci Brno in 2005.

This cherry will not fall.

Qualifier Prague, Czech Republic:

Belarus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia

The Czech cherry tree was shaken significantly last year. The team played below expectations in Barcelona. And to top it off, after the tournament Czech Republic was stripped of their only two wins due to disregarding rules concerning players with Minor League contracts.

This year they look to rebound and win a bid for 2010. But they are going to have to do it without the help of their Minor Leaguers (with the Exception of Petr Cech from the Cincinnati Reds Organization), as these players are still employed in Leagues overseas.

Slovenia participated in the A-Pool Events 1995, ’97, and ’99 and this year Kranjski Lisjaki beat the Czech Team MZLU Express in the Eurocup Qualifier. However, MZLU appears weaker than last year when they were able to capture a spot in the Extraleague Final. They are 7-10 with a run differential of 67:117 and are currently in 7th place.

The Czech National Team will bring talented players from Leagues around Europe (notably the Dutch Hoofdklasse and German Bundesliga) and the domestic surroundings will play in their favor. Their tree will stand firmly this year and hopefully continue to grow in years to come.

Qualifier Karlovac, Croatia:

Bulgaria, Croatia, Israel, Lithuania, Serbia

This seems to be an easy group for Croatia. The question is: Have they enough depth? Olimpija Karlovac won only one game in the European Cup in Regensburg, but was able to hold the scores down for the most part. The majority of the National Team comes from this team. Their other Eurocup participant, Zagreb B.C., was also able to get only one win. However, they played in the Qualifier in Brno.

Cherry Picking has a specific meaning in Sports. In Ice-Hockey it denotes the tactic of staying close to the oppositions’ net and cashing in on anything that bounces one’s way. To translate this into Baseball it is to capitalize on errors and walks with timely hitting, in other words “winning ugly” which is a tactic all teams in this tournament turn to. If the ball bounces the right way this could turn into an interesting group and the cherry could indeed drop.

Bulgaria might get a couple of good games out of Dimitar Nassapov on the mound. He is in the services of the Bundesliga club Mainz Athletics and so far accumulated an even 1-1 Record, with a 3.63 ERA and 29 Strikeouts in 34.2 Innings pitched.

Qualifier Abrantes, Portugal:

Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Russia

Greece and Portugal are looking at a tough task. Even though Aveiro University surprised with three wins at the EC Qualifier in Kutno they should have little fire-power to throw at the Russian hitters.

After the euphoria around the Olympics in Athens died off, Greece has struggled to keep Baseball alive. Ireland on the other hand has progressed lately and most recently lost in the Final of the Championship Qualifier against Croatia two years ago.

How many Irish-American players they were able to get for the tournament will determine how big a challenge they will present to the Russian Team. However the change to wooden bats in all European competitions will hurt the Irish team, as this will be the first tournament they are faced with the additional challenges that come with using wooden bats. Keep in mind that Russia destroyed their competition at the Qualifier two years ago solely with wood bats, when all other teams were using aluminum. My money is on the Russians.

Qualifier Antwerp, Belgium:

Austria, Belgium, Malta, Switzerland

I wouldn’t mind if the alphabetical order holds up in this tournament as I will be running around in this tournament with Austria written across my chest. But to be honest I’m not sure who the cherry is.

Belgium has a quality team with plenty of A-Pool experience. Switzerland has been making strides with their program. The Bern Cardinals winning the EC Qualifier this year and thus earning a chance to compete for an A-Pool spot for their country. Adding in that each team will play only three games in group-play, giving teams with lesser depth a better chance. This group will turn out how well the pitching staff for each team can turn it on.

It’s hard to get an offense rolling in three games, when each game is critical, as the round-robin match-up is simultaneously the first final game in a best-of-three series for the title. But then again it’s guessing game whether or not the opposing team in the current game will end up in the final.

I’ll pick my words carefully about this group. But I will say that a cherry may drop here, for whoever the cherry may be.

Conclusion

All in all the experience from quality tournaments and the experience of playing with wood will shape these tournaments and upsets are very unlikely. The top ten nations in Europe established wonderful programs and are getting great results from the youth and developmental programs.

While there are combined 30 nations in the Men’s Qualifiers and European Championships, there are only 13 at the Cadet stage, 18 at Juniors, and a mere six nations at Juveniles.

A cherry will blossom only so beautifully how sound and well-nourished its roots are.




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