Francisco Barreto may have been a welcome—but surprise—addition to Mister Baseball at the end of 2020 (as detailed in the first of our three-part introduction to the “Post-Wuerfel Era”), but he has been involved in European baseball for a decade. In fact, like Philip Wuerfel, he has been a regular fixture in German baseball, haunting Bavarian ball fields for the past 10 years as player and coach. However, the Puerto Rican native grew up in the southern U.S., which means that “in exile, [he] misses both his mother’s rice and beans and the cornbread and sweet tea of [his] adopted Georgia”. The site’s new director, who will also be one of its main writers, Francisco has been a baseball fan for over 30 years, and his hardball history is much different than that of most Europeans.
One of Francisco’s earliest baseball memories is witnessing a cafeteria full of students doing the Tomahawk Chop during the Braves’ 1991 postseason run, the same year Francisco moved to Georgia from the Gulf Coast of Florida. Thus began his long and ambivalent relationship with the Braves. Two or three years later, Francisco won honorable mention in a Sporting News essay contest, his prize (or punishment), among other things including seats to a Braves’ Sunday afternoon home game.
“It was just a cliche ‘white lines, verdant green grass’ purple prose sort of thing. I got two tickets to that afternoon game, plus three tickets to another. And a cap. Don’t ask me why, but I asked for an Astros cap. The view from behind home plate was, ultimately, not as memorable as the day’s sunburn.”
The nostalgia for Georgia, if not—perhaps—that sunburn, is a recent development.
“I follow the Braves now, but more out of nostalgia than anything else. I grew up a Cubs fan actually. I’d get off the school bus and tune into the afternoon broadcast on WGN with Harry Caray and Steve Stone. Andre “the Hawk” Dawson, Doug Dascenzo, Jerome Walton, Shawon Dunston, Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, and the original Joe Girardi—those are the baseball heroes of my youth. Perhaps it was all those Francisco Cabrera jokes that kept me from embracing the team.”
I’ve been involved in coaching (adults and youth) and playing beer league baseball in and around Munich. But my absolute Bavarian baseball highlight: I once witnessed a six-strikeout inning. Strangest. Baseball. Experience. Ever. A few years back, Ingolstadt, who at the time played in the third division, sent their third team down to Passau and had their Canadian import—the last name was Peach, a nice bloke from Calgary—tag along for a meaningless Sunday beer league game. At the time we played on a hardpan sand pitch riddled with stones, a real beauty. At any rate, one swing into BP and it was obvious that this guy was… different. He killed us with the bat and made deeeep throws from shortstop over and over again, but the best moment came late in the second game when we had whittled down Ingolstadt’s lead.
Peach pitched (an inadvertent pun, but instantly a keeper) and he proceeded to blow the first two pitches—fastballs, real fastballs, the sort we had heard whispered about in junior high locker rooms, the sort we had only ever seen from a safe distance, the sort that you can hardly make out but can hear buzzing like an angry wasp—past our batters. Despite us being obviously overmatched and for reasons only known to the battery and God, Peach then threw a slurve past our batters for strike three, and unfortunately past his catcher and to the backstop. Each and every time, until he had booked six strikeouts and we had even managed to score without touching the ball once.
A Glimpse at Mister Baseball’s Future
Francisco does not just bring an inability to hit a slurve to Team Mister Baseball, though—but as should now be clear—has unique and valuable insights. Moreover, the new director’s experiences with the game as a fan, player, and coach inform his writing.
“As I started to get involved with baseball in Germany, it allowed me to appreciate the diversity of the European game and to better understand the baseball culture around me. I hope we continue to provide that same breadth of coverage while at the same time boring down to provide the stories and details that will do justice to the diversity of baseball in Europe.
“More specifically, I hope we can provide deeper coverage of the European competitions—club, national and junior national teams— along with regular updates on the players who are representing European baseball abroad in North American professional and university baseball.
“The articles I hope to write are the very articles I would like to read. The coming year will bring more features about baseball across the continent and interviews with the administrators, coaches, and players whose passion for the game keeps it alive, sometimes in places where one would least expect to find it.”
For the site’s first puertorriqueño, ensuring that these stories are told is only the beginning.
“I hope readers become more excited about baseball where they live thanks to the work we will be doing. This could be because of deeper coverage of their domestic league or because they are inspired by the goings-on in neighboring countries. European baseball isn’t going to be kept alive by anyone other than those of us passionate enough to spend afternoons, evenings and weekends on Europe’s ball fields. In other words, I hope Mister Baseball plays a small role in keeping European baseball strong—and making it stronger.”
“I was extremely pleased when Francisco came aboard during the transition,” commented Managing Editor Gabriel Fidler. “He brings tremendous curiosity, a background in writing and research, and years of first-hand experience on the diamond. Even better is his ardent commitment to grow the game in Europe and support grassroots baseball.”
Francisco lives not far from the Austrian border with his wife, four children, dog, and dreams of throwing a decent changeup.
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