Jakub Janda spoke with player/coach Billy Hess for the Czech Extraleague club Technika Brno for Mister-Baseball.com
Born 1981, USA
Currently playing and managing for Technika Brno, Czech Extraleague
Jakub Janda: Billy, please, give us a few lines about you baseball career.
Billy Hess: After college I spoke to a few teams about signing but nothing ever materialized. I got an offer to be a reserve player in an Independent League but chose to go abroad instead. In retrospect, it was probably the best decision I ever made.
JJ: You played US college ball, playing at short for Columbia University. Please, compare what you have seen in Europe and the US college ball you participated in.
BH: Columbia competes in the Ivy League which is Division 1 so I had the chance to play against some really good competition in college. In a way, Columbia was similar to what I have experienced in Europe in that our college division had some extremely talented players who are now in the Bigs mixed with a lot of average skilled players. I find this similar to European baseball where most line-ups are a mix of the hobby weekend player and national team or ex pro guys. This variety of skill level can be difficult on both hitters and pitchers. I have played with quite a few pro guys here in Europe that could not adjust to the varying levels of skill in Europe and as result their performance suffered.
Overall the competition is obviously better in the States, but I have been very impressed with local European talent. Probably my favorite aspect of European baseball, though, is that most people play because they love the game. This is an element often lost in American baseball. To be overly cliché, most Europeans play “for the love of the game,” and not for the expectations of future payoffs. That and the fact that beers with friends after games and practices are also a lot of fun.
JJ: You have also played in Germany. Where did you play and what were your impressions?
BH: I played for 6 seasons with the Mannheim Tornados. German baseball has improved a lot over the past 7 years. The League is very well organized in general providing great development for younger players, as you can see with their success in getting players signed and into college in the US.
JJ: You have been acquired by Czech Extraleague team, Technika Brno, as the headcoach and shortstop. How do you like Czech Republic and what are your insights on Czech baseball?
BH: I am really enjoying the Czech Republic. Czech beer is arguably the best in the world. Brno is a fantastic city and our field is on a hill overlooking the city – framed by a large castle and cathedral – quite impressive actually.
Czech baseball is quite good and I can see a lot of room for development in terms of infrastructure and organization. Most importantly though, the Czech has some really good talent (quite a few players have been recruited to play throughout Europe because of their outstanding skill). At Technika, our goal is to challenge the perennial champs Draci, which will be a difficult, but definitely not an impossible task.
JJ: What does baseball bring to your life, besides it is your current job?
BH: Baseball has meant different things to me throughout my life. I have been playing since I was 5 and at different points in my life it has been a passion, a means to an end, and a job, sometimes all three simultaneously. I am in debt to the game as it got me a great education at Columbia and has taken me to Sweden, Germany, Australia, South Africa and now the Czech Republic. My experiences playing in Australia and South Africa fundamentally changed me as a person given the different social, cultural, and political environments of the countries. For example, in South Africa I played on an all colored team and had a difficult but life changing season. I visited a fellow player’s family in one of the local townships and spent the whole day walking around and chatting with locals. It was profound.
JJ: How do you cope with having to coach and play at the same time?
BH: Anyone who has tried to juggle the two responsibilities will tell you it is not easy. I love playing but am more and more drawn to the strategy and dynamics of the managerial game. I am lucky at Technika because we have a lot of talented and mature players. I do not have to coach as much as manage. I would be lying if I said coaching did not affect my performance on the field because it does. Baseball is such a mental sport that when attention is divided performance inevitably suffers. I knew this coming in as I had experience as a player-coach in Germany
JJ: One day you will have to hang up your spikes. Do you already know if you want to continue you path coaching or will turn to something else?
BH: As I mentioned I love coaching and have thought about pursuing that further. I think assisting with a National Team would be a very interesting experience. My wife is Hungarian and I love Europe so there would be a lot of benefits to staying on the continent.
I am also finishing a Masters degree in International Relations so after this season I will have some important decisions to make as to whether I continue with baseball or pursue another career.
Thank you for your time.