This is part two of the interview between Jakub Janda and new Czech national team head coach Andy Berglund. The focus this time is the Czech national team. Follow the link to read part one of the Q&A.
Jakub Janda: Andy, you signed a two-year contract with Czech Baseball Association to serve as head coach for Junior and Senior national team. Generally, do you have any itinerary for the next two years?
Andy Berglund: I have signed a one-year contract with the CBA and am in discussions with them on the possibility of lengthening it thereafter. They’ve put together a comprehension program for 2011 with the Junior and Senior National teams and have placed me with the Eagles Praha in the Extraliga so that I will have a great chance to see all of the players currently competing in the Czech Republic on a regular basis. I’ll also be working with the Academies as often as possible.
I have a pretty clear understanding on the itinerary for 2011, but will much clearer once I sit down with the CBA in a few weeks. The Juniors have a very busy schedule building up to the European Championships in Gijon, Spain in July. I would like to be as proactive as possible with the Seniors in 2011—scheduling games, camps and training—so they are firing on all cylinders by the time the 2012 Euros in the Netherlands arrive. I’ll sit down with the CBA soon and find out what they have in mind to make that a reality. That has to be a priority.
JJ: You worked for MLB as an Envoy coach. What was such experience like?
AB: Working as a Major League Baseball Envoy Coach has been one of my top highlights working in baseball. I’ve been working for MLB in Europe since 2001, and every time I make my way overseas, I am blown away at how much the game continues to grow. I think the fact that more and more players from countries like Germany, Italy, Holland and the Czech Republic (like recent signees Marek Minarik with the Phillies and Stepan Havlicek with Tampa Bay) are getting signed is proof of that.
The MLB Envoy program gives us coaches the opportunity to meet so many great people that are passionate about developing their clubs and their players. We get to work with them on anything and everything we can—to educate their coaches and work with their practice plans and develop game awareness. And the clubs and players are always hungry for more. It really makes you appreciate what these clubs are all about. I love Europe—and I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great, passionate baseball people in Europe by being an Envoy.
JJ: Your previous episode with Senior national team was in Sweden. What was it like?
AB: I was on the coaching staff for the Swedish National Team in 2009 when they competed in the Baseball World Cup. It was an awesome experience, even though the team didn’t make it out of pool play, because Stockholm (Sundbyberg) had just built a brand new stadium for the event and drew some great crowds for the three days of the tournament. I played and coached for Stockholm in 2008 when we won the Swedish championship, so I got to be reunited with guys like Bjorn and Peter Johannessen, Joakim Claesson and Magnus Pilegard, all of whom I think the world of—along with a lot of the Swedish players. I’m hoping to build that same sort of connection with the Czech guys, where you become like family.
JJ: What do you know about Czech Senior national team?
AB: I know they are loaded with talent. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the current roster and to me it’s very impressive. I have seen them play and know that they’ve got a good mix of veterans and a great group of younger players that keep getting better and better in international tournaments. All the players on the roster have something to contribute. But I know Thomas Polansky, Jakub Malik, Jan Drabek, Jakub Hajtmar, Petr Baroch, Karel Hrusovsky—all performed pretty well offensively at the last European Championships.
Then you mix in up-and-coming players like Michal Ondracek, Jakub Sladek and Matej Hejma, who I saw at the U21 championships with the veterans and strong signal callers in Vojak, Cech and Chroust. The entire pitching staff is strong with some great arms—Minarik, Schneider, Bokaj, Kubat, Rehacek, Jelinek to name a few. To be honest, I think all the potential is right there. I’m extremely excited to be working with these guys, surrounding them with strong coaching, building chemistry and taking that next step towards greatness and a shot at a medal in 2012.
JJ: Do you plan on any major changes regarding the two-year period?
AB: I just plan to be as proactive as possible with both the Junior and Senior National teams. I would like to work with the CBA on putting together a schedule so that both national teams are getting in as much quality competitions as possible with the resources we have. I want to make more opportunities for these guys to compete at the highest level. I’m talking about very detailed, beneficial spring training, more regular training, and games and tournaments against great competition on a regular basis. For the Czech Republic to compete with those upper echelon teams in Europe, it can’t be a part time schedule. We’ve got to be as proactive as we can be.
JJ: What can senior national team players expect out of you?
AB: I read an article you did with one of the Czech captains, Jakub Malik, where he said he thought there was a need for an energetic coach to come in and keep building the team’s confidence. That’s what I want to bring to the table. I plan on sitting down with all of the guys and finding out what where we are at as a team, what we can build on, what is holding us back and what we want to accomplish. I plan on putting in a lot of hours and hard work with these guys and am willing to give them the shirt off my back—as long as they are willing to fill theirs with sweat and sacrifice for the goals we’re striving for.
JJ: You studied PR and spent some time with baseball in Europe. What are your perceptions about how is baseball marketed at the Continent?
AB: Since I first arrive in Europe ten years ago, I’ve seen the game grow incredibly. The CEB, IBAF, MLB and the national federations are doing all they can to promote and enhance the sport in a soccer-dominated Continent, and it certainly hasn’t come easy. I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany working for MLB and really think what they’ve been able to do has been remarkable. I think they had over 30,000 fans over three days for the 2009 World Cup in Regensburg and had great crowds at last year’s European Championships in Stuttgart and Heidenheim.
So how they are getting through to fans and growing their baseball population is something other countries can look to emulate. All of these countries can now watch games on MLB.com or ESPN America, so that’s another huge step to growing the interest in Europe. Baseball is still so young in Europe in comparison to how it’s our national pastime here in the States. It’s going to continue to take time to build the interest, and reach out to younger generations, but from my own experience, baseball has made tremendous improvements in how it was marketed ten years ago.