By Gabriel Fidler, Lead Writer, Extra Innnings
LJUBLJANA—The first European baseball tournament of 2014 to feature national teams recently concluded in Slovenia’s capital. The C-Level European Championships, which function as the lowest rung on a three step promotion system, saw eight teams contest 20 games over five days in two stadia (Jeziča and Goloveč).
The teams were divided into two pools, with Hungary, Ireland, Norway, and Romania in Pool A, and Finland, Israel, Latvia, and Slovenia in Pool B. Ireland and Israel swept through their pools without dropping a match, but Ireland was upset by eventual runners-up Slovenia and then Romania to finish fourth. Israel, on the other hand, dominated from beginning to end, seeing off Romania and then Slovenia for the title. The championship match was over quickly, as Israel pounded out 14 runs in seven innings, backed by a one-hit, nine-strikeout shutout from Alon Leichman in the easy victory.
Israel was, by far, the most consistent team and left no doubt it was the C-Level champs. Dean Kremer of Israel was named the Euros’ Most Valuable Pitcher on the strength of 13IP, 6H, 0ER, 1BB, and 20K, though Leichman and Shlomo Lipetz (who paced Leichman with a nine-inning shutout with six hits and 10 Ks) were not far behind.
Israel’s Simon Rosenbaum was named MVP after hitting .529 (7th), with 4 HR (1st), 1.294 SLG (1st), 10R (1st), 22 total bases (1st), 10 RBI (2nd), and 3 stolen bases. Other top hitters were Tine Marolt (Slovenia): .636 (1st), .733 OBP (1st), 5 SB (T-4th); Michael-Anthony Ferrato (Ireland): .533 (T-5th), .682 OBP (2nd), 1.067 SLG (2nd), and 2 HR (2nd). Dan Panaitescu (Romania) led Euros in 2B (4) and hits (11), Finland’s Sergio Fernández was the top stolen base threat, with nine.
Other individual leaders at the Euros were Ireland’s Nathaniel Anglin (12 RBI), Kristaps Aldins (Latvia) and Pertteli Salmenperä (Finland), who each had eight walks. Aldins, the coach of the Stevens Institute of Technology Ducks (New York, NCAA Division III), was 3-for-4 in five games, with 8 walks, 3 HBPs, and 2 SBs, while also throwing 11 innings, surrendering zero earned runs and only 10 baserunners, while striking out 7.
Israel led teams at Euros in hitting categories in AVG (.309), OBP (.450), SLG (.509), Runs (53), HR (9), HBP (20). It also led the Euros in ERA (1.05), K/9 (11.5), BA (.140) & fielding average (.973). It was tied for second in SB (23). This means that the only teams to lead the Euros in something besides Israel were Latvia (45 BB), Romania (26 SB), & Hungary (11 2B).
The Euros C-Level championships can be summed up by saying that a surprising amount of good baseball was played. Typical of international tournaments with new baseball programmes was the proneness of teams to wildness when its top pitcher was not on the hill (6.5 BB/9, 2.2 HBP/9, and 2.1 wild pitches per nine), a lack of power (.255 average, but .334 slugging), and large stolen base totals (3.6 stolen bases per team, per game, with an 83% stealing efficiency). Every team had at least one error-filled game, but the .929 fielding percentage for the tournament is probably a bit better than expected, with three or four teams having several strong performances.
On a team-by-team basis, it is also clear that Israel is clearly ready for B-Level Championships, which had two brackets, won in 2013 by No. 24 Great Britain (6-0) and No. 34 Russia (5-1). No. 43 Austria (4-2 after a heart-breaking loss late in the game in a contest played in Vienna) and No. 44 Ukraine (3-3) were their opponents. Of the other teams in the C-Level, Slovenia (61st), Ireland (60th), and Romania (64th) are not in Israel’s class, but will not remain far behind.
Slovenia featured the top hitter of the Euros in Marolt, detailed above, along with Jakob Trobeč (.545/.650/.727, 2 SB). Several pitchers had good performances, led by Rok Čuček (2.08 ERA, .146 average against, 13IP, 12K). Bor Starč (6IP, 7K, 3.00 ERA, .190 BAA) and Andrej Bizjak (5IP, 3.60 ERA) had their moments as well. It was 0-5 in the pool of the B-Levels won by Great Britain in 2013.
Ireland was 0-5 at the Bs last summer, and were somewhat erratic in their most recent outing, but did show promise. Their core of Ferrato and Anglin, who both hit .533 with power and plate discipline, along with a trio of pitchers (Daniel Woodbourne—10IP, 2.70 ERA, 12K, Anglin—13IP, 2.77 ERA, 13 K, and Jamie Cuevas—9IP, 4.00 ERA, 6K) will be something to build around.
Romania, like Slovenia and Ireland, had several hitters and pitchers stand out. Liviu Tocu hit .538, while Andrian Preda finished at .500/.632/.500. The team had a strong two-way player in Panaitescu, who led the tournament in doubles and hits, stroking a .500/.542/.682 line with six base thefts. He also hurled six innings, striking out five, and allowing five baserunners and two earned runs. Also worth mentioning are Sergiu Susanu (2-0, 9IP, 0R, 3H, 1BB, 11K) and Eduard Pirvu (1-0, 1.93, 9.1 IP, 1.18 WHIP, 10K).
The most surprising team at the Euros had to be Finland (No. 69 in world, finished 3-2), who looked quite strong, upsetting Hungary (No. 65) and also convincingly beating Latvia (No. 71) and Norway (T-75th). Finland showed good plate discipline (34 BB, 32K) despite a .239 average and displayed a couple promising pitchers in Sebastian Nymark (also their top hitter at .545/.643/.545) and Timo Liiri (Though the team’s overall pitching stats were a 5.75 ERA and .285 AVG against). Even at the bottom of the table, Hungary showed promise, Latvia clearly put time into fundamentals, and Slovenia was solid.
All of the rosters, results with box scores, and statistics are at: http://www.baseballstats.eu/2014/ljubljana/stats.php.
Optimism for European baseball paves the way for European Championships in Regensburg and the Czech Republic next month, which should make for top level competition. Extra Innings will have lots of coverage, analysis, and information on the 2014 Euros in the next few weeks! Stay tuned via Twitter and our website.