A few days before the start of the 2011 IBAF Baseball World Cup, Jim Essian, manager of the Greek national team did an interview, talking about the tournament.
How did your Team qualify for the 2011 Baseball World Cup?
Jim Essian: We participated in the 2010 European Seniors Championship in Stuttgart Germany where we placed 4th behind Italy, The Netherlands, and Germany.
What selection process did you went through to complete the roster for the BWC? Any problems recruiting professional players for Panama?
Jim Essian: Since the provisional team roster could include as many as 60 athletes, we included all active players who had played for Greece in the past and added young prospects that our coaching staff and scouts had identified both in Greece and in North America. We had several professional players with MLB contracts. However none of them were unfortunately available to particiate in the World Cup.
What are your expectations for the BWC? Which teams are favored in your group and to win it all?
Jim Essian: We hope to qualify for the 2nd round of the competition despite the fact that our group is packed with baseball powerhouses. The obvious favorites in our group are the U.S.A. and Japan, but ultimately all the teams in group 1 are potentially capable of reaching the 2nd round. I believe that Greece will win it all, but otherwise I would guess that a close runner up would probably be the U.S.A. or Japan.
How important is the BWC in your country?
Jim Essian: Although baseball had never been of any particular interest to the general Greek population, an interesting series of events has changed that status dramatically. Basically, the Greek government sanctioned betting corporation, OPAP, recently started a betting program where Greeks can now bet on MLB baseball game results. Since then, Greeks have suddenly gained an interest in the sport, which has surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. As a result, more and more young Greeks are expressing an interest in the sport and are looking for means through which they will be able to watch our games. Six months ago the BWC would have been of very little importance in Greece, but now it has become the topic of discussion amongst an ever growing number of Greeks.
Did/will you hold a training camp in preparation of the BWC? Did/will you play any exhibition games and if yes, against which team(s)?
Jim Essian: Due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of our players are amateurs, they obviously pursue other vocations and play baseball only as a hobby. Consequently, we did not have the luxury of holding a training camp for the BWC. No exhibition games were or are planned.
Any players missing due to injury or other obligations?
Jim Essian: We have several key players who are going to be missing from our roster. Some because of injuries and others because of professional obligations. Some of these players include Clay Bellinger, Alex Cremidans, Jim Kavourias, Kevin Pickford, Troy Pickford, Robert Kingsbury, George Pipergias, Billy Arvanitis, Kostas Arvanitis, George Lebesis, Jim Chatzikyriakou, Jim Lomis, Byron Patsis, Peter Soteropoulos, and Greg Spanos to name a few.
Could you introduce your coaching staff to us?
Jim Essian: James Sarkis Essian, Manager: Mr. Essian is a 12 year MLB veteran catcher and infielder who worked as a Chicago Cubs Coach for several years before becoming the manager of the Cubs in 1991. Mr. Essian managed the Greek National Team in the European Qualifier Tournament in Portugal in 2008 and managed the Greek National Team in the 2010 European Seniors Championship in Germany.
Mike Riskas, Bench Coach: Mr. Riskas was the Head Baseball Coach for Pomona College for over 30 years. He was assigned as the “Coach in Residence” for Greece by MLB International in 1991 and he had the same position in France in the late 80’s when he led the Junior National Team of France to a 2nd place finish in the Junior European Championships.
Joseph Vreonis, Pitching Coach: Mr. Vreonis is the Head Varsity Baseball Coach for the Pittsburg High School team.
Tom Mazarakis, Coach