The former Manager of the Dutch national team Robert Eenhoorn, now Technical Director of Dutch Baseball, wrote a column about the World Baseball Classic in relation to the recent qualifying rounds of the European Cup for club teams. This weekend, the column was published on www.rotterdamunitedbaseball.com. With his permission, Mister Baseball today presents Mr. Eenhoorn’s thoughts about the future of baseball in Europe.
By Robert Eenhoorn
Across the world baseball fans have that itchy feeling in April when baseball seasons are about to take off, but this year is exceptional for coaches and players. Because at this very moment both World Baseball Classic and two European Cup tournaments are already past tense for many of them. Whilst the Classic made clear to everybody that the definite connection between Europe and the world top is only a matter of time, European Cup tournaments regrettably demonstrated the harsh contrast between the levels of players and those of organizing talents from outside the fields.
First things first: Italy headed by Marco Mazzieri beat Canada in a wonderful way, eliminating the home country of the Toronto tournament. The Azzurri deserved an extra game, decisive for elimination. For some time a Round Two spot was in sight for the Italian players, but they were defeated again by Venezuela. The Netherlands did even make it to Round Two, thanks to their fantastic defense coupled with joy for the game, team spirit and fighting spirit. For many days the two spectacular victories over the all star squad of the Dominican Republic were the talk of the town in the entire baseball world. Also in the Netherlands we regained the media attention, which we had to miss since the World Cup 2005 in our country.
Essential for European baseball however, was that everybody’s eyes were opened for the progress made by our continent. Now international baseball is considering European baseball much more seriously than before. Many personalities, varying from Harvey Schiller to Paul Archey and from Sandy Alderson to Derek Jeter approached us to congratulate Team Kingdom of the Netherlands, which had managed to accomplish this historical break through.
But how seriously does European baseball consider itself, I wondered back in Europe and concluding all the reports about the European Cup tournaments for clubs. For the first time in history this event was organized before the start of the regular seasons in most of the CEB member states. Therefore, most of the players were prepared in only a few pre-season friendlies, which is a poor approach for what is intended to be a top event for European baseball. The timing of the tournaments in southern Europe does not respect the average weather conditions for baseball players warming up in eastern, central, western and northern Europe.
Additionally, the field in Matino turned out to be everything but ready for hosting baseball games. Once the games were about to be played after a long delay for groundsmen work, the local fans appeared to be close to non-existent, the participation in the tournament in the distant village became extremely expensive for the clubs and after all we shall end up with a Final Four tournament in June with two Dutch and two Italian clubs in . . . . . Spain. For sure no attendance records will be broken in Barcelona and again European baseball will miss another occasion to profit from potentially big opportunities.
What Europe needs is a platform for the best players of the continent, included the professionals, to compete together for who will be the best team of them all. Of course the clubs involved should play home games each at its turn, attracting the maximum audience of the local club fans and regional baseball fans. The games should be planned properly for the interest of baseball fans and baseball players in qualified stadiums with fields timely approved by reliable inspectors. By doing so, European baseball will get the media attention needed for further developments. Everything seems to be so evident and so simple, but for some people it looks quite complicated.
As you already may be aware, I am a big fan of Rotterdam soccer club Feyenoord. In the spring of 2002, I was in the famous San Siro stadium in Milano, Italy, to attend a European top soccer game between the stars of home team Internazionale and Feyenoord, for bookmakers by far the outsider for the finale spot waiting after the return game. When the 22 players entered the field, I was surprised to see that Inter missed all its stars. I learned that the coach had decided to spare them for a regular game in Italian Serie A competition in program for next Sunday. Despite of Feyenoord’s much lower budget and pretentions, its players fought for their ambitions till the end, won the game by 0-1 and saved the win two weeks later in Rotterdam to acquire the UEFA Cup final spot.
My feelings of enthusiasm during recent World Baseball Classic were pretty much the same as what I remembered from that soccer game in Italy. Re-analyzing presently what I had seen in San Siro exactly 7 years ago, it suddenly revealed to me crystal-clearly where we are with European baseball in 2009.
Happy Easter and let’s play ball!
Translation from Dutch to English by Pim van Nes