By participating for the first time in the recently completed World Baseball Classic, the Czech Republic’s national team checked off multiple items on its to-do list.
“Before the tournament, we had three goals – increase the number of baseball fans in the Czech Republic, encourage more young people to play, and qualify for the next WBC,” team manager Pavel Chadim said. “We accomplished all those, and it’s a great feeling.”
The Czech team was a surprise qualifier for the WBC back in November and then defeated China in its first tournament game before losing to Japan, South Korea and Australia. Against Australia, with a quarterfinal berth on the line, the teams were tied 1-1 before the Australians scored seven runs in the last three innings to take an 8-3 victory. Nonetheless, the Czechs did well enough to automatically qualify for the next WBC in 2026.
“We had a good chance against Australia, and I think we can be happy, even though we eventually lost,” Chadim said “We accomplished all three of our main goals.”
Catcher Martin Cervenka, a veteran of the U.S. minor leagues, added, “This was a big step for us. It was great to show Czech baseball to the rest of the world. I knew what kind of talent we had; it was just a matter of putting it all together. We competed well in the three losses. In the game against Korea [a 7-3 defeat], for example, we gave up five runs in the first inning but then fought back. We didn’t roll over.”
Photo: Marek Chlup calls time after doubling off a 101.9 MPH fastball from Roki Sasaki at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Photo credit: Lenka Brožová
Chadim said that the game with Japan was followed by 850,000 people in the Czech Republic, thanks in part to the fact that it began at a convenient time for the locals – 11 on a Saturday morning – and came on the heels of the team’s opening-round victory over China. Approximately 200 Czech fans even traveled to Tokyo to support the team.
“It’s unreal,” first baseman Martin Muzik said after the game against China. “Two hundred people flew from Czech. They flew across the world to watch us and support us. It means a lot for us. They gave us huge energy.”
Right fielder Matej Mensik added, “It’s really awesome that we have them here and [that] they are cheering for us, the same as they were in Regensburg [for the qualifiers]. It just makes you play better.”
Chadim believes that, all told, more than a million people followed the game from broadcasting, newspapers, and other outlets.
“All the WBC games were televised back home, which had never happened before,” he said. “The TV people had had a big success with the rugby World Cup a few years before, and now they think they could have similar success with the WBC.”
Chadim noted that he has been asked to co-author a book about the success of baseball in the Czech Republic and that the country’s prime minister has invited the team to Prague to offer official congratulations – “For us in baseball here, that’s unbelievable.”
Cervenka’s thoughts aligned with those of Chadim.
“There is definitely more interest in baseball now,” Cervenka said. “The media did a good job of promoting us, and all games were televised live. Usually, the talk about baseball is among the baseball community only, but it seems that others heard about us and started talking about the games. When I got back to work [in sales], I found that other people there had followed the games. People were excited.
“I think this got us more on the map, and I hope it means that more young kids get involved with baseball. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Photo: With this swing, Martin Muzik hits a three-run home run in the top of the 9th versus China and lead the Czechs to their first-ever World Baseball Classic win. Photo credit: Lenka Brožová, Tomáš Icík
John Hussey, who works full-time with the Hrosi Brno team in the Czech Extraliga and is the national team’s pitching coach, said, “We’re hoping that our play in the WBC and the fact that we automatically qualified for the next WBC will be very motivating for our guys. It helps our confidence and raises expectations.
“The hope, too, is that more young people will get interested in baseball. We won’t see the results of that for at least a few years, especially with the younger kids, but if that happens, it would make a difference. More than anything, we need more depth [on the national team]. We run out of depth quicker than some other countries, and long-term growth of the game here will give us more.”
Now, of course, the question is: What’s next?
“I don’t want to jump too high, too quickly,” Chadim said. “2026 [the next WBC] is a long way off. Our next focus will be the European championships [to be held in the Czech Republic this fall], and it will be tough putting the team together because rosters will be limited to 24 players instead 31, like in the WBC. But the Czech team has not won a medal in 30 years, and the dream of everyone in Czech Republic baseball is to win a medal there. That’s very important to us because the other 11 countries have at least one medal during that time.”
Cervenka agreed that “winning the European championship for the first time would be a great next step.
“To get better, we need to face better competition more often, especially pitchers with more velocity,” he continued. “Having more of our guys play college ball in the U.S. is one way we can accomplish that. It would really help if we could get some professionals to play here, but that’s kind of far-fetched because there’s not enough money to pay them. Having [former MLB player] Eric Sogard [a second baseman who batted .438 in the tournament] on the WBC team was great. He was a true professional, and I hope we learned some things from seeing how well prepared and focused he was.”
Photo: Manager Pavel Chadim (far left) —a neurologist in Brno by day—believes the WBC will help grow Czech baseball at all levels. Photo credit: Lenka Brožová
Chadim, a neurologist in Brno by day, has a better perspective on Czech baseball than most, as he’s been involved since the early 1990s as a player, coach, and director of development. He’s coached the national team since 2003. He initiated the country’s baseball development program; has managed the Under-12, Under-18, Under-21 and Under-23 teams; and has a 22-year-old son who is an outfielder for Chadim’s Draci Brno team in the Czech Extraliga.
“It takes time, and we’ve gradually improved our requirements and participation,” he said. “Twenty years ago, we had 2,000 young players across the country. Now, we have 10,000, and we want to increase that.
“Looking ahead, we have the opportunity to continuing improving at all levels. We have some great junior players and a great Under-23 team, and our performance in the WBC has been a big motivation for them.”
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