In 2013 and 2014, numerous Baseball Jobs Overseas members who found jobs playing pro baseball in Europe were picked up by the International Stars tournament team to play at both Finkstonball in Austria and at Prague Baseball Week in the Czech Republic.
In the past I had not been able to make it to Prague Baseball Week and have missed out on meeting IBC members who I really wanted to have a beer with and I also missed out on what is said to be a great week of baseball and hanging out with the guys.
Luckily in 2015, I was able to make it for the first time and boy was I pumped. Head Coach Ty Eriksen and GM Boomer Prinstein were nice enough to offer me a spot as assistant coach. The time finally arrived and sure enough, I was under the weather. Nothing serious, but I had a cold and felt very lethargic. Not a good start. But what the hell, my job was to take video, coach some first base and drink beer, all things I was definitely up to (see the video at the bottom of this post).
After the 4+ hour drive from Austria, my Austrian teammates Melvin Perdue, Jimmy Jensen and I rolled into the hotel parking lot and immediately we see Joe Wittig, the best batter and hitter at Finkstonball a month ago, hanging out on his balcony. I could tell right away this was going to be a good week.
That first night was a pretty quiet one. Dutch pitcher Rick van Dijck met us at the hotel and took us out for a traditional Czech dinner. We left after a couple of super cheap Czech beers and some good food and we were back by midnight.
10 am came fast and we packed into the car and drove down the street about 5 minutes and were at the ballpark. It was my first time at the Prague Eagles complex and I was immediately impressed. A nice big clubhouse with a kitchen, bar, fanshop and a big terrace with picnic tables overlooking one of two well manicured baseball fields. Off in the distance was the main field and behind that were two youth diamonds doubling as softball fields.
Our dugout was crowded with many familiar names and faces I knew from my website and from Finkstonball a month earlier. In total, there were 32 on the roster and I counted 13 guys that were members of my website. Some of the players were not imports but were European players that played in the Czech Republic. The team was made up of players and coaches from the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Curacao, Austria and the Netherlands. Altogether, a lot of talent in the dugout no doubt.
Our game was at 1pm and first up was Great Britain. I had no idea what to expect. Given the low key nature of the tournament, they definitely were not flying in any ringers from the U.S. with British passports like they do for the EU Championships. There were not many memorable moments in this 14-0 blowout as the Stars cruised behind a 4 for 4 day from Melvin.
The second night was another early one. Maybe old age was catching up with me but I was tired from the post game beers and the big meal we had in town. Again we were back by midnight, but I am pretty sure it was a different story for some of the others.
At breakfast the next morning there were a few red eyes and conversation was to a minimum. The 1pm start time was a luxury but was also probably a major factor in the decisions to stay out all night. But hey, why break tradition. The stories from the past two years were of partying all night and bringing home championships. Is it possible to pull that off again? We are a talented bunch but I know that the Czechs are major competitors and the national team will for sure be tucked in with lights out by 11pm the night before our game later in the week.
At the field we were up against a very young, but talented Czech U18 national team. If there is something that can be said about Czech baseball, it is that they can hit. However our pitching was too strong for them on this day as we held them to 1 run while scoring 12 ourselves behind the strong bat of the 2014 tournament best batter, Alex Lee (Ostrava Arrows) as he when 4 for 4 putting himself in contention for the best batter title again. Lee’s teammate with the Arrows, Polish catcher Paluch Przemyslaw, also had a strong game going 3 for 4.
On the third night it was time to stay out a little longer, but I was still not feeling tip top. But first, we needed some grub. About 12 of us headed to a popular restaurant called Vytopna in downtown Prague that is famous for bringing your drinks on a remote train that rolls right up onto your table. Nothing like having the best beer in the world served up on a mini train after a long day at the ballpark. Another heavy Czech meal, a few beers and an annoyed waitress later, we decided it was time to head into the Old Town to do a little sight seeing and have a drink. We eventually made our way to Hooters for a nightcap before calling it a night, much to the displeasure of my ex-roommate Scotty Mulhearn who was looking to have a big night.
Day three saw “zee Germans” come our way, but they were baby Germans as they also were a U18 national team. In previous years Germany sent their senior national team, but in 2015 it was the young ones. Perhaps their young faces were misleading as the Deutschlanders gave the Stars a scare and were actually leading at one point. The overconfident Stars were definitely underestimating them and were not in the best game shape that is for sure. Eventually the bats starting coming around led by Wittig (3 for 3) and Mulhearn (2 for 3). The Stars pulled out a 9-6 win to bring their record to 3-0.
It was our fourth night out and it was time to see what all this Prague Nightlife hype was about. Although way past my bar years at the age of 40, I had to show up for at least one late one with the guys. Plus all these early nights I was worried the guys might start thinking I was just going back to the hotel early for a Thai massage on the first floor (see right).
We started at a place that had half naked women dancing in cages, definitely something that screams Czech. Very crowded and full with baseball players. We spent maybe an hour there and then we were off to bar number two, a bigger bar with a big dance floor and again, very packed. Luckily, drinks are cheap in the Czech Republic, even in this touristy city.
From there we got split up a bit and I found myself in a hip-hop bar with some shady looking characters around. We didn’t stay there long before we decided it was time for a kebap across the street. That is when the kebap incident happened which is a story we will keep within the team. It was time to get back to the hotel needless to say.
Day four brought on the one true threat of the tournament, the Czech Senior National Team. A very talented team with former minor league players and young rising Czech stars. Top pitching in the high 80’s with good movement and off-speed stuff. Lucas Hagberg (Therwil Flyers) and Alex Lee had two hits apiece but the Stars were unable to string together enough hits as they fell 3-1 in this pitchers duel. The Czechs sent a message that this three-peat was not going to be an easy one, something we already knew.
Our final night was a quiet one as the next day brought our first morning game against Planet Baseball USA, a travel team made up of recent college grads. The championship was a sure thing at this point and was to follow later in the evening at 6pm. The Stars were looking to find their stride after narrowly beating the German U18 team and losing to the Czech NT the previous day. That is exactly what they did behind 5 solid innings from Jack Shannon (Therwil Flyers) on the mound before giving away to relief pitchers. Jake Rabinowitz (Tempo Titans), Michael Stowers (Prague Eagles), Brandon Marshall (Cologne Cardinals) and Adam Greenberg (Lucerne Eagles) each had two hits a peice on route to an 11-2 win.
This set up the championship game against the Czech National Team, a much anticipated re-match of the previous year where the Stars beat the Czechs to win the tournament for the second year in a row. This year they were looking to three-peat and beat the Czechs in front of their home crowd again.
The Stars jumped out to an early 4-1 lead behind stellar pitching from Will Lee and were firing on all cylinders after 4 innings. The Czechs kept pressing with some small ball and shortened the lead to 4-2, then 4-3 and then tied it up on a controversial call on a third strike check swing that would have ended the inning. Instead they scored another run on the very next pitch on an error from the catcher. With the score tied, the Stars bats fell silent as they watched the Czechs tack on two insurance runs in the final frames to crush the Stars dreams of three-peating.
Despite the loss, Perdue won the best batter award (.667) for the tournament while Will Lee took home the best pitcher award. It was a great tournament and the players on the team not only made a ton of new friends in the international baseball world, they established networks that have helped many of them continue their baseball career overseas.
Check out this video in memory of that great week and as inspiration to others in Europe looking to join the team for 2016. (MISSING FROM THE VIDEO: Mitch Stephan. Sorry Mitch! But I got your nice double to the wall under the lights!)