Born and raised in the windy city, Chris Michals played shortstop for a community college in Chicago named Oakton. In 2007, his freshman year, he was overridden by a division 1 transfer and often found himself on the bench as a platoon infielder, despite putting up good numbers. He decided at that point to leave the team and focus on school only to return in 2010. Upon finding out that the team was lacking pitching and again were talent rich in the infield, he quickly taught himself how to pitch. To the shock of his coaches and teammates, Michals not only made the starting rotation, he went 7-0 that season and only had one no-decision on route to leading his team to the 2010 Sectional Championship, sending Oakton Community College to it’s first final four in school history.
Post college Michals took a job as a baseball instructor. While at work, he discovered the opportunity to play baseball in Europe through a fellow instructor who had just returned from a stint playing pro ball in Slovakia. Michals was at first skeptical about the idea of playing baseball in Slovakia but after a few months he found himself intrigued and soon signed a contract to play with the Trnava Angels of Slovakia for the upcoming 2012 season.
With Slovakia still showing signs of a country that was once under communist rule, Michals was a little taken aback when he first arrived.
My first impression was whoa, what have I gotten myself into.
Slovakia became a member of the EU in 2004 and has since had one of the fastest economic growth rates in the EU. Despite rapid modernization, the eastern block countries can still be a little shocking to the average American visitor.
When asked about the language barrier Michals summed it up well. “There was a lot of buying the wrong stuff at the grocery store.”
The Angels compete in the Slovakian league of which they and another club dominate the small league of four clubs. The top two clubs in Slovakia also compete in the InterLeague, a league made up of the top clubs in Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia. Playing in the InterLeague allowed Chris to travel to Budapest, one of the most visited cities in Europe, and Split, a Croatian town right on the Adriatic sea.
In Michal’s first game in Hungary, he recalled the town having no cars and only horses and that the game was played in the back of a corn field.
That was the first game I played. There were goats and chickens in the outfield. It was a culture shock immediately for me. I took it for what is was worth and just rolled with it.
However the second import on the Angels that year was not able to roll with it quite like Michals did and went home early due to the culture shock. Michals went on to lead his team to their first InterLeague championship, the first in Slovak history as they defeated Nada Split of Croatia in a close championship series.
In 2013 he returned to Europe but this time had a bad experience with a club that Michals claims did not hold up to their end of the contract.
“All it came down to was, read and re-read the contract and understand fully, and get the details as to what their wording in the contract means,” advised Michals for others looking to avoid the situation he was in.
In 2014 Michals decided to return to Europe, this time with the Zurich Barracudas of the top league in Switzerland, the NLA. He compared the level of Swiss ball to Rookie or Low A.
Michals played alongside fellow IBC member Bert Marsnik who was in his second season in Swiss baseball after transferring from the Bern Cardinals following the 2013 season. The pair of utility players led the Barracudas to the national championship but came up short in extra innings of the fifth and final game of the series to IBC member Gavin Guarrrera and the Therwil Flyers.
Michals signed on again for the 2015 season and is looking to settle the score with the Flyers.