Photo credit: Baseball Czech
Jeff Barto pitched against the South Korean National Team at the Tokyo Dome as a representative of the Czech National Team this past Saturday in World Baseball Classic pool play. He threw 5.2 innings in relief, surrendering only 2 hits and one earned run, giving his team a chance to come back from a 6-0 deficit, which they almost did.
How did Jeff get to this moment?
It started back in 2014 after the former NCAA 1 pitcher decided to take his career overseas, landing him in Austria after signing up for a membership with Baseball Jobs Overseas. From there, Jeff went on to play a second season in Austria, two seasons of winter ball in Australia, a season in Croatia and five seasons in the Czech Republic, where he now lives year-round.
BBJO: How did you qualify for the Czech Nt?
JB: I was able to qualify for the NT because of my permanent residence in the Czech Republic. My (then) girlfriend and I moved back to Czech in September of 2020 to start our family. We got married in February of 2021 and our little girl was born in July. After two full years of living in Czech I was able to apply for residency status which I was finally granted in December 2022.
BBJO: How was the experience of pitching against Korea in the Tokyo Dome? How were the nerves?
JB: Just being in the Tokyo Dome was an awesome experience. The night before we played Japan in front of 41,637 fans. The energy and electricity from that were unbelievable but also left you with an exhausted hungover feeling the next morning. Honestly, I wasn’t nervous one bit. When I got out to the mound for my warmup pitches I just wanted to soak it all in. Did the usual, situation and signs from the catcher and got a feel for the mound. The last thing I did was find my wife and baby girl in the stands. Once I saw them smiling and waving it was all good.
BBJO: How was your approach to that lineup?
JB: I knew they were ultra-aggressive. We came over to Japan a week early for some preparation games against local teams in Miyazaki. Right from there the aggressiveness of these hitters was obvious. I was able to speak with Kenny Takubo(former teammate with Feldkirch Cardinals 2014) about the Korea lineup. He told me to expect very much the same style as the local Japanese hitters we faced. They want to ambush your fastball early but will struggle against lefties with any movement on off-speed pitches. For me, it makes a great matchup. I knew if I could get my change-up going right from the start I’d be fine.
Photo: Barto came in relief with his team trailing 6-0 and held South Korea to 1 run over 5.2 innings of work. PC: Baseball Czech
BBJO: It seems the Czech team was a fan favorite in Japan. Can you share anything about that experience?
JB: How could you not get behind these guys?!? Everyone loves a good underdog story and that’s exactly who we are. I don’t think anyone really expected us to do anything in this tournament but now the world knows about Czech baseball. We were it the whole time. We had our opportunities and that’s all we can ask for. Few pitches go this way or that way for us and we could have pulled out another win or two. It was awesome seeing the local fans with Czech stickers and paint on their faces. Always smiling, waving Czech flags and cheering for us like they were lifelong fans.
BBJO: Aside from your moment, what was your favorite moment at the wbc?
JB: The entire trip to Japan has been amazing. From Martin Muziks “shot heard round the world” to lift us in the 9th over China, Satoria striking out Ohtani, Roki Sasaki showing up to the hotel to apologize for absolutely lighting up Willie with 102, getting shaken awake one morning from an earthquake and seeing my little baby girl dancing and cheering for daddy on the big screen… let’s just say there was a lot going on. It’ll take some time to process what happened and what was accomplished but man…. Good times.