The European Pool ‘A’ Baseball Championships will be taking part in Germany this summer. The excellent website for the event is up and running. Ireland will be taking part in the Pool B Championships next summer, location as yet undecided.
The system and rules change quite often but finishing first or second in Pool B normally means promotion to the ‘A’ Pool. Subsequently, finishing last or second last in the ‘A’ Pool means the relevant team will also be playing in Pool B next season, relegated from the top echelon.
The teams taking part in Pool A are all top notch, high quality baseball sides. There are plenty of reasons a Pool B team would fear for the safety and indeed sanity if they got promoted to run with the big dogs. However, ironically, Ireland has actually beaten a couple of the current ‘A’ teams down the years.
Group A sees Netherlands, Germany, France, Ukraine, The Czech Republic and Belgium. Going on previous history you would have to think the Netherlands and France are the strong favourites to progress from that group. The Netherlands have been participating in the World Baseball Championship and are one of the top teams in Europe. Historically, France have been one of the better sides in the tournament. They have a strong home league with many semi professional players.
The Ukraine are an interesting side, they have played in Pool B on several occasions. They are the kind of team that could turn up and shock everyone, or turn up undermanned and get pummeled all tournament long.
In 2004 Ireland played in the Pool B Championships in Regensberg, Germany. Although we never got to face the tournament hosts there was not a huge gap between us in skill levels. Ireland were absolutely dying for a shot at the hosts but we just missed out. In 2006 we got our chance, in the Pool B Championships in Antwerp, we faced, and stunned the hosts Belgium 4-1 in the tournament semi final. It was one of the finest results in Irish baseball history.
Both Belgium and Germany make up the numbers in Group A. Ireland would have nothing to fear facing those two, and probably the Ukraine also.
Group B is made up of England, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Croatia and Greece. This is the proverbial group of death. Spain has a thriving league and a talented National side, and should do well. Sweden has an excellent baseball program. They hosted the 2002 European Pool B Championships in Stockholm and swept Ireland and everyone else before them. They haven’t looked back since. Italy is probably the second best team in Europe behind only the Netherlands, and even that’s debatable. Their hitting coach is Mike Piazza, and they have a host of former minor league talent level players in their side. They are the real deal.
Greece are an enigma. Several years ago they attempted to rig their team entirely of Greek-Americans. The experiment did not work, they were beaten badly and in turn alienated their home based players. They could go either way this time, or perhaps they will try and mix it up with a selection of home and non resident nationals. Very hard to tell if they will be good or awful.
The leaves England and Croatia. Ireland has yet to beat Croatia but lost only 2-1 to them in the group stages in the 2006 Championships in Belgium. It was a game Ireland could easily have won, if a couple of baseballs had dropped differently. As for England, Ireland played them in a best of three series in London in 2006, and took two out of the three on the hosts home soil. The one game we lost was a tight one. 6-5, with England scoring two late runs to salvage a consolation game.
Pretty fascinating lineup for the ’10 finals.
From an introverted, selfish point of view, looking at teams like England, Croatia, Greece, Ukraine, Germany and Belgium, Ireland would have nothing to fear playing at this level. Perhaps we can qualify next summer and finally take our turn, running with the big dogs.
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