Global Baseball

One man\’s year-long journey through the world of baseball

Awesome

Amanda Asay, the star catcher/first basewoman who led Canada to the bronze medal at the 2006 Women’s Baseball World Cup, is playing with the boys in the Prince George Senior Baseball League this year, and holding her own, at that.  The league consists mostly of former college players, age 19 and up.

Awesome.

Advertisements

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Awesome, Women's Baseball | 1 Comment

Dice-K Mania

I´m still abroad, so I just heard about this.  Wow.

Oh well, anything to spread the exposure of J-Pop, I guess.

June 27, 2007 Posted by | Daisuke Matsuzaka | Leave a comment

European Championship Season Draws to a Close

The European Baseball League had its series of championships and qualifiers for next year`s tournaments a little over a week ago, and while the final results at the highest level were nothing new, there were interesting developments brewing beyond the championships.

In the 2007 European Cup in San Marino, the tournament was won by Corenden Kinheim of the Netherlands. To give you a little background, the European cup has been absolutely dominated by the Dutch and Italian professional leagues since its inception. Since 1968, either a Dutch or Italian team has taken the title every single year.

There was, however, a little shakeup in European baseball`s most coveted championship. In the semifinals, the French Rouen Huskies beat ASD Ramini of the Italian league 4-3 to advance to the championship game, where they lost 3-1 to Kinheim. This was the first time in at least 11 years that the European Cup´s second-place team did not come from either the Dutch or Italian league. (The team from the Republic of San Marino has placed both first (2006) and second (2001) during this time, but they play in Serie A1, the Italian Professional League).

In addition to the European Cup, the Cup Winners cup took place on the same dates in Hoofdorp, Netherlands. Traditional European powerhouse Door Neptunus was participating in the cup, after failing to reach the Holland Series in 2006. Neptunus, winners of 5 of the last 8 European Cups, ran the table in what was essentially a consolation event for the Dutch team. They had little trouble, invoking the mercy rule in three of their five contests, including the semifinal match with Arrows Ostrava of the Czech Republic. All in all, Neptunus went 5-0 in the tournament, outscoring their opponents 48-6, with their one close game a 2-0 victory in the final over Saint Boi of the Spanish League. Door Neptunus is well positioned to play with the big boys again next year, as they currently sit atop the Hoofdklasse (Dutch professional league) standings with a 17-5 record.

These tournaments only figure to get more interesting as MLB´s plan to open up Europe continues.
For prospect junkies more concerned about players who might end up coming over to the US than the top-level European competitions, the European Juvinile (July 10-14), Cadet (July 17-21), and Junior Championships (July 30-Aug. 10) are all coming up shortly, and MLB Europe is likely close to announcing the participants at the 2007 MLB European Academy, which will be held in Italy again this summer.

June 27, 2007 Posted by | European Baseball | 4 Comments

Swedes Upset over European Academy Tryouts

While Major League Baseball has not yet released the full roster of names for the 2007 European Academy, we learn from the Swedish Baseball Blog that no Swedish players were selected this year.  We also learn that there is a fair amount of acrimony over the manner in which the tryouts were held this year.  Citing the early tryout date (mid-April) and unfavorable location (in Leksend, in the colder Northern part of Sweden), the author of the Swedish blog accuses the academy selection process of being biased towards Southern Europeans, likening tryouts in Leksend in mid-April to attempting to evaluate baseball talent in Alaska in Spring.

Having spoken at length to a representative of MLB’s efforts in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, I doubt that the bias is intentional.  At this point, MLB is investing significant resources to developing the game everywhere it sees the potential for baseball to take hold.  It does sound like there were serious problems with this particular tryout process, however.  Hopefully MLB’s European office will figure out a way to balance interests in this relatively new process to keep as many people as possible happy in the future.

June 21, 2007 Posted by | European Baseball | Leave a comment

Chinese Signings: The Beginning

The New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners have opened up the market for Chinese baseball players this year, adopting very different strategies to do so.

The Yankees, whose interest in developing the game in China has been well documented, signed two Chinese teenagers this week, the first players ever signed out of China with the consent of the Government. The new minor leaguers are 19 year old left-handed pitcher Kai Liu, and 19 year old catcher Zhenwang Zheng.

The Mariners also made two signings, but seem to be attempting to make their inroads into Chinese scouting by hedging their bets on older, more experienced players who might allow them to lay claim to the first ever Chinese born players in the Major Leagues. This morning, the Mariners’ official website announced that they have signed two players from the Chinese national team to minor league contracts. The new Mariners farmhands are 28 year old catcher Wei Wang, and 24-year-old “Infielder/Outfielder” Yu Bing Jia. Wang was the first player to hit a home run in the 2006 World Baseball Classic when he went deep against Koji Uehara, one of the best pitchers in the Japanese League. Wang went 2-9 in China’s three WBC games, adding a double in the Chinese team’s final WBC game against Taiwan.

The 24-year-old Jia did not appear in the WBC, but according to the Mariners’ press release, he has played on the Chinese national team since 2003 and led the Chinese Baseball League in home runs this year. He was also a member of the Chinese team at the 2002 World University Championships that pulled off an upset over a United States team that featured eventual major leaguers Aaron Hill, Dustin Pedroia, Connor Jackson, and Rickie Weeks.

June 21, 2007 Posted by | Chinese Baseball, International Signings | 5 Comments

New Affiliates in the DSL

The Toronto Blue Jays drew a significant amount of heat during the last off season for cutting out the Appalacian League Pulaski Blue Jays and becoming the only team in baseball with only five minor league affiliates.  While the Jays reneged and ended up setting up a complex team in the Gulf Coast League, they had a backup plan all along.  When this year’s Dominican Summer League began play last week, the Blue Jays came into the league with two affiliated teams for the first time.  Also adding a second DSL squad was the Chicago White Sox, bringing the total number of MLB clubs with two teams to 5.

There are several reasons to add an extra affiliate in the Dominican.  Some teams consider Latin American scouting the ultimate crap shoot, and use their second DSL squad as a way of doubling their odds without spending big money.  Others scout a much broader area than just the Dominican, but are unwilling to invest significant amounts of money in establishing a full-fledged academy in the Venezuelan league.  And finally, some teams just have boatloads of money and want to sign as many players as possible to give them the best possible chance at loading up with star international players.

The 5 teams with two DSL squads run the gamut of scouting strategies in Latin America.  This post will look at the teams who have chosen this particular method of aggressively pursuing international talent.

Chicago White Sox MO: The White Sox have no set cap, but if they have made any significant six-figure international signings in recent years, they certainly have not bothered to tell anyone about it.

Scouting Niche: Mexico.  The White Sox have not produced a major international talent in the past 4-5 years.  Time will tell whether their decision to expand the team’s Dominican operation will improve things or not.

Toronto Blue Jays

MO: Mid-level spenders.  The Blue Jays have spent big on two guys in recent years that I’m aware of.  3B Balbino Fuenmayor, signed in 2006 for $750,000, and RHP Francisco Rosario, signed in 1999 for the same price.

Scouting Niche: Venezuela/Oceania.  One of the few teams with a New Zealander in their system, the Blue Jays have definitely expanded their operation outside of the island.  They operated a split-squad in the Venezuelan Summer team in 2006, but have abandoned it in favor of opening the second DSL squad.  Currently, the Blue Jays have about as many Venezuelans as Dominicans playing for the system’s stateside affiliates, and while that might change with the extra Dominican affiliate, expect the Blue Jays to continue spending a significant amount of money casting a wide net for international talent.

Oakland Athletics:

MO: Sign a boatload of players as cheaply as possible.  While a few other teams have rigid caps, none of them are quite as frugal on the international stage as the Athletics.  With the international market becoming more expensive in recent years, the A’s cap has probably increased a little bit since their policy of not exceeding a $40,000 bonus as reported a couple of years ago.

Scouting Niche: Standard.  Oakland scored a major coup in signing Javier Herrera out of Venezuela a few years back, but aside from age-gated Santiago Casilla, their Latin American scouting department has not produced much in the way of major leaguers or prospects since Miguel Tejada came through the system in the mid-late 90’s.

Washington Nationals

MO: Desperate to become big spenders, as evidenced by giving top 2006 international recruit Esmailyn Gonzalez significantly  more than the next highest bidder offered for the 5’9″ shortstop.

Scouting Niche: Perhaps the most Dominican-heavy system in baseball.  The Nats maintain a token presence in Venezuela and have a few Mexicans in their system.  The Nationals are one of three teams that pay former Major League pitcher Jose Rijo a fortune to lease academy space in the Loma del Suenos complex in San Cristobal, and the team will be spending big money in the next couple of years to justify the expense.  Last December, Jim Bowden told the Fredricksburg-based Free Lance Star: “The Cowboys were America’s team. We would like to be the world’s team.  We want to dominate the Dominican Republic.”

Until they come up with a solid core of Dominican players, the Nationals will almost certainly have to keep overpaying for top talent to compete with the Mets, heavy spenders who have also emphasized dominating the DR, and the final organization with 2 DSL affliates…

New York Yankees

MO: Spend heavily whenever they see someone they like.

Scouting Niche: Panama.  The Yankees are everywhere in Latin America, but they seem more focused than any other Major League team on mining  Panama for talent.  After finding Mariano Rivera there 15 years ago, who can blame them?

Additionally, The Yankees have a huge recruiting advantage everywhere in the world, as no other team in baseball can match their global appeal.  ESPNDeportes and other Latin American networks that televise sports show more Yankees games than any other, creating an international culture of fandom that tends to view Major League baseball as the Yankees vs. everyone else.  Not even the Red Sox, with their historically Dominican-dominated 2004 World Series team and quite possibly the most popular player on the planet in David Ortiz, can match the Yankees’ recruiting advantage in Latin America.  Buscones in the DR complain of being unable to negotiate fair contracts because their players want to sign with the Yankees at any price.  Throw in the fact that the Bronx Bombers are equipped to spend as heavily as any other team in baseball (though surprisingly, they do not consistently spend the most money on top tier talents) and are able to staff two teams with 70 international players in their summer complex in Boca Chica, and only the crap shoot nature of international scouting keeps the Yankees from boasting the best crop of international prospects in baseball every single year.

June 14, 2007 Posted by | DSL, Scouting Trends | 5 Comments

Aussie Breaks New Ground

Seattle Mariners’ Reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, who hails from Sydney, Australia, became the only player with a hyphenated last name to ever appear on a major league 25-man roster when he was called up from Triple-A a week and a half ago. Rowland-Smith spent 4 days with the major league club before being sent back down, and did not appear in a game.

Rowland-Smith is currently 2-3 with a 5.16 ERA and a 25/16 K/BB in 22.2 IP for Triple-A Tacoma. His name will show up in baseball almanacs listing full rosters, but the Australian lefty will probably have to wait a little longer (and pitch a little better in Triple-A) to get his name up at Baseball-Reference.com.

Hat tip to Elizabeth Cage of MLB’s The Pitch and Aussie & Oceania List for the info.

May 23, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball | Leave a comment

Chavez Consolidating Power

While not specifically baseball-related, MLB has to be watching political developments in Venezuela incredibly closely these days. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez remains incredibly powerful due to widespread support among his country’s poorer citizens.  This is thanks in large part to his emphasis on improving by leaps and bounds his country’s social services since his election in 1998. As a pair of headlines this week show, Chavez has been incredibly aggressive with that power recently.

Today’s BBC reports on a political demonstration in Caracas protesting the closure of one of the country’s TV stations. Chavez claims the station supported the failed coup that temporarily ousted him and suspended the country’s legislature in 2002. Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story on Chavez’s program of land seizure and redistribution, a program lauded by poor Venezuelans using the newly-seized farmland for subsistence farming, but criticized by land-owners and economists.

When I interviewed Peter Bjarkman back in March, he briefly mentioned the possibility of the Venezuelan Government, as part of its march towards socialism, taking control of the contracts signed by the country’s amateur baseball players, and negotiating on those players’ behalves. While any vestiges of a state economy are troubling, government control of baseball contracts could actually potentially benefit amateur baseball players. Attempts by Latin American governments to set limits on the percentage of signing bonuses trainers are allowed to take have been met with indifference. Of course, relying on a government moving towards socialism to treat these kids fairly has its own set of problems.

It is doubtful that Venezuela will ever entirely embrace the isolation that Cuba experiences under Fidel Castro. If Chavez were to cut off the pipeline between Venezuela and Major League Baseball, he would have a serious PR problem on his hands, as Venezuelans take an incredible amount of pride in seeing players like Johan Santana succeed in the majors. For the time being, however, Major League Baseball’s second largest source of international talent is getting more volatile by the day. If this continues, baseball will almost certainly feel its effects somewhere down the road.

May 22, 2007 Posted by | Venezuela | 3 Comments

PBS To Air IBL Opening Day

Noted purveyor of quality sports journalism PBS will be broadcasting the Israeli Professional Baseball League’s opening game on July 1, according to an official IBL press release. While the IBL’s level of play does not figure to be that strong, particularly in the league’s inaugural season, it appears the broadcast will be much more generally themed than a simple sports broadcast. In the IBL’s own words, PBS is airing the game “in recognition of the fact that the game transcends more than just the playing of a baseball game itself.

Anyone want to take a stab at what they mean by that?

Without getting too political here, I’ll say I can only hope the broadcast avoids turning into a 2 and a half hour testimonial to the need for strong bonds between the United States and Israel. Baseball gives us plenty to talk about besides the actual action on the field, and the PBS coverage of the IBL figures to be one of the more interesting sports broadcasts an American baseball fan can hope to see. It would be a shame if the broadcasters turn this opportunity into a platform for spreading zionist propaganda. At this point, though, I’m cautiously optimistic that this might be one of the best pieces of sports journalism we will see in the United States all year.

No word yet on who the commentators will be. Is it too much to hope for Charlie Rose?

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Israeli Baseball | 3 Comments

Field Research

Most of the work in my fellowship involves finding leading figures in the development of baseball in the countries I visit and conducting lengthy interviews. With all of the talking about baseball I engage in on a regular basis, it’s nice to take some time out and just enjoy a game with friends every once in awhile.

Little known fact: Nicaragua runs a semipro league at the same time as the major league baseball season. Most of the players never signed with major league teams, since scouts have only re-entered Nicaragua in force in the past 5-10 years, but the quality of play is surprisingly high.

I’m currently in Granada, a picturesque colonial town on the north bank of Lake Nicaragua. A couple of days ago, I organized a trip with several people staying at my hostel to a Nicaraguan League game between the Tiburones de Granada and the Leones de Leon. We were an eclectic group: 3 Aussies, 1 German, 1 Dutch guy, 3 Canadians, a Californian, and three Pacific Northwesterners.

As we prepared to go to the game, I mentioned as a brief aside to my friend Josh, “how crazy would it be if we could get a bunch of gringps to spell out “Granada” and pump the Nica crowd up? ” Intending the remark facetiously, I failed to take into account the nature of the people I was traveling with. As a general rule, suggest anything to backpackers, and they’ll probably do it.

The result:

:

I’m the guy on the end with the noisemaker. We were low on ink, so it’s tough to make out the G and the R, but we got our point across. The Nicaraguan fans loved us.

The kids at the ballpark in Nicaragua walk around with big burlap bags collecting empty beer cans for recycling money. A group of 5 or 6 of them spotted easy money in a group of gringos at the game to drink and have fun. After we milked the bodypainting fiasco for all the fun we could, I started teaching the kids “American” handshakes.

I asked this kid if he played baseball, and whether he’d want to sign with a major league team. His response: “No. I want to play for Granada.”

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Ballpark Antics | Leave a comment