Friday, August 10, 2012 |14:09 |Age: 282 days
Europe represented at Pony for first timeBy: Jason Mackey (Pony)
A team from Europe will play in the Pony League World Series for the first time when Paderborn, Germany, faces the host squad from Washington Saturday night.
Baseball in Germany sounds odd, doesn’t it? But toss that stereotype out the window right now.
The Germans are obsessed with Major League Baseball, so much so that pretty much every player has an MLB.com account, the group often staying up together to watch games late at night. And how about when the players were told the Pirates would be at home during the Pony League World Series?
“These kids have been begging me to go to a Pirates game,” assistant Paderborn coach Alper Bozkurt said. “They want to see McCutchen play.
“One of the guys said, I looked up the schedule. Right now, they’re playing the Padres, so we shouldn’t go. But the Dodgers are coming into town early next week.’ They want to see Matt Kemp.”
The growth of baseball in Germany can be attributed to the decade-old German Baseball Academy, said Bozkurt, who was relaxing in his hotel room, waiting for the team’s manager, Georg Bull, to arrive.
With German sports not tied to high schools and the financial backing to create what Bozkurt called “boarding schools for baseball,” baseball has suddenly become a not-so-crazy alternative for soccer.
“About five years ago, you would say we have 15 players ... and about five of them we could have left at home because they’re not going to see the field,” said Bozkurt, a former middle infielder and catcher. “Right now, we’re looking at 30 players where there’s smoke coming out of our heads over who to cut.”
Check around the minor leagues and more German products are popping up: first baseball Donald Lutz is in the Cincinnati Reds organization; Daniel Thieben is a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners system, and his younger brother, Oliver, plays for Paderborn; and outfielder Max Kepler signed with the Minnesota Twins for $800,000, a record for a German-born player.
Germany also will host the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September.
“For the big organizations like Major League Baseball, it’s also a business and Europe is a market,” Bozkurt said. “So it makes sense.”
But the Paderborn team, which cruised through the European qualifier without allowing a run, might actually be getting too good.
See, the Germans have qualified for the upcoming World Cup and will need to leave by Wednesday to make it to Mexico on time. That, then, would become a problem if they win two games here since the Germans’ third game would be Thursday night.
“The plan is that we leave on Wednesday and go to Mexico,” Bozkurt said. “But I know ... if we end up winning a couple and making it to the next round, I wouldn’t be surprised if Georg makes a call.
“However, that’s bound to a lot of consequences now because we’re registered at the World Cup; we can’t just do a no-show. It will be a tough decision.”
International expansion isn’t the only item of note at this year’s Pony League World Series.
For instance, teams are no longer permitted to warm up on the field before games. They instead must scramble to get loose on the side or in something that should benefit the home team use off-site facilities.
“It started last year when we had rain Monday and, because of the time constraints, had to play four games in a row,” explained Mark Murphy, who’s in charge of Washington Youth Baseball and basically serves as the head groundskeeper for the tournament. “Pony Baseball liked that and said, No infield from the start.’”
Sounds minor, right? But toss 10 teams into a bracket and eliminate the use of video scouting. Think somebody might want a peek at an opposing outfielder’s arm? You bet.
“I’m sure I’m going to get grief from the coaches because I’m the only one who’s down on the field,” Murphy said.
It’s also going to cost more to run this year’s event the 50th World Series to be held in Washington said Bob Gregg of Tournaments Inc.
Part of that has to do with the team from Germany and others from Mexico and Puerto Rico, as Tournaments Inc., pays for a portion of travel costs. But some hotel accommodations were upgraded this year from the Days Inn to the SpringHill Suites which will bring the cost of hosting the tournament to around $80,000-$85,000, a number that could change depending on who wins and who loses, Gregg said.
“We’re prepared to put the World Series on from a financial standpoint,” Gregg said. “We’ve had great sponsor support, and we’re looking forward to it.
“If people come out and buy tickets and enjoy the concession stand and the other things for sale, then it’s going to be really great.”