Monday July 17th: ON TO BELGIUM
Getaway days are always quite interesting when one is talking about B-Pool travel throughout Europe. For that matter, A-Pool travel with this country is also unpredictable if you remember last year. True to form, we were loading up the vans at midnight on Sunday/Monday preparing to embark on a cross continental European drive that would take the Croatian Juniors to Belgium sometime Monday afternoon. As mentioned, we did play the Croatian Senior team over the weekend and hung in there with them at least while our starting pitchers were in the game. Our ball club is about 10 to 11 deep with perhaps four to five pitchers that I feel confident in, but after that our productivity rapidly declines. But with our starting nine and pitching staff, I feel we can compete in Belgium and hopefully win this thing and get this country back in the A Pool for the first time in nine years. But first we have to get there. We left Karlovac at 12:30 and stopped in Zagreb to pick up an umpire that would work the tournament. Bekic would meet us in a little town called Ptuj just across the Slovenian border.
We arrived in Ptuj around 2:00 am already behind schedule. The weather gave us a big break as the temperatures were around 15 degrees Celsius (about 60 degrees Fahrenheit), but that would change as day would break. And of course this is Croatian travel, so guess who is driving the vans? Yeah, you got it. Bekic, Percy, and our technical rep. Horva. The umpire will share the driving with me, thank goodness, or we would never have made it. I took the first leg and hung in there until the morning when we stopped for gas and coffee somewhere in the middle of Austria. And for the first time I gave Red Bull a shot and I guess it worked for a while. It would not be long before my body started questioning me as it always does when I travel without sleep. I was a zombie by Monday afternoon. The players for the most part slept but an uneasy sleep. Bekic and Horva amazingly hung in there all the way.
Traveling through Germany is always a treat. I am continuously impressed with the beautiful countryside and what appears to be the efficiency of the German farmers. A good part of our midwest in the US is made up of farm families of German descent who have helped shape our agricultural environment. The Danube River and the castle regions are always a treat for travelers, whether by car or train.
We were making good time through Germany, bypassing Frankfurt and up towards Cologne. One slight problem: Bekic in the lead car missed an exit off the Autobahn and we wound up driving north into the Netherlands. It only cost us an hour and we arrived finally at our destination in downtown Antwerp only to realize we had a team practice scheduled for 5:00. We followed a driver to the host site in a little town of Beveren, and much to the dismay of the boys, we were on the field and running through a brisk 50 minutes of batting practice and fungo work. We were the only team to take advantage of a team workout the day before. And most likely the most tired. Advantage Croats. Tomorrow we face Switzerland in our opening game.
Until then, Bok.