Wednesday, July 19th: LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The B Pool formats are somewhat different than the larger A Pool. For instance, there are two groups this summer for the European B Pool Championships. Ours here in Belgium and another somewhere, I believe, in Poland. We only have five teams here, but of course to survive and win this thing we pretty much have to win all key games or you are faced with the uphill journey of coming out of the losers bracket and playing an extra game with pitching that may be not as strong as your opponents. The draw a team receives is another factor in applying strategy. For us it would seem to be drawing the two easiest teams right out of the gate in Switzerland and Slovenia. But one never knows. Sometimes teams may have a few new players, perhaps an import with a passport making him eligible. This is more common in Senior and A Pool competition and we certainly have had our share of "legal" imports over the years with the seniors. So without hesitation I went with our No. 1 guy on Tuesday, pitcher Slobodan Galas — also known as Bobo.
Bobo was sharp from the beginning and after we jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the third, I got him out of there in case I needed him for relief against a strong Belgium team on Thursday. Petar Burazin came on to close out the last three innings and the Croats cruised to a 20-4 thrashing of Swizerland. Everyone contributed in the seven-inning game as we banged out 20 hits.
We had a similar feeling the following day against Slovenia, but knew they had one decent pitcher so we went with our number 2/3 guy Marin Farcas against our neighbors from Slovenia. We were a bit sloppy early on and gave them some runs but we eventually settled in and continued with our offensive onslaught. Farcas, in true form, was throwing more pitches than necessary and when I pulled him after six he had 105 pitches, too many for this level. We managed to make it interesting when I put the reserves in. The game should have ended after seven innings with the mercy rule, but I guess my guys wanted to play nine so we did. Final score: Croatia 16 Slovenia 8.
We are 2-0, but the toughest competition lies ahead with Belgium and Great Britain. It was good to see my boss and assignor, Pat Doyle, here to oversee the competition. It is impressive to see how the level of baseball, especially in the B Pool, has risen over the years. In years past, you may see one or two A Pool level teams capable of moving on. However, now with the two groups it is obvious there are easily five or six teams that can compete at the A Pool level. Another plus side is the field conditions. Beveren, Belgium has a very adequate field to host this tournament and the crowds that turn out when the host team is playing are very impressive. So kudos going out to baseball throughout Europe. It is very much alive and growing. Hats off to all those involved, particularly the envoys and their presence over the last 15 years.
Well, it is time to retire for the evening and prepare for the tough test tomorrow with Belgium. Bye for now, Bill