Being Polish and a baseball junkie, I wanted to take the chance to tell the story of the Polish National Baseball Team. This was a true treat and showed what makes the game of baseball so great.
It is the only sport where someone can fail seven out of ten times and still make it into the Hall of Fame. It has its own anthem that people boisterously shout out as if they were in a bar with 50,000 of their closest friends. Hot dogs, beer, soda, peanuts and Cracker Jacks are the meal of choice. In this sport, there is no clock or time limit. The stadiums where games are played are cathedrals with grass the greenest of greens and pristine as a blanket of snow.
If Mother Nature does not let the first pitch be thrown, the teams make it up to you by playing two games the next day. In your life, is there someone who consistently makes it up to you when things go awry? Most likely, the answer is no.
By this point, trying to figure out which sport this is should be coming clear. If another hint is needed, try this one on for size: it is commonly called “America’s Pastime.”
It is baseball.
With millions of children around the country playing little league baseball and Major League Baseball stadiums averaging over two million fans a year, it is safe to say that the game has a strong foothold in the United States, but what about around the rest of the world?
When baseball connoisseurs think of baseball outside of the United States, the first countries to come to mind for being baseball hungry are the Spanish speaking countries such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela and many others.
An area that not many people think baseball is prevalent is in Europe. Many think of Europe as a breeding ground for soccer, but the game of baseball has a surprisingly large presence.
One of the many places in Europe where the game is being played is Poland.
In a country where majority of sports fans are talking about the Polish National Soccer Team upsetting Germany in the European 2016 Championship Qualifier, a select group of men are talking about bringing baseball to the forefront in the country.
Twenty-one men with last names that either end in Ski, Czyk and Ocki just to name a few and even the best public address announcers would most likely stumble over wear their country’s name proudly across their chest while on the diamond.
These are the men that take the field for their country. Twenty-one men with one common goal:
“It is an opportunity to represent my nationality,” pitcher John Dobkowski said. “However, the main goal is to improve baseball in Poland.”
Their task is harder than hitting a 100 mph fastball. One of the reasons why is that not many people outside of the team know they exist.
“I was at a Polish festival last month with one of our pitchers,” manager Paul Solarski said. “We wore our jerseys to promote the cause. As you would suspect, many were shocked that Poland had a team.”
To their chagrin, they do have a team. They may not be ready to put on a Major League uniform, but they are a group of guys that love to play the game. The style of play is open to improvement.
“The players know how to play the game, but do not have an understanding of the nuances of the game the same way North American players do,” Solarski said. “For example, with a runner on first, they will always try to turn a double play. Even if the chances of getting the lead runner are impossible. They attempt to turn it because, ‘that’s what you should do.’”
When the lack of notoriety and key fundamentals seemed to be tough enough, the team is also facing difficulties due to the fact that the International Olympic Committee dropped baseball from Olympic competition after the 2008 games in Beijing.
With the sport out of the Olympics, baseball in the Poland is taking a backseat to sports that the country still competes in at the Olympic level. The downgrade of the sport in favor of Olympic sports means less funding for the team. With this, the team knows only one way to try and fix this problem.
“If we can do well next year and make it to the A pool, the powers that be will grant us more funding,” Solarski said.
In European Baseball, countries are divided into three pools. There is an A, B and C pool. Poland currently sits in the B pool. The winners of the pools move up to the higher pool, and the losers move down. When the championships come around every two years, the outlook for the team remains the same.
“The national team is always seen as one of the contenders for the championship,” infielder Mariusz Grzanowski said.
Recent progress made in terms of player development and new coaches to the staff hopes to be what Poland needs to win their pool, but there is still work to be done.
While it is an uphill battle for the team and nothing comes easy for them, the team manages to stay relaxed and remembers that they are playing a game that they all love. But, like every team, nothing beats a win on the field.
“For several years, we have won more games and the joy of the team has been huge,” former manager Arkadiusz Żurkowski said. “Each victory has a great effect on the players that is very visible.”
When the average baseball fan hears the date July of 2015, they may think of the All Star Game in Cincinnati, but to the men who wear the red and white of their country proudly, they think of the European Baseball Championships. This is their chance to make history. It is their time to make their country proud. In the end, it is their time to play the game they love: baseball.