Czech Baseball and WBC, ‘Big dream of a small country’

A baseball game is taking place. The score was 21 to 2 until the beginning of the 5th inning.메이저놀이터

Everyone knows that even if there is no explanation, it is difficult to attach meaning to the game any longer. The MLB official website calculated the expected win rate of the team that scored 21 points at the time as 99.9%. So what about 21 to 7? Statistically, the expected win rate was the same as when it was 21-2. The team that scored 21 points by the 5th inning was expected to win with a 99.9% chance of giving 2 or 7 points. The actual match ended 21-7.

For the opposing team, whether they score 2 points or 7 points, the odds of winning are close to zero. Arithmetically, the extra point was meaningless. However, the story that the players of the losing team recounted was not like that. He said that the atmosphere when he scored 2 points and after he scored 7 points was completely different.

The match was a WBC qualifying match between Spain and the Czech Republic held on September 17 last year. The tournament held in Regensburg, Germany was held in a ‘double elimination’ method. The Czech Republic was already drawn 9-1 in the 3rd inning in this game, and it was difficult to turn over. (98.0% chance of Spain winning up to the 3rd inning), and then scored 12 more points in the beginning of the 5th inning, making the score 21 to 2.

The calm Czech offense revived a little in the bottom of the 5th inning. Hloop, Menshik, and Muzik hit three homers and scored five runs. So it became 21 to 7. Czech infielder Petr Zima recalled that this moment, when there was no change in the expected win rate, was the perfect turning point. He also said that a clear consensus was formed among the players at the dugout.

This is the content that appears in the documentary film ‘Small country, big dream (Mala zem velke sny)’ released on January 30th by the Czech Baseball Association through its YouTube channel. In this documentary film, the process of the Czech Baseball Association forming a national team and advancing to the WBC finals is documented through the voices of the players.

‘Even if the match is dark, you have to chase it until the end. That will change the mood the next day.’ These days, if someone says something like this, it’s easy to be treated as an ignorant person buried in the so-called ‘old school’. This is especially so if the probability of victory predicted based on decades of statistics does not move, no matter how hard you chase. How did the Czech national team change from the day after losing 21-7 instead of 21-2?

The Czech Republic, which was completely defeated by strong Spain, who won medals 18 times in the European Championship, was now eliminated if it lost even once. In a situation where every match is a single bridge match, the next opponent is France. Head coach Hadim selected left-hander Lucas Ercoli as the starting pitcher. Ercoli was a player who did not have a lot of big game experience. It is said that he was not relegated from the national team because he was not trusted under the previous manager Mike Griffin system.

From the time the national team was launched, Ercoli himself was not confident. So, he asked coach Hadim to select him for the national team when he becomes one of the five best players in the 2022 Czech League. If he was not selected as a player, it was agreed that he would take charge of the national team as an official. However, Ercoli, who played the 2022 season, recorded his own “career high” records, such as 5th in the league in ERA (2.29), 3rd in strikeouts (104), and 2nd in the most innings (98.1 innings). Pitching coach Fusey, who watched his performance with his own eyes, recommended Ercoli, and coach Hadim directly told Ercoli, “You are one of the five best pitchers.” (Coach Hussey, from Australia, has experience playing in the minor leagues under San Diego, and has been active in the Czech league since 2015 and has established himself in the Czech baseball world.) In the coach’s trust, Ercoli started as a

starting pitcher against France and scored an impressive 4 scoreless innings. pitched And in the 5th inning with a 2-0 lead, the Czech Republic put in their most reliable pitcher, Martin Schneider, as they faced a crisis on 1st and 2nd base. Schneider, who snatched France’s send-off bunt batted ball and boldly threw it to third base to catch the leading runner, continued his winning streak by throwing 2 hits and 1 run in 4 innings. The Czech line-up also actively scored points as if they were resentful of the defeat against Spain, and they won 7-1, showing a sense of stability even with the defense, which coach Hadim puts the most importance on.

Schneider, who started as the second pitcher in the match against France after Ercoli, is a player who needs a brief explanation. Calmly, the level of the Czech league is evaluated as a lower minor league or lower. The player base is also very thin by our standards. That’s why it’s not uncommon for players to have a double job as a two-hitter. It is a league in which a .400 hitter and a pitcher with an ERA in the 0-point range coexist. There are many professional players who are not full-time players. Director Pavel Hadim is a neurologist who can still check office hours online, and Schneider is a firefighter by day. As the Czech national league only plays on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays a week, it is possible to a certain extent to balance the main job and life as a baseball player.

Even against this background, Schneider’s performance is interesting. According to the Czech baseball statistics site, Schneider, who has been playing since 2004, has a bat that ranks 10th in career home runs, 8th in career RBI, 7th in career hits, and 3rd in career steals in the Czech League. Even as a pitcher, he played regular innings and ranked first in earned run average, and his career average earned run average was listed as 12th all-time. His career WHIP was a whopping 0.949, second all-time. This is a key player that can be evaluated as Babe Ruth or Ohtani of the Czech Republic in terms of league dominance. (Czech league records prior to the mid-to-late 1990s are not systematically classified, so it is difficult to estimate reliable historical records.)

The Czech players, who started to recover from the defeat against Spain and then defeated France, were already on the rise. The next opponent was Germany, but the players said they didn’t care who the opponent was. Germany was a team that had won in previous international competitions.

There were variables at the beginning of the game. In the top of the first inning, he was hit by a three-run home run by Germany’s Billy Germaine. (Germaine was born in Canada and had an NCAA college league career. He played in the German league, married a German, and was selected for the German national team.) Head coach Hadim thought, “God doesn’t give an easy victory,” but his morale went up. The Czech players said they were not agitated.

Immediately in the bottom of the first inning, Jima’s two-run four and Servenka’s solo home run easily tied the game. 4-3 turnaround by pushing out of the bases loaded opportunity in the 3rd inning. This is where center fielder Arnost Dubovi comes into play. Dubobi, whose main job is a high school geography teacher, was a player who did not have a big relationship with the national team. One player who appeared in the documentary said that Dubobi was obsessed with the idea that he could not earn the trust of his former national team manager, Griffin. It was also said that everyone picks Dubobi as an underrated player. He emphasized that if someone trusts him and instills confidence in him, he is a player who will show his potential.

Hadim was the leader Dubobi needed. As a manager who puts more value on not losing than on scoring, he consistently gave Dubobi, who has the best defense in center field, a chance. And the result was a timely hit with two RBIs at the bottom of the third inning. The match is now 6-3. The atmosphere has completely changed. In a documentary interview, Du Bo-bi said that she had often enjoyed the timely hit scene until recently. He also stole his tears as he added that this was the most important hit in his baseball life. Each player has different temperaments and characteristics in addition to their skills, but for Dubobi, one leader provided a turning point in his baseball life.

There was also a scene where 19-year-old pitcher Kobala put out the fire with a strikeout in a two-out crisis in the top of the 5th inning. Kobala, who threw 1 inning against France, eliminated the remaining 4.2 innings against Germany with a scoreless score with a more stable performance. It was a meaningful moment for the Czech national team as they found a useful young pitcher and at the same time spared Schneider’s shoulder, the team’s best pitcher. The match was won 8-4.

Recalling the match, Dubovi said that Germany scored three points first, but did not look like a team. While waiting for a doping test after the game, he met a German player, who joined the team a week before the match and said he did not even know the name of the other teammate. At the same time, he said that Germany was a team that gathered and assembled parts to deliver the result, and that the Czech Republic was a team that came together tightly to achieve the best result.

Now, the only thing left for the Czech Republic to advance to the WBC is one win. England and Spain clash in the winner’s bracket, and the winning team will have the right to advance to the WBC, while the losing team will play the final match against the Czech Republic in the loser’s bracket. Head coach Hadim expected Spain to win over England. In the actual game, Spain led 8-3 until the 4th inning. However, there were too many variables in baseball’s single game, and the score gap began to narrow as the Spanish pitching staff seldom played their part. In the end, England hit a dramatic home run to tie the game in the 9th inning, and won the WBC ticket to the finals with a sacrifice fly to end the match in the 10th inning. Upon hearing the news that they would return to meet Spain again, the Czech players exclaimed: “Let’s destroy those bastards!”

The Czech Republic took an unexpected rise in the process of being devastated by Spain. And Spain, who had a premonition of going to the WBC finals after defeating the Czech Republic, met the Czech Republic again unintentionally. In the situation where the situation of the two changed, manager Hadim pointed out the starting pitcher, saying, “If a game had a million dollars at stake, which pitcher would you use? Our million dollar pitcher is Schneider.” Schneider was evaluated as a great player not only for his performance but also for his mental strength and competitive spirit. He was said to be a player with nothing to do by his mental coach.

At this point, let’s take a look at the faces of the Spanish players who participated in the final round of the WBC qualifiers. Angel Beltre, who came out as the first batter in the final game, was once a prospect for the Texas Rangers and had a history of being selected as a Double-A All-Star and experienced one season in the major leagues. No. 2 hitter Noelby Marte is a familiar name to fans interested in big league prospects. Originally from the Seattle Mariners farm, he was designated as a key target during the Luis Castillo trade last year and moved to the Cincinnati Reds as a top-notch prospect. In addition, it is composed of current minor leaguers or experienced minor leaguers such as Justin Cornell, a Double-A outfielder under the Washington Nationals, and Frank Hernandez, who plays for the Chicago Cubs Single-A. However, except for Cornell, the majority of players were born in Central and South America, not Spain.

Spain’s starting pitcher is Ronald Medrano, who is from Nicaragua and is playing in the Mexican League. From our point of view, he is recognized as an unknown pitcher who has been in the minor leagues, but the Czech players judged him to be “a pitcher who definitely knows how to throw.” He acknowledged that it was not an easy opponent for them, but he knew that the bigger the game, the more he should aim for an error.

Czech starting pitcher Schneider allowed one run on a sacrifice fly after leading hitter Beltre hit a double in the first inning. As in the match against Germany, the Czech players did not waver even after conceding first. And in the top of the second inning, Muzik fired a turnaround two-run gun. Teammate Servenka saw the home run and called it “the most beautiful swing I’ve ever seen in this tournament.” In the fourth inning, Hloop’s solo home run hit. Hloop said that he did not celebrate after hitting the home run, as he felt that to beat Spain he would have to score 12 runs or so.

However, no one knew that Schneider would throw so well from the second inning. Schneider said that the Spaniards showed typical Latin American batting characteristics. As a right-handed hitter, every time he threw an outside slider with a deciding pitch, he was a foot-to-toe. Although Schneider was limited to 80 pitches, the Spanish batters all continued to swing aiming for a home run as if they didn’t know the rule. In the end, Schneider completed the task brilliantly with 5 hits and 1 run in 6.1 innings.

Dubobi is a player who knows that the bigger the game, the more the concentration at the critical moment determines success or failure. And at the bottom of the 7th inning, the situation with two out runners on 1st and 2nd base was cited as the very moment. A situation where a single hit could lead to a run. Pitcher Minarik, who took the mound following Schneider, got a right-handed hit by Beltre. The moment he foresaw the loss, right fielder Hloop calmly caught the ball and threw it home, and catcher Servenka received the one-bound throw and shot the runner. The 7th inning was over and the stadium was boiling. Right fielder Hloop said the catcher had a good catch on the clumsy throw, but catcher Servenka laughed, saying what else could he have done other than the ball came and caught it. (Servenka is a catcher who started his professional career in the Cleveland Minor League right after graduating from high school and experienced Baltimore and New York Mets’ Triple A. He is often introduced as the player with the most spectacular career among the Czech national team players.

) He was a pitcher who was sluggish with 7 runs in 1.1 innings at the time of his first big loss. However, this time with the help of the defense, he saved face as the strikeout king of the Czech League in the 2021 season with a different pitch. It seems that it helped that the infielders shouted, “Throw harder, faster, 110 percent!” Minarik, who continued to pitch while breathing in the chilly weather, caught Beltre with a grounder on first base. Final 3-1 victory. The players hugged each other on the ground and shed tears of joy. The news of his entry into the WBC was breaking news in the main Czech news.

Coach Hadim, who stepped on the WBC stage, said right after the match, “It proved that even a small country can have big dreams.” The words literally became the title of the documentary film, ‘Small Country, Big Dream’. As manager Kim In-shik said of a ‘great challenge’ ahead of the 2009 WBC, Czech baseball has a memorable phrase.

The level of Czech baseball is so far apart from ours that even those with minor league experience are rare. However, differences in baseball skills do not lead to differences in story levels. Even a major league MVP player cannot ignore the story unfolding in Korean baseball. There are still opinions that disparage the status of the WBC tournament. Of course, it is true that it cannot even be compared with the World Cup yet. However, there is no reason to ignore the fact that Czech players, who have given up their livelihoods and immersed themselves in baseball, consider advancing to the WBC as the best event of their lives. (Director Hadim said at the time of his inauguration, “Athletes who sacrifice their careers, families, and academics to play baseball must be respected unconditionally.”) The

documentary film in question is not very long, only about 30 minutes. So, there is an expectation that the various stories that take place while the Czech national team participates in the WBC tournament in March will be made into a sequel. If that happens, I think the intersection with our players will be interesting in some way. I wonder what kind of scenes the Czech national team will leave with our players at the Tokyo Dome in March, who say that the players have a family-like bond throughout the documentary.

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