Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifiers: Zone West Preview

Koshien Field, Labone Secondary School, Accra ©GHABSA

The road to the 2020 Olympics for baseball begins tomorrow, March 22, in the most unlikely of places: Labone Secondary School in a suburb of Accra, Ghana. That any team other than South Africa is attempting qualification is a major feat in and of itself, as every African federation is beset by financial and equipment shortages. Unlike much of the world, travelling around Africa is very difficult due to both the sheer distance and the lack of connecting flights around the continent. Thus, no matter what happens in Accra this weekend, it is a major triumph for Africa and for the WBSC that the first of three qualifiers even occurred.

When we first broke news that there would be Olympic qualifying rounds in Africa [link], the WBSC had advertised two tournaments in the west of Africa. Ghana and Nigeria were selected as hosts, with the events scheduled for this weekend. It seemed unlikely that all the nations invited would field teams, as one country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was invited to Port Harcourt, Nigeria despite not even playing baseball. Another, Cameroon, did not appear to have an active federation, while two others, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, had never fielded a national team. The first two of these would withdraw by default, along with Togo shortly after.

In the end, the WBSC condensed these two qualifiers into a ‘Zone West Qualifier’ in Ghana, with five teams due to appear, representing Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Tunisia. With five teams due to appear in Zone West, the WBSC announced that two teams would qualify to the African Championship from May 1-5 in South Africa. The winner of that tournament will then head to the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier from Sept. 18-22 in Parma and Bologna, Italy [2019 International Baseball Calendar].

Alas, sources told us that Ivory Coast and Tunisia would withdraw from the western qualifier [tweet], with the former officially announcing its withdrawal on March 11 [tweet]. Since then, however, all three remaining federations have put out a significant amount of publicity on their training and travel, thus appearing to confirm that the tournament will go forward with a three-team bracket.

This tournament will be the first official baseball contested outside of South Africa since the 2008 Olympic qualifiers. Nigeria and Ghana participated in that event, while both qualified for the finals by defeating Burkina Faso (and Togo) in the West Africa qualifier. What follows is each country’s story since then.

Burkina Faso [Official Facebook]

©Sanfo Lassina

In early March, the Burkina Faso team was spotted at the Kochi Fighting Dogs’ Stadium in Japan with its only professional, Sanfo Lassina. Lassina had brought the team to his stomping grounds for the day, while the trip to Japan for the eight players had been sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

JICA has been instrumental in the growth of baseball in Africa, bankrolling not only the Burkina Faso team, but also Zimbabwe. That history goes back to 2013 and Lassina received his opportunity through a JICA tryout. When we spoke to the affable and authentic Fighting Dogs’ outfielder about baseball in Burkina Faso, he spoke glowingly of JICA’s representative in the country, Yuta Deai.

“Mr. Deai is the first baseball volunteer in Burkina; he was sent by JICA. It was with him that I started baseball in 2008…when I was 11 years old. Mr. Deai lived right next to my home. Let’s say I was attracted to Mr. Deai’s kindness and nobility” [translated from French].

Deai has made establishing baseball in the landlocked West African country his life’s mission. In 2013, he gathered 100 Burkinabé players for a tryout, with Lassina among that number. Only 15 at the time, Lassina made the cut and was invited by the Fighting Dogs to Japan. Lassina spent a month as an “intern” that year, returning for another month in 2015, after which he signed a contract with the team, a member of the independent Shikoku Island League Plus.

“Starting with my recruitment in Kochi, collaboration with fighters, the coming and going of Burkinabé players in Japan, the baseball materials it is [Deai] who does it alone,” concluded Lassina. “He continues to help us develop baseball in Burkina Faso.”

©Hamidou Kafando

Although Deai has not discovered another player of Lassina’ calibre, he has continued to send teams to Japan, including in 2016 and the February trip this year. The earlier group included two players from Ghana alongside eight from Burkina Faso. One of the Burkinabé players was Hamidou Kafando. I asked Kafando what role Lassina and Deai had on baseball in his country.

“With [Lassina], we [could] understand what a professional’s best pace of games is. [But] in the end, there was a volunteer who never gives up and understands why we are aiming for the Olympic Games today. We expect a high level match and we feel ready to defend our heritage in good faith.”

Burkina Faso has participated in only one baseball tournament in its history, the 2007 West African qualifier for the All-African Games. At the event, they lost to Nigeria and Ghana, beating Togo and failing to move on to South Africa. It would appear that, despite its contraction to three nations, the 2019 West Zone Qualifier will still send two club to South Africa. A single win, therefore, could be enough, but with Lassina confirming his participation to us, Burkina Faso (2-3 all-time) will set its sights on a pair of victories.


Ghana
[Official Facebook]
Ghana has been one of the most active African federations, participating in three previous tournaments, plus various friendlies, mostly against Nigeria. It has compiled an 14-11 overall record against other national teams since its first international games in 1993.

The U.S. Embassy had a pivotal role in the establishment of baseball and tee-ball in the early 1980s. There was even a national slowpitch softball team organised by the embassy in 1992. It was in the same year that Albert Frimpong and Joe Kwarteng founded Ghana Baseball and Softball Federation (GHABSA).

Much the same as with other African nations, however, JICA volunteers fostered the game in more recent years, with Frimpong continuing to lead. Its first baseball volunteer, Shinya Tomonari, came in 1998 and JICA has continued to send coaches ever since. In 1998, Frimpong, the national team’s centerfielder and captain, was sent to Japan with two other players to train with NPB legend Yoshihiko Takahashi. Takahashi also put on clinics in Ghana.

Ghana qualified for the 1999 All-Africa Games by beating Nigeria 11-10 in a single-game West African qualifier, splitting four games in South Africa afterward. It qualified once more in 2007, finishing second in the West Africa group before going 3-2 in South Africa. Its loss to South Africa in each tournament was substantial (11-1 in 1999 and 15-0 in 2007).

©GHABSA

Between 2011-16, Ghana sent players to the MLB Elite Academy before the programme was discontinued. In 2014, the Embassy of Ghana funded construction of a baseball field in Labone, a suburb of the capital, Accra. Koshien Field, named after the famous Japanese high school championship and its stadium, cost $123,453 and was paid for fully by the embassy [link]. Two years later, a pair of players were sent to Japan by Deai and it appears that the team even scrimmaged an alumni squad of the Nippon Ham Fighters.

We recently spoke to Ernest Danso, GHABSA Executive Director, who told us, “Currently the national team is preparing for the qualifiers. Developing baseball in Africa has always been a challenge, but as a federation we are adapting strategies that will help us defeat that.”

Frimpong elaborated on the challenges in a conversation we had with him in 2017: “Every single [piece of] equipment we have here in Ghana we got from Japan. The Japanese under Mr Shinya Tomonari, who was our Team manager, made all that happen since 1996.”

As we have reported elsewhere, equipment must not only be donated, but clear customs. A recent donation from the U.S. has sat in limbo for two years in Zimbabwe.

“After leaving Ghana, [Tomonari] formed the Association for Friends of African Baseball (AFAB) and with that he has continued to help Ghana and a few years ago helped start baseball in Tanzania as well as other African countries. Each year we get used equipment donations from them in Japan, but it stopped coming two years ago because our government does not help clear them and it costs them too much to do that for us.”

©GHABSA

Still, through the energetic efforts of Frimpong and others, baseball not only carries on, but was selected as one of four African qualifying round hosts. The federation has put out daily updates on training for several weeks now (available at the Facebook linked above), even publishing a regular countdown.

“Ghana was selected based on experience, expertise, availability of a playing field and our position in African baseball,” concluding GHABSA’s president. “Ghana is a founding member as well as pioneer of baseball and softball in Africa together with South Africa, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.”

©Premier Times

Nigeria
Unquestionably the most successful African nation outside of South Africa, Nigeria brings a 22-5 record since 1999 into the Zone West Qualifier. Its first international appearance in 1999 featured Adeyinka Adewusi, a shortstop and pitcher who would go on to play nine seasons in South Africa, plus two in Sweden where he was one of the top players. Adewusi has since started the Angels Youth Baseball Factory (2011) and worked for MLB as a consultant and scout (2013-present).

Baseball first appeared in 1960 in Nigeria, introduced by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, but was snuffed out by the 1966 Civil War. In 1989, the Nigerian Baseball and Softball Association (NBSA) was founded to breathe life into the sport again. Since then, it has sporadically held Under-12, U16, and senior team national tournaments, while hosting a variety of coaches from the U.S. and Japan for clinics since 1990.

Nigeria, incredibly, can boast a top-tier professional in the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Louis Okoye. Okoye is half-Nigerian, half-Japanese, though he speaks only Japanese after having been born and raised in Japan. The centerfielder visited Nigeria in 2016 and put on a clinic after having debuted in NPB as an 18-year old. Only 21, Okoye has a very high ceiling [link] and will miss the qualifiers due to the Golden Eagles’ spring training.

©Baseball Tomorrow Academy

Nigerian baseball has recently been the beneficiary of two charities working with the sport. The Baseball Tomorrow Academy was founded in 2013 and started operations a year later. According to its website, “Our organisation uses Baseball and Softball combined education and personal development to realise the potentials of young people.” It has partnered with the U.S. Embassy to expand to primary and secondary schools in Nigeria.

Jeremy Guthrie, ©US Embassy Nigeria

In October 2017, the Baseball Tomorrow Academy and the U.S. Embassy organised a visit by long-time major leaguer Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie put on clinics for 60 youth, who came from all around Nigeria [link]. Last year, Nigeria sent youth from the academy and senior players to the World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament in Florida, where they participated on ‘Team Earth’ squads.

Another charity that has partnered directly with the Nigerian Federation is the Baseball Nigeria 2020 Project. Its director, David Robert Andrews, told us, “I was approached by the Nigerian Baseball & Softball Federation to help them qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games. It is a daunting task as there is so much work to be done but the support…is growing larger everyday.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria has been growing its Little League programme over the past few years. The nation has 17 chartered leagues, with a total of 60 teams across all divisions. The District Administrator, Kehinde Laniyan, elaborated for us, though his discussion of baseball in Nigeria from 2013 is well worth a read [link].

“Baseball is played in the following cities in Nigeria: Lagos, Ilorin (in Kwara State), Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Ekiti, Akure, Aba, Yenegoa and Asaba. They play it more other cities but those mentioned before can produce teams easily when called upon for tournament. Ibadan, Lagos and Ilorin have highest number of players. Youngest players between the ages of nine and 16 can be found more in Ibadan and Ekiti because of the little league program.”

Laniyan also plays a role with the national team and filled us in on their preparations.

“We started camping of our players on March 4, 2019 at Adewole Baseball Park in Ilorin, Kwara State, about 500 km to Lagos. Adewole baseball park is the first baseball field in Nigeria, built in 1990. Forty players were called to camp selected from two most recent senior tournaments. The camp is a mix of old and young players, though.”

Nigeria is, as one might expect, feeling quite confident given that it has never failed to qualify for an African final. In fact, it won silver in 1999, 2003, and 2007, while winning the 2007 West Africa Qualifier as well. In the ultimate test of African baseball, it has kept things close against South Africa, losing 6-3 in 2003, though its two other meetings were blowouts.

“We will go and try our best,” Laniyan told us. “To be realistic, Ghana and Burkina Faso are catching on very fast on Nigeria. They have younger and trendy players. Nigeria will rely much on experience.”

Schedule is as follows:
22 March, 10 a.m.: Burkina Faso v Nigeria
23 March, 10 a.m.: Ghana v Burkina Faso
24 March, 10 a.m.: Ghana v Nigeria

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History of Baseball5 Clinics and Tournaments

Since its introduction at the 2017 World Friendship Games in Burundi, the new sport of Baseball5 has spread like wildfire across the globe. It was included in the 2018 World Youth Games in Buenos Aires and has been added to this year’s Urban Youth Games in Los Angeles. The sport has been hailed as a peace-making tool in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, Gaza, and the African lakes. In the exactly 18 months since its introduction in Burundi, an incredible 39 countries have hosted or participated in clinics, games, or tournaments.

In a series of tweets on the sport’s official launch day of March 1, 2018, WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari explained the organisation’s idea for baseball5: “#baseball5 is a youth focused urban version of baseball and softball. It doesn’t require dedicated equipment nor venue. It closely aligns with IOC President Thomas Bach’s innovative Olympic Agenda 2020 vision” [link].

Indeed, baseball5 will become central to the WBSC’s push for permanent inclusion of baseball and softball in the Olympics.

“#baseball5 will become a key component in our Olympic and growth strategies in Europe, where the Paris 2024 Games will be staged, and wherever the Games may be held in the future,” added Fraccari. [link] “I also envision a future where #baseball5, as a five-on-five version of baseball and softball, can itself grow into an Olympic event [link]”.

There have been suggestions of an organisation calendar and world championships [link], plus a ranking system, but for now only Latvia and Mexico have announced the formation of leagues and only Thailand has hosted regular tournaments.

Interestingly, the most enthusiastic adopter of baseball5 has been Argentina, which has hosted five events in less than a year. In addition to Mexico and Thailand, Cuba, France, and Italy have had the most events, while Spain has made a strong push in the last few months.

The WBSC has aided the formalisation of the sport with a recently expanded anglophone rulebook [PDF] and Spanish-language instructional video [link], launching a page for baseball5 with a noticeably edgier, youthful feel [link]. It remains to be seen whether the sport will continue to grow at the same pace, but no sport comes to mind that has spread as quickly as this simplified version of baseball and softball.

Below are the 39 countries that have participated in a baseball5 event. It would be too hard to add in every coach from other countries that has attended a clinic, but it seems safe to say that at least 50 nations have been introduced to the sport.

Argentina: 13 February 2018 Game [link], 6-18 October 2018 World Youth Games introduction [link] and national team participation [link], 1 November school demonstration [link], 17 November University Tournament [link]

Bulgaria: 16 September 2018 International Tournament with mixed teams from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania, and Serbia [link]

Burundi: 10-13 August 2017 Introduced at World Friendship Games [link], 20 August 2018 World Friendship Games [link]

Canada: 6 March 2019 Baseball Canada programme launched [link]

Colombia: 26 October 2018 Field installed at the U23 World Cup [link], 16-17 November 2018 [link]

Cuba: 23-25 November 2017 First Tournament ever [link], 24-25 October 2018 International Tournament with Cuba, France, Jamaica and Nicaragua in men’s, women’s, and mixed categories [link], 4-5 December 2018 Tournament [link]

Czech Republic: 12-13 May Clinic with RTB and Cuba vs. Czechs [link]

France: 10 February 2018 Demonstration game and Official launch [link], 11 September 2018 first Baseball5 field [link], 23 October 2018 Patriots Tournament [link]

Gambia: Two-week RTB clinic, January 2018 [link]

Gaza: Equipment delivered, October 2017 with October 2018 update [link]

Germany: 3 March 2018 demonstration [link]

Guadeloupe: 21-23 November 2018 [link]

Guatemala: 6 April 2018 First Game, 17 May 2018 Clinic [link]

Guyana: 23 August 2018 Clinic [link]

Hong Kong: 8-9 June 2018 Clinic [link], 29 August 2018 Clinic [link]

Hungary: 27 November 2018 founded [link]

Iran: 30 August-1 September Clinic [link]

Israel: 7 March 2019 Demonstration [link]

Italy: 10 May 2018 International Tournament with Cuba, France, and Italy [link] and youth demonstration [link], 12 May 2018 Seminar [link], 8 September 2018 Indoor Championship [link], 10 September 2018 Clinic [link]

Japan: 11 March 2018 Kanagawa Team formed [link], 26-27 January 2019 [link]

Jordan: 23-24 January 2019 Zaatari Refugee Camp [link]

Latvia: 11 February 2019 Latvia announces league formation [link]

Mexico: 15 May 2018 Coaches’ Clinic and announcement of LMB Baseball5 League [link], 9 June 2018 First Game in Aguascalientes [link], 30 June 2018 Field built in Mérida [link], 9 July 2018 League established [link], 13 February 2019 Memorandum signed [link]

Netherlands: 5 January 2019 Training at HSCN Nuenen [link], 24 February 2019 NK Tournament [link]

Pakistan: 5 February 2019 First game [link]

Philippines: 18 May 2018 Game introduced at Asian Jr Women’s Softball Championship [link]

Portugal: 14 June 2018 Launched [link]

Romania: 7-8 July 2018 Baseball field established, demonstration [link][link]

South Africa: 18-20 May 2018 U12, U13, U15 Tournaments at Arnold Classic Africa Festival [link]

Spain: 20-21 October 2018 Clinic and then “Barcelona City” International Tournament [link], 17 November 2018 Training [link], 8 February 2019 First field in Spain [link]

Switzerland: 24 February 2019 [link]

Tanzania: 28 July 2018 Clinic [link], 7 October 2018 [link], 14-15 December 2018 [link]

Thailand: 22 April 2018 [link], May 2018 Clinic, 7 September U15 Tournament [link], February 2019 U13 and U15 Tournament [link]

Tunisia: 6 July Introduced [link], 26 July 2018 First Tournament [link], 30-31 August 2018 Clinic [link], Baseball5 Tunisia [link], Kairouan club [link]

Uganda: 7 and 10 April 2018 [link], 15-17 February 2019 [link]

USA: 16 July Featured during MLB All-Star Week [link], 27 August Jr. Baseball5 Challenge [link]

Venezuela: 10-12 October 2018 Clinic [link][link], 18-20 November Juegos Nacionales Comunales [link][link]

Zambia: 25-26 February 2019 Clinic [link]

WBSC: 1 March 2018 Baseball5 Launch, 25 March 2018 Official Discipline, 3 May 2018 Spanish-language rules [link], 1 September 2018 first meeting of Baseball5 Commission [link], 5 November 2018 Sport added to 2019 Urban Games programme [link]

All photos copyright WBSC.

Posted in Africa, Argentina, Asia, Baseball5, Bulgaria, Burundi, Canada, Caribbean, Central America, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Europe, France, Gambia, Guatemala, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Netherlands, North America, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, South America, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Uganda, USA, Venezuela, Zambia | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Holmberg, Graefser Lead Coaches’ Clinic in Budapest

Last month, MLB Europe’s Bill Holmberg and Zach Graefser graced a small suburb of Budapest for the MLB Europe Baseball Coaches’ Clinic (Baseballedző Képzés). An evening of seminars led to two days of practical instruction to coaches from all over Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia, including national team coaches. The clinic was organised by Terry Lingenhoel, founder of the sizeable Érd Baseball Club and hosted by the International Christian School Budapest in Diósd.

Holmberg and Graefser brought impressive credentials to the clinic. Holmberg served as Pitching Coach for the Italian national team between 2007-2018, including a World Cup and three World Baseball Classics.

The venerable Holmberg ran the FIBS Academy in Tirrenia until it moved to Rome last year, producing Alberto Mineo, Marten Gasparini, Alex Liddi, and others. Holmberg also scouted for the Cubs before transitioning into a full-time development role with MLB in Europe and has been honoured by the EBCA with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Meanwhile, Graefser was hired as Pitching Coordinator for Great Britain Baseball in 2015, working across all levels of the programme and travelling with the team to European Championships and the 2016 World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Brooklyn. Graefser is also Head Coach of the MLB World Select Team, which features players from non-traditional baseball countries, including players from Europe, China, and Oceania.

The first day, February 8, involved presentations from both coaches, with Holmberg speaking on “Throwing Injuries and How to Prevent Them” and “The Basics of Throwing”, while Graefser spoke on “The Basics of Hitting”.

Holmberg drew from his vast experience in club and national team coaching in Italy and Germany to encourage the roughly 30 coaches in attendance. “I have done the same thing that you guys are doing right now. European baseball is not the same as in baseball in the US, or Cuba, the DR, or Japan; European baseball is different. It can be hard for Japanese or American coaches to relate to European baseball. We have different problems.”

“We had 22 players sign professional contracts and 18 players that threw over 90 [at the FIBS Academy],” continued Holmberg. “Not all of those 18 were excellent athletes, but a lot of hard work, sweat, and patience allows us to develop players.”

Holmberg then offered examples of different types of arm injuries, including UCL, gleno-humeral ligaments, rotator cuff, growth plates, bone chips, and elbow extension and flexion issues. The veteran coach then broke down into detail the various parts of a pitcher’s motion, emphasising the differences between style and fundamentals.

“I would love to see a Hungarian pitcher sign a professional contract and go to the United States. There is no reason you guys cannot develop a pitcher that can throw 92-93 MPH,” concluded Holmberg. “We don’t have to have the best athletes, we don’t have to make the excuse of not having super athletes. The more time you devote to throwing mechanics, the more chances you have to make a successful pitcher. Hitting you may not be able to perfect in practice, because it’s sometimes a natural thing, but pitching you can.”

Graefser then took over for a discussion of hitting, amusingly offering his credentials in the process: “I can’t hit breaking balls. That’s why they said, ‘You can’t hit breaking balls, but your arm is good, so you go pitch.’”

“The sequence for pitchers is not the same for hitters. No swing is ever the same. Our goal is to get the bat to the baseball. There are sequences to the swing, but how they get to the swing I don’t care,” began Graefser. “Hitting is about trying to get the bat to move as fast as possible. It’s not about strength, it’s about speed.”

Graefser spoke about the three concepts of hitting—vision, balance, and timing—before breaking down the stance into stages. He explained the importance of each, breaking separation (load), bat lag, and extension down into smaller pieces. Graefser concluded with suggestions for several drills, remarking to the appreciate crowd, “We don’t need fancy tools and toys.”

The subsequent two days were spent on drills, with Saturday focussed on pitching and Sunday on swinging the bat. More than three dozen players from Érd Baseball Club, Budapest Reds, Debrecen Tigers, Szentendre Sleepwalkers, and MAFC Rangers were willing participants in stretching and a wide variety of pitching drills, with each pitcher recorded on HD Camera and a radar gun. Coaches from the above clubs, plus the Sisak Storks and Serbian Federation, worked with the players.

Holmberg told those gathered, “Our objective is to get a player in the big leagues or into a college in the US. There is nothing written anywhere that you players cannot become very, very good players.”

A day later, most of the players returned and were joined even more players from Érd. After explaining the drills to coaches, Graefser broke the players into six groups and had them rotate between various stations, some to correct bad habits and others to teach new skills. Afterward, Graefser concluded, “You all are going to be as good as you want to be. But you cannot just do the drills once. Do something every day, even for 10 or 20 minutes. If we practice every day, the results will take care of themselves.”

Each day included a traditional Hungarian meal in the school’s canteen, including roast chicken and nokedli, a Hungarian noodle similar to spätzle or gnocchi, and palacsinta—similar to a crépe—and filled with a savoury or sweet middle, in this case, minced pork. An evening meal in a charming restaurant in Buda, replete with homemade palinka, made for a great time of discussion for the coaches and MLB representatives.

“The MLB coaches clinic was a great investment into the coaches of Hungary. The future development of our sport depends on quality coaches,” concluded Lingenhoel. “This training was very practical and many coaches appreciated that. Having the opportunity to try out there instruction with youth pitchers on Saturday and young hitters on Sunday really reinforced what they learned from the MLB instructors.”

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2019 Pan-American Games Qualifier

The citiies of Ibiúna and São Paulo, Brazil were selected to host the final qualification tournament for the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima. Four other teams had already secured places at that event, including Perú as hosts, Argentina as South American Championship winners, and Puerto Rico and Cuba from the Central American and Caribbean Games.

Before the tournament, Venezuela dropped out due to funding issues, but even without it, the field was loaded with top COPABE teams. Global No. 6 México, No. 10 Canada, No. 12 Dominican Republic, No. 14 Colómbia, and No. 15 Nicaragua were all present, while the hosts checked in at No. 17. The top two teams in each group qualified for Lima, though the tournament was continued till a winner had been determined.

Teams were absolutely loaded, with Brazil featuring Andre Rienzo, Paulo Orlando, and Tiago da Silva; Canada had Phillippe Aumont, Chris Leroux, Adam Loewen, Dustin Molleken, Dalton Pompey, Tristan Pompey, Scott Richmond, and Michael Saunders; the Dominicans brought ex-big leaguers Ronny Paulino, Emilio Bonifacio, Atahualpa Severino, and Pedro Viola; Nicaragua had prospects Leo Crawford, Rodolfo Bone, and Ismáel Munguia, plus long-time veteran Wilton López; and Panamá showed up with Manny Corpas, Enrique Burgos, and Severino González. México took only LMB players, while Colómbia had a veteran international squad but started Dodgers’ prospect Jair Camargo.

Thanks to the best efforts of the Orioles’ Garabez Rosa, who had five home runs in five games, hitting .526, the Dominican Republic survived a first round scare that saw three teams all with a 2-1 record to slug its way to a title. Colómbia, Nicaragua, and Canada also qualified, finishing in that order while, for the second time in two years, México was the unfortunate loser of a tie-breaker, and will not make the trip to Lima. Neither Panamá nor Brazil won a game.

Pre-Tournament Friendlies (all games in the afternoon)
Jan. 20 (Ibiúna)            Brazil 3 – Argentina 2
Jan. 21 (Ibiúna)             Brazil 8 – Argentina 5 (had nine hits)
Jan. 22 (São Paulo)        Brazil 11 – Argentina 2 (Agustín Tessera homers)
Jan. 23 (São Paulo)        Brazil 5 – Argentina 3
Jan. 24 (São Paulo)        Brazil – Argentina [cancelled]

Pan-American Games Qualifying Tournament (Pre-Pan)
Group A games were scheduled for Estádio Mie Nishi, São Paulo. Group B games are at CT Yakult, Ibiúna, but on 31 January, both groups moved to Ibiúba. All times local.

29 January       Group  Results
10:00   A          México versus D.R. [postponed due to D.R. visa issues]
11:00    B          Canada 5 – Panamá 1
14:00    A          Nicaragua – Brazil [postponed due to rain at 0-0, top 4]

30 January       Group  Results
10:00   A          Nicaragua – México [postponed due to rain]
11:00     B          Colómbia 10 – Panamá 4
14:00    A          D.R.  – Brazil [postponed due to field conditions, Brazil wanted to play]

31 January        Group  Results
10:00   A          Nicaragua 3 – D.R. 9 [Field 2]
10:00   A          México 13 – Brazil 3 [Field 1]
11:00    B          Canada – Colómbia [rescheduled]
14:00    A          Nicaragua 12 – México 4 [Field 2]
14:30    A          D.R. 3 – Brazil 2 [Field 1]

1 February       Group  Results
10:00   A          México 3 – D.R. 2 [Field 1]
10:00   B          Canada 6 – Colómbia 8
14:00    A          Nicaragua 6 – Brazil 2 [resumed]

Group A Standings
D.R.                 2-1
Nicaragua        2-1
México             2-1
Brazil               0-3

Group B Standings
Colómbia          2-0
Canada            1-1
Panamá            0-2

2 February       Results [Semifinals]
10:00               Canada 7 – D.R. 10
14:00                Nicaragua 4 – Colómbia 5

2 February       Results [Third Place; Finals]
10:00               Canada 12 – Nicaragua 14
14:00                Colómbia 4 – D.R. 17

Final Standings
D.R.                  4-1
Colómbia          3-1
Nicaragua        3-2
Canada            1-3
México             2-1
Panamá            0-2
Brazil               0-3

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Posted in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Caribbean, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, North America, Pan-American Games, Panama, South America, Tournaments, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2019 International Baseball Schedule

Every year, Extra Innings publishes a list of all international baseball fixtures. This list evolves over the year as most international baseball events beyond the top tournaments are planned less than six months in advance. This was never more true than 2018 [link], a banner year for international baseball, with a far-above-average number of friendlies, the world’s first Under-10 sporting competition, and the usual spate of continental championships and age-level tournaments.

This year, baseball prepares for its return to the Olympics in Tokyo next year with a series of qualifications, including plans for the biggest qualification tournament for Africa in history. Africa has not had intracontinental games since 2007, but five pre-Olympic qualifiers and a continental championship are planned.

Multiple top-tier tournaments will be contested this year, including the second-most important in terms of ranking point. Preeminent is the Premier 12, which will take place in various Asian countries in November. The top finishers from the Americas and Asia and Oceania (provided the team from the latter two regions is in the top six) will qualify for the Olympics. The Under-18 World Cup will be hosted by South Korea in August, while the Southeast Asian Games will bring back baseball for the first time in three editions when it is hosted by the Philippines in the year’s final weeks.

Four continents will contest continental championships, with Olympic spots up for grabs. First is the aforementioned African Championship, which qualifies a winner to the Europe-Africa tournament. The Asian Baseball Championship will take place in Taiwan in November, while Europe will crown its champion in Germany in September, with the top five teams heading to the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier. The Pan-American Games will serve as a de facto Americas Championship, but will not offer Olympic places, likely in part because the US decided not to compete.

Although this calendar is devoted solely to national-level competition, we include here MLB’s four series taking place abroad, including returns to Tokyo and Mexico, plus its first MLB game ever in Europe, the MLB London Series. We will be live from the London Series and events surrounding it, with other tournaments with live coverage likely to include the European Under-18 Championship pool in Miejska Gorka and the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier in Italy.

Yet to be announced is Team USA’s schedule and any COPABE, COCABE, or South American events. Having spoken to various federations, no one is entirely sure whether there will be any events, though this is not the year for the Central American Games (next edition in 2021), the Central American and Caribbean Games (2022), or the Bolivarian Games (2021). No baseball will be played at the Pacific Games or FISU Summer Universiade, events that often do feature the sport.

Finally, a few notes about the calendar. As usual, Europe is the continent with the most events, while for once, Africa does not bring up the rear (though Oceania is usually neck-to-neck with zero!). There are, by far, more senior national team events Some events are slotted in for a certain time frame without specific dates. For those, we include them under the month scheduled. For several, we are unsure whether they will be contested, with notes to that effect. This year, we have not included Little League or PONY events as it more than doubles the list. We will update this calendar as more tournaments emerge and results come in. Please let us know if you are aware of any international baseball events not listed here.

January
5                      Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise
20-24               Argentina & Brazil Friendly Series (Ibiúna, Brazil) [Wrap]
22-27               U18 Oceania World Cup Qualifier (Guam) [Teams: American Samoa, Australia, Guam, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa] [Wrap]
29-Feb 3           Pan-American Games Qualifer (São Paulo & Ibiúna, Brazil) [Wrap]

February
7-13                 Hong Kong – Guam U15 Exchange Programme (Guam, USA)
9-19                 Hong Kong – México U12 Exchange Programme (Mazatlán, México)
11-18               French National Team Training Camp (Tenerife, Spain) [Link]
15-17               Serie Internacional Copa Amistad (San Salvador, El Salvador) [Cuba (Selections) vs. El Salvador League All-Stars]
17-23              German National Team Training Camp (Tenerife, Spain) [Link]
25-Mar. 1         MLB Cadet Camp (Valencia, Spain)

March
7-10                Academies Tournament (Bilbao, Spain) [France, Regensburg, Bilbao]
7-10                Academies Tournament (Saint Boi, Spain) [Sweden, Saint Boi]
8-10                Catalunya Baseball Week (Sant Boi, Spain)
9-10                Samurai Series: México vs. Japan (Osaka, Japan)
11-21               Czech National Team Training Camp (Arizona, USA) [Link]
15-17               Puerto Rico vs. Nicaragua International Series (Managua, Nicaragua) [Website]
20-21               MLB: Mariners-Athletics (Tokyo, Japan)
21-25               West Africa [Zone II] Pre-Olympic Qualifier (Port Harcourt, Nigeria) [Invited nations: Cameroon, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Nigeria, Tunisia] [Preview]
22-24               West Africa [Zone I] Pre-Olympic Qualifier (Accra, Ghana) [Invited nations: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo] [Preview]
22-24               West Africa Pre-Olympic Qualifier (Accra, Ghana) [Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Tunisia] [Preview] [Detailed Preview of Teams]
23-24              Italy U15 Training Camp (Rome, Italy) [Roster]

April
5-7                   East Africa Pre-Olympic Qualifier (Nairobi, Kenya) [Invited nations: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia] [Preview]
13-14               MLB: Reds-Cardinals (México)
mid-April      Academies Tournament (Barcelona, Spain) [France, Barcelona]
22-26               MLB Cadet Camp (Toulouse, France) [Link]
23-26               South Africa Pre-Olympic Qualifier (Johannesburg, South Africa) [Invited nations: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe] [Preview]
Late April        Balkan Baseball Cup (No confirmation it will appear this year)

May
1                      Danube Cup [Austria, Hungary U18, Slovakia]
1-5                   Africa Championship, winner qualifies for Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier (Johannesburg, South Africa) [Winners of East, South, and West Pre-Olympic Qualifiers plus West runner-up] [Preview]
4-5                   MLB: Angels-Astros (México)
17-25               Canada JNT Tour (Dominican Republic)
24-26               Swiss Alpine Cup [Website]

June
7-10                 Finkstonball (Attnang-Puchheim, Austria) [Website] [Austrian NT]
25-July 1         Grand Forks International (Grand Forks, B.C.) [Website]
25-29               Prague Baseball Week (Prague, Czech Republic) [Website]
29-30               MLB London Series (London, UK) [Red Sox-Yankees]
TBD                West Asia Baseball Cup, Sri Lanka

July
1-7                   European U12 and U12 Qualifier (Třebíč, Czech Republic) [Group A1: Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands; Group A2: Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Russia; Group B1: Austria, Poland, Ukraine; Group B2: Great Britain, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia]
1-7                   European Seniors B-Pool (Trnava, Slovakia) [Group A: Finland, Poland, Switzerland, Ukraine; Group B: Belarus, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia]
1-7                   European Seniors B-Pool (Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria) [Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Russia, Serbia]
8-13                 European U18 Qualifier: Pool 1 (Sundbyberg, Sweden) [Belgium, Great Britain, Israel, Switzerland, Sweden]
8-13                 European U18 Qualifier: Pool 2 (Miejska Gorka, Poland) [Austria, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Slovenia, Ukraine)
12-21               World Port Tournament (Rotterdam, Netherlands) [Website]
14-21               International Baseball Challenge (Whiting, Ind.) [Website]
16-20               European U15 Championship (Nettuno, Italy) [Group A: France, Germany, Italy, Russia; Group B: Austria, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Slovakia]
26-28               European B-Pool Playoffs (TBD)
26-Aug. 11       Pan-American Games (Perú) [Argentina, Canada, Colómbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Perú, and Puerto Rico]
31-Aug. 4         European Women’s Baseball Championship (Rouen, France) [Czech Republic, France, Netherlands]
TBD                Taiwan-USA Collegiate Series

August
7-11                 European U23 Championship (Prague, Czech Republic) [Group A: France, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands; Group B: Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ukraine]
TBD                Asian U15 Championship (Shenzhen, China)
TBD                Under-18 World Cup (Gijang, South Korea)
TBD                Nicaragua Friendly Series (Opponent TBD pending Pan-American Games outcome)
TBD                Asian Women’s Baseball Cup (Zhongshan, China)
Yoshida Challenge has not been announced, but usually occurs just before the Euros.

September
7-15                 European Championship (Bonn & Solingen, Germany) [Website] [Group A: Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden, Playoffs Winner; Group B: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Italy, Spain]
TBD                France-South Africa Series (France)
18-22               Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier (Parma & Bologna, Italy)
20-29               Women’s Pan-American Championship (Venezuela)
TBD                U15 Pan-American Championship (México)

October
30-Nov. 3        World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament (Palm Beaches, Fla.)
TBD                Japan-Vietnam Baseball Association Tournament (unconfirmed)

November
2-17                  Premier 12 (México, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan)
TBD                Asian Baseball Championship (Taiwan)
30-Dec. 11       2019 Southeast Asian Games (Philippines)
TBD                Curaçao Baseball Week (Curaçao)
TBD                U23 Pan-American Championship (Panamá)

December
TBD                Hong Kong International Baseball Open [Hong Kong, Singapore]

TBD
U12 Baseball World Cup (Tainan, Taiwan)

Baseball5
April 17-23       Pan-American Championship (Colómbia)

By Continental Association [No. of Events], listed in chronological order
ABSA (Africa) [5]: West Africa I, West Africa II, East Africa, and South Africa Pre-Olympic Qualifiers; Africa Championship

BCO (Oceania) [1]: U18 Oceania World Cup Qualifier

BFA (Asia) [7]: West Asia Baseball Cup, Asian U15 Championship, Asian Women’s Baseball Cup, Asian Baseball Championship, 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Hong Kong International Baseball Open

CEB (Europe) [16]: Catalunya Baseball Week, MLB Cadet Camp, Danube Cup, Swiss Alpine Cup, Finkstonball, Prague Baseball Week, European U12 Championship and U12 Qualifier, European Seniors B-Pools, European U18 Qualifiers, European U15 Championship, European B-Pool Playoffs, European Women’s Baseball Championship, European U23 Championship, European Championship 16

COPABE (Americas) [10]: Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise, Argentina & Brazil Friendly Series, Pan-American Games Qualifer, Puerto Rico vs. Nicaragua International Series, Canada JNT Tour, Pan-American Games, Nicaragua Friendly Series, Curaçao Baseball Week, U15 Pan-American Championship, U23 Pan-American Championship

Global [11]: Hong Kong – Guam U15 Exchange Programme, Hong Kong – México U12 Exchange Programme, Samurai Series, World Port Tournament, Taiwan-USA Collegiate Series, Under-18 World Cup, France-South Africa Series, Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier, World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament, Premier 12, U12 Baseball World Cup

By Age Level [No. of Events], listed in chronological order
U12 [2.75]: European U12 and U12 Qualifier, World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament [four age levels], Curaçao Baseball Week [mixed], U12 Baseball World Cup

U15 [4.75]: Catalunya Baseball Week, European U15 Championship, Asian U15 Championship, World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament, Curaçao Baseball Week [mixed], U15 Pan-American Championship

U18 [5.25]: U18 Oceania World Cup Qualifier, MLB Cadet Camp, Canada JNT Tour, European U18 Qualifiers, Under-18 World Cup, World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament

U23 [3.75]: Swiss Alpine Cup [Mixed Senior and U23], Taiwan-USA Collegiate Series, European U23 Championship, World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament, U23 Pan-American Championship

Senior [23.75]: Argentina & Brazil Friendly Series, Pan-American Games Qualifer, Samurai Series, Puerto Rico vs. Nicaragua International Series, West Africa I, West Africa II, East Africa, and South Africa Pre-Olympic Qualifiers; West Asia Baseball Cup, Africa Championship, Danube Cup, Swiss Alpine Cup, Finkstonball, Prague Baseball Week, European Seniors B-Pools, World Port Tournament, European B-Pool Playoffs, Pan-American Games, Nicaragua Friendly Series, European Championship, France-South Africa Series, Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier, World Comes to Palm Beaches Tournament, Premier 12, Asian Baseball Championship, 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Hong Kong International Baseball Open

Women [3]: European Women’s Baseball Championship, Asian Women’s Baseball Cup, Women’s Pan-American Championship

Other [1]: Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise

 

 

Posted in Africa, Argentina, Asia, Asian Baseball Championship, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Caribbean, Central America, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Congo, Croatia, Cuba, Curaçao, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Don't Blink Home Run Derby, El Salvador, Europe, European Championships, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greeece, Guam, Hong Kong, Hong Kong International Baseball Open, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, MLB, MLB European Academy, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North America, Oceania, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Premier 12, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South America, South American Championship, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tournaments, U23 European Championship, Uganda, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela, Zambia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2019 African Baseball Championship and Olympic Qualifier

Photo from Ghana Baseball and Softball Federation Facebook page.

According to various sources, 2019 will feature the first African Baseball Championship since 2007, with the winner advancing to a final Olympic qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020. A total of 17 nations have been invited to play, with five federations tabbed for their international debuts. The nations have been divided into four zones, each of which will contest qualifying rounds in March and April before moving on to the championship. These tournaments have been developed by the WBSC, apparently with input from federations, though information on the actual organisation has been hard to find.

The four winners will meet in South Africa to play the Africa Championship from May 1-5, hosted by the Boksburg Baseball Club in Johannesburg, which did an excellent job with the France-South Africa series in November. It will be the fourth continental championship in Africa, following events in 1999, 2003, and 2007, with most nations dormant since that latter date. The winner of this continental championship will then move on to the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier in Bologna and Parma, scheduled for Sep. 18-22.

Zone West 1
Africa has traditionally been broken down into six zones, which have been contracted into four for this qualification process. The first is Zone West 1, hosted by Ghana from March 22-24 at the Labone Secondary School in Labone, a suburb of Accra.

In addition to the host nation, three other countries have been invited: Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Togo. All but neophyte Ivory Coast participated in the 2007 West Africa Championship, the only other tournament in which Burkina Faso and Togo have played. This would be Ghana’s fourth tournament, though it has also played at least one friendly.

Photo from Ghana Baseball and Softball Federation Facebook page.

Zone West 2
Zone West 2 will be played in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, between March 21-25. The four countries invited are Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Tunisia. Cameroon last participated in the 2007 African Championship, at which Nigeria was a competitor. Like Ghana, Nigeria has played in three prior tournaments, while the DRC and Tunisia would be making their senior national team debuts. It is worth noting that our only contact in Congo believes he is the only baseball player in the nation.

Photo from Baseball Tomorrow Academy Facebook page.

Zone East

The third pool, Zone East, has Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia grouped together at the Lenana School in Nairobi. The tournament is scheduled for April 5-7. Only Uganda has played in an African Championship, though the first three teams held the East Africa Championship in 2017, transitioning to a youth club tournament a year later. Zambia played a few friendlies in 2006 and 2007, its last action.

Photo from Baseball Federation Kenya Facebook page.

Zone South
The final pool, Zone South, will be hosted by Boksburg. In addition to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe have been invited for the tournament, scheduled for 23-26 April. After headlines that Mozambique would develop a former bull-fighting arena into a baseball stadium [link], we had hoped the nation might also make its debut.

This group has a mixture of fairly active nations by African standards (Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe) with two countries for whom we have absolutely no information. Botswana has been making quick progress in softball, but even its softball federation is unaware of baseball being played. Namibia has never been mentioned in either context.

The greatest challenge for the success of these tournaments is whether federations will be able to fundraise enough money to participate. There are few airlines flying between African cities and the prices are extremely high (often well over €500 one-way), with motorways not nearly the speedy option as elsewhere in the world.

More from us as the situation develops, so make sure you are following along @ExtraInningsUK (or even bookmark us if you do not have a Twitter account).

Final photo courtesy of Catherine Buckley. 

Posted in Africa, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2019 U-18 Oceania Baseball Championship

Contested for the first time since 2015, the Under-18 Oceania Baseball Championship featured five nations and had plenty of surprises along the way. The winner would qualify for the Under-18 World Cup in Gijang, South Korea, later this year, while the others were ensured at least five valuable ranking points. Guam hosted and Guam Major League’s Mark Colby provided constant updates to its Facebook while also serving as announcer, scoreboard operator, and running the press box.

Despite a proclamation that the New Zealand side was ‘probably the best ever assembled’, it was American Samoa who surprised. Flush with Americans with university scholarship offers, it breezed through the opening round, defeating Australia in a one-run contest before setting down the Diamondblacks. Australia did, however, pitch the first no-hitter in U18 Oceania history. Pool play was marred by ineligible players used by Palau, which appeared to have misunderstood eligibility rules.

Rain played havoc with the final few days of the tournament, but not before a surprising twist in the semi-finals. After Australia smashed American Samoa, 16-0, Guam took advantage of an error-plagued New Zealand to eliminate the Kiwis. Following a modified double-elimination bracket, American Samoa then blasted Guam to advance to the championship.

Torrential rain prevented the game from being finished, with Australia up 5-0 in the fourth. According to tournament rules, the final standings defaulted to the situation before the game and Australia was pronounced the winners for at least the third straight time. No nation other than Australia has ever represented Oceania in the Under-18 World Cup or its predecessors.

No awards were given. All games were scheduled for seven innings and games are listed below with local start times. Local time in Guam is CEST + 9 and US Eastern + 15.

22 January
7 pm Guam 7 – Palau 0*
* Palau actually won the game by a score of 5-2, however, they were forced to forfeit after it was discovered that 3 of their players had exceeded the age limit

23 January
11 am American Samoa 13 – Palau 2 (5)
3 pm American Samoa 5 – Australia 4
7 pm New Zealand 13 – Guam 3 (6)

24 January
11 am New Zealand 7 – Palau 6 (8)
3 pm New Zealand 4 – American Samoa 8
7 pm Australia 11 – Guam 0**
**Combined no-hitter for Australia, first in U18 Oceania history.

25 January (Rain delayed start of games by 2:30 hours, then played with 2 hour limit)
1:30 pm Australia 10 – New Zealand 0 (5)
4 pm Palau 1- Australia 11 (5)
7 pm Guam 6 – American Samoa 7

By the Numbers (Pool Play)    R            H            E
American Samoa                            33          28          11
Australia                                           36          34          5
New Zealand                                   24          28          8
Guam                                                 16          5             8
Palau                                                 9             9             5

26 January (Semifinals)
(a) 1 pm No 1 seed (American Samoa) 0 – No 2 seed (Australia) 16 (Mercy rule walkoff in 7)
(b) 6 pm No 3 seed (New Zealand) 6 – No 4 seed 11 (Guam)

27 January (Medal Games)
Bronze medal game: (c) 12 pm loser (a) [American Samoa] 15 – winner (b) [Guam] 6
Championship game: 5 pm winner (a) [Australia] – winner (c) [American Samoa]: Cancelled due to rain with Australia leading 5-0 in the bottom of the fourth.

Standings
Australia                            4-1
American Samoa             5-1
Guam                                  2-4
New Zealand                    2-3
Palau                                   0-4

Posted in American Samoa, Australia, Guam, New Zealand, Oceania, Palau, Tournaments, U18 World Cup | Leave a comment

Markus Solbach Breaks Australian Record

©Adelaide Advertiser

ADELAIDE, Australia — In a game featuring multiple WBC qualifying round stars, recent Dodgers signee Markus Solbach today broke the Adelaide Bite record for most strikeouts in a season. The German right-hander struck out fellow international veteran Gift Ngoepe in the second for the record-breaking K as Adelaide topped Sydney 3-0.

Solbach has had an excellent season, tossing eight quality starts from the beginning of the season. After a small hiccup last week, the Dormagen native finished on a strong note, whiffing four in 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Solbach tied Dushan Ruzic‘s 2012 club record with a strikeout of Jacob Younis in the first, while Solbach got Ngoepe swinging for his 72nd K to start the second. After a walk to former major leaguer Jason Rogers, the Bite starter added to his club record with another strike three to Jack Murphy.

The new record will stand at 74 after Murphy was called out on strikes in the fourth, Solbach’s last batter of the season. Despite the 27-year old’s efforts, his Adelaide squad were the only non-expansion team not to make the playoffs, though it has won almost 20 percent more games this year.

Solbach finished with an eye-popping 1.10 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and .178 batting average against in 10 starts over 65 1/3 frames. His strikeout mark is second in the ABL behind yet another national team veteran, Italy’s Alex Maestri, who finished with 77 in 58 1/3 innings. Team Australia’s Steven Kent has 72 in the exact number of frames as Maestri, but with one start remaining after his was rained out today. It is currently No. 10 on the all-time best season marks.

Earlier this year, Solbach set the club record for strikeouts in a game, with 14 on Nov. 29 against Perth. His ERA mark is the best for any Adelaide starter, with only reliever Loek van Mil’s 2016 0.40 mark (in 22 1/3 innings) and Richard Olson’s 2013 ERA of 0.74 (36 2/3) ahead of him on the charts. In fact, his 1.10 ERA is second in ABL history among qualified players after Mike Ekstrom’s eye-popping 0.72 total in 2013.

On Jan. 3, it was reported he had inked a minor league deal with the Dodgers, returning to affiliated ball for the first time since 2016. Solbach had a pair of excellent seasons for the Rockland Boulders of the Can-Am League, recording a 2.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 259 innings combined.

This year, he returned to Germany to play for the Bonn Capitals, winning North Division Best Pitcher after recording a 0.38 ERA in the regular season and a 2.76 ERA in the playoffs. Solbach has a 3.34 ERA in 1056 2/3 career innings from his first season at age 16, with a superb 3.51 minor league mark across six campaigns.

Posted in Africa, Europe, Germany, Italy, South Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bichette Drafted No. 1 for Don’t Blink Home Derby

Excitement continues to build for the second annual Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise, for which we had an exclusive preview last week [link]. A new feature of this year’s edition premiered today as best friends and rival team captains Todd Isaacs and Lucius Fox faced off for a player draft in setting their team rosters. The squads feature a big leaguer, Lewis Brinson, plus three Top 100 prospects, but it was 2018 Derby Champion Bo Bichette that was the No. 1 overall pick by Team Fox.

Bichette won the first home run derby with 23 home runs, including nine in the championship round, taking his swings against his father, long-time Colorado Rockies star Dante Bichette, Sr. When we first saw Bichette, he was an 18-year old playing for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers in Brooklyn, where his side was upset by Isaacs’ Great Britain, which also featured derby participants Jazz Chisholm, Chavez Young, and Reshard Munroe, plus fellow Bahamian Champ Stuart, who will be unable to attend.

Since then, Bichette has rapidly shot up the prospect charts after a massive 2017 that saw him slash .362/.423/.565 with 22 stolen bases in the Midwest and Florida State Leagues. Challenged with an assignment to Double-A New Hampshire this year, the 20-year old held his own against competition that was more than four years older than him on average. Bichette hit .286/.343/.453 with 32 swipes on a loaded team that included Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Cavan Biggio.

“The reigning champion is going to be here to defend his crown and I have great confidence in him,” explained Fox. “I feel very confident making him the first pick of this draft.”

Isaacs went outside the box for his team’s No. 1 draft pick, selecting teammate Will Benson. The towering outfielder is Cleveland’s No. 25 prospect (MLB.com) after ripping 22 home runs for Lake County. The 20-year old already has 38 dingers in his young career thanks to his 6-5 (1.96m), 225 (102kg) frame.

“This guy is a guy that I believe will put us over the edge,” noted Isaacs. “[Benson] hit 22 home runs this year so he will be out there to put on a show.”

The second round saw a pair of brothers pitted against each other, with Fox taking teammate Josh Lowe and Isaacs answering with Nathaniel Lowe. The former is a 20-year old centerfielder who played with Fox on the Charlotte Stone Crabs, hitting .238 with six home runs as the No. 15 prospect in the Tampa Bay system. The elder sibling, only 23, advanced all the way to Triple-A in a breakout campaign that saw him mash 27 homers and hit .330. The first sacker is ranked thirteenth among Rays minor leaguers.

A pair of fast-rising prospects went in the third round, with Team Fox putting the first Bahamian on the board in Kristian Robinson. Robinson only turned 18 a few weeks ago, but had a sensational debut in the Diamondbacks’ organisation, hitting .279 with seven home runs in 222 at bats against much older competition. The 6-3 (1.9m), 190-pound (86kg) outfielder is Arizona’s No. 12 prospect.

Meanwhile, Isaacs took teammate Nolan Jones, the No. 84 prospect in baseball and No. 2 among Cleveland minor leaguers. At 20, Jones excelled across two levels of A-ball, slashing .283/.405/.466 with 19 home runs.

In the fourth, Fox was fortunate to find Jazz Chisholm still on the board. We have touted Chisholm as a future big leaguer since seeing him play for Great Britain in Brooklyn at only 18. Slowed by injuries in 2017, the 20-year old shortstop had a breakout performance in 2018. Chisholm was a Midwest League All-Star after ripping 15 homers among 36 extra-base hits in only 76 games, turning things up in a promotion to the California League.

Arguably now the Bahamas’ brightest rising star, Chisholm smashed 10 roundtrippers in his final 36 games for Visalia, hitting .329 and running his season stolen base total to 17. The lefty-swinger concluded with one of the most memorable Arizona Fall League performances in recent memory, hitting .442 and flashing power (seven extra-base hits, including three homers) and speed (seven stolen bases) to finish with 25 home runs and a .287 average for the campaign.

Team Isaacs was then the beneficiary of a spot to draft Shed Long, Cincinnati’s No. 7 Prospect. The second-sacker played the year in Double-AA at 22, finishing up with a stint in Arizona as well. Long hit .259 overall, cranking 12 home runs for an even 50 in his career.

Two more high-ranking prospects were taken in the fifth, as Fox claimed Monte Harrison and Isaacs took Jonathan India. Harrison is the Marlins’ No. 2 minor leaguer after coming over from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade. A true five-tool player, Harrison smacked 19 homers in Double-A before teaming up with Chisholm in Arizona, where he showed much-improved plate discipline.

Meanwhile, India is already the No. 51 prospect in baseball, fourth among Reds’ farmhands, and had a solid debut after being taken fifth in 2018 MLB Draft. India slashed .240/.380/.433 across three levels of the Cincinnati system, playing with Munroe for a handful of games.

Two more big names were called in the sixth round as major leaguer Brinson fell to Fox, while Isaacs took countrymate Chavez Young. Brinson now has over 100 professional home runs (103), by far the most in the event. The Marlins’ centerfielder underwent trial by fire in the bigs this year, but hit 11 home runs in only 382 at bats.

Young was yet another Bahamian with a breakout 2018, shooting up from rookie ball to Single-A and finishing among the leaders for steals, hits, and extra base hits in the Blue Jays’ organisation. Young, another key cog in the ascendant Great Britain side, hit .285 with 44 steals and 50 extra-base hits, including eight bombs.

Team Fox rounds out with Munroe, Tyler Frank, Larry Alcime, D’Shawn Knowles, Dominique Collie, and Warren Saunders selected by Fox in rounds 7-13. The 12 total players hit 99 home runs in 2018, with 280 total professional home runs.

Frank was the Rays’ second-round pick in the 2018 draft, while Knowles, one of two Bahamian baseball twins, had a superb debut for the Angels, slashing .311/.391/.464 for to rookie league teams at only 17. He is ranked No. 24 in the system.

Fox has been consistently challenged after signing the largest contract ever for a Bahamian in 2015. The shortstop was a Futures Game selection in 2017 and this year was a Florida State League All-Star and Arizona Fall League Rising Star. Fox hit .285 with 36 stolen bases and superb defence between High-A, Double-A, and the AFL.

Isaacs was labelled as the ‘fastest player in college baseball’ in 2015, when he was selected by Cleveland. A New York-Penn League All-Star the following season, Isaacs played his second year in the Midwest League in 2018. The fleet-footed outfielder played all three positions on the grass and set career highs in doubles (20), runs (47), and stolen bases (30).

The rest of his squad features Bahamians Trent Deveaux, Courtney Smith, Anfernee Seymour, Keithron Moss, D’Vaughn Knowles, and Orveo Saint. All but Seymour just wrapped up their first professional seasons. In total, Team Isaacs hit 103 dingers this past season, with 194 over all players’ careers. Continue reading

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Brinson, Toussaint, Chisholm Lead Don’t Blink Home Run Derby’s Loaded Lineup

When we last spoke with Bahamian Todd Isaacs, the first Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise had just concluded in sensational fashion, with Blue Jays’ top prospect Bo Bichette winning the home run crown before a large and enthusiastic crowd. In January, the next generation of Bahamian talent had yet to arrive, with many still amateurs, and the country absent from Pan-American tournaments in recent years. The event will return on Jan. 5, 2019 from Montagu Beach, with even more fanfare than its first edition.

In the 11 months since our last report, those of you who follow us on Twitter will have noticed the ascendancy of Bahamian baseball, from breakout seasons by young prospects Jazz Chisholm and Lucius Fox, plus impressive debuts from D’Shawn Knowles and Kristian Robinson. Meanwhile, Isaacs spent the year with Single-A Lake County and again teamed with country-mate and best friend Lucius Fox to recruit minor leaguers to attend.

Isaacs told us after the event last year that he had put the event together in only three months with help from his father and Fox, an incredible accomplishment given it was the first baseball event in the Bahamas featuring professional players in history. A number of highly-rated prospects participated and attended, including Nick Gordon, a derby finalist, and pitchers Triston McKenzie and Juan Hillman. Charles Johnson and Dante Bichette, Sr. were in attendance as well.

This year, Isaacs and Fox have expanded what was already an excellent event by pitting themselves as captains of Team Isaacs and Team Fox.

“With more Bahamians signed since our first Home Run Derby, Lucius and I put a twist on to the format,” Isaacs told us. “This year we will select teams from the pool of players. Each team will represent a respective charity where a 60-40 donation will be made to the winning and losing team’s charity.”

The two sides will draft a team of 14 total players from a mixture of Bahamian minor leaguers and top prospects, including defending champion Bichette, who last year took tosses from his dad. Stay tuned for the pre-recorded draft will be televised on all @DontBlink242 social media platforms this weekend.

“The Don’t Blink Home Run Derby powered by Aliv Draft was hosted at Atlantis. The draft was very exciting for us because we got to be GMs for a day.”

In addition to the returns of Bo Bichette and Gordon, two young studs that saw major league time this year will be in attendance. The first is Lewis Brinson, the headliner in the Christian Yelich trade, who spent most of the year with Miami. The other big leaguer is the Atlanta Braves’ Touki Toussaint, a Top 60 MLB end-of-season prospect. Toussaint, a rifle-armed hurler, is of Haitian and Kenyan descent and grew up in Florida, but is becoming an important figure as Caribbean baseball gains rapid momentum.

Jazz Chisholm is now the biggest name among Bahamians after an All-Star season in Single-A that culminated in an even more impressive performance to High-A. Overall, Chisholm hit .287 with 28 dingers and 24 swipes for the three teams as the Arizona Diamondback’s Minor League Player of the Year.

Chisholm will be joined by four of his Great Britain teammates, including Chavez Young, Champ Stuart, Reshard Munroe, and Isaacs. These four formed an electric outfield in the 2017 World Baseball Classic Brooklyn Qualifier for a young team that upset Brazil and lost two heart-breakers to Israel, which advanced to the second round. Munroe had a strong season in rookie league and should be a dark horse along with Robinson and Knowles, while Young had a mammoth season to break into the Blue Jays’ top prospects ranks.

On Friday, Jan. 4, the teams will host a kids’ camp at the Atlantic Resort, with five former players aiding the impressive roster of participants in teaching young Bahamians about the game. As Isaacs and I discussed in February [link], the Bahamas lacks top-level coaching and international standard facilities, adding extra importance to the clinic and derby for both instruction and awareness.

“Baseball here in the Bahamas is continuing to show steady, promising progress with an additional three players, with Orveo Saint, Chavez Fernander, and Warren Saunders being added into the professional system this calendar year.

“We are still without proper training facilities nor a conventional baseball field, so our resilience continues show. Inspiring the youth baseball players here in the Bahamas is something that we all find pivotal into the continued growth here in the country so being able to host this Home Run Derby every year is something we are proud of because we know the lasting impact it holds amongst our future baseball superstars.”

The derby begins on Saturday at noon. There will be a team winner and the top four hitters from each side will go head-to-head for the individual winner. As in the 2018 edition, players will aim for targets set in the water off Montagu Beach, with kayakers retrieving the balls for use in youth leagues around the island.

Each team will represent a charity, with Team Isaacs supporting Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group [link]. Meanwhile, Team Fox will raise money for Cancer Society of The Bahamas [link].

“We chose to represent both Cancer societies because Cancer is one of the top causes of death throughout the Bahamas. Many of the guys that are participating in the event have lost their mothers, grandmothers and aunts to cancer. I myself have lost both grandmothers and grandfather to cancer. We want families to know that they are not fighting alone and we are proud to help.”

The full list of players is as follows: Larry Alcime, Will BensonDominique Collie, Trent Deveaux, Chavez Fernander, Tyler Frank, Monte Harrison, Jonathan India,  Nolan Jones, D’Vaughn Knowles, Shed Long, Josh Lowe, Nate LoweKeithron Moss, Alexis PantojaOrveo Saint, Warren Saunders, Anfernee Seymour, Courtney Smith, Shameko Smith, and Tahnaj Thomas.

Those wishing to attend the event will want to stay tuned to our Twitter @ExtraInningsUK and follow @DontBlink242 for updates. The Atlantis Resort will be offering discounted rates for the entire week of the derby, with more information here [link].

Photos courtesy of Rev TV and Don’t Blink with the exception of Jazz Chisholm, copyright Extra Innings UK. 

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