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European Feast

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MLB'S NEXT SCOUTING DESTINATION: EUROPE
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FROM EAST IN RUSSIA AND THE CZECH REPUBLIC TO THE WEST IN HOLLAND AND ITALY, MLB IS TAKING NOTICE

“I really enjoyed your guide and especially enjoyed the section at the end. I agree it would be cool to see a qualifying tournament for the European spots (in the next WBC). Not just those spots but also throw China and South Africa in there as well; also Nicaragua and Colombia. I also like your idea of having a European all-star team compete – that would be very cool. Enjoyed reading it.” – Geoff, Airdrie, Alberta, Canada

 
After my most recent visit to Europe, I came away convinced fans we'll see a sprinkling of Europeans in MLB within 10 years. It won't be an influx by any means, with most teams remaining focused on the U.S., Latin America and Asia for talent. But make no mistake: baseball has a future in Europe because there are big, strong athletes playing here and more and more MLB teams are starting to get the memo. The focus: the hunt for pitchers, particularly lefties.

Baseball, as more than a simple leisurely pursuit, has only existed in Europe for four decades. While the sport has been played in Holland and Belgium since the early 1900s, the continent's baseball federation marked just its 40th anniversary in 2005.

"There baseball has improved. As a scout, it's easy to see," Minnesota Twins talent evaluator Glenn Godwin told me of baseball on the European continent.
 
You can learn more about baseball in Europe in World in a Ballpark: Baseball Goes Global, which is available for purchase at the Buy Joe's Guides page.
 
 
If you want to view a sample of the guide and how easy the guide works, visit the World Baseball Classic page.

THEY'RE SLOVAKIA AND THEY PLAY PRETTY GOOD BALL
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FORMERLY CZECHSLOVAKIA FROM THE COLD WAR, THE SLOVAKS ARE NOW INDEPENDENT LIKE MOST EUROPE

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Major League Baseball International has pumped millions of dollars into Europe, including Russia, to try and grow the sport. In addition to sending coaches through the MLB Envoy Program, they've donated tons of equipment. But it's Bill Acre, a coach with the International Sports Group (ISG), a non-profit organization, who has been front and center in helping grow the modern day era of the sport in Europe from almost the beginning. Name a country playing baseball in Europe and Acre or his ISG staff has been there. And it's coaching that MLB knows will be the continent's test of whether over the long-term it can produce enough prospects to warrant continued investment down the road.

Many countries, particularly former Soviet strongholds in Eastern Europe, are trying to grow and remain untouched scouting ground, like Slovakia. About 1,000 amateurs play in Slovakia and 50 percent of its national team players come from Trnava, about 50 kilometers from the capitol, Bratislava. Trnava is not an isolated case. Many European countries feature one or two small towns where baseball rules, like Nettuno in Italy and Paderborn in Germany.

THE DUTCH: PLENTY OF REASONS TO CELEBRATE...
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NO COUNTRY IN EUROPE IS IN THE SAME CLASS AS HOLLAND'S FLYING DUTCHMEN

The Netherlands, also known as Holland, is in a class by itself. Aabout a dozen Dutch are in the U.S. Minor Leagues, and that's not counting the players from its two colonies in the Caribbean, Aruba and Curacao, where baseball is the No. 1 sport. The Dutch have smartly taken advantage of Andruw Jones' success in MLB to try and grow the sport in Europe. The Curacao native has not only boosted baseball's profile on his Caribbean isle, but also influenced youngsters in Northern Europe. Imagine what a Giovanni on the New York Yankees could do for Italian baseball, for example.

EUROPE'S FIELDS AREN'T THE GREATEST BUT...
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..TEAMS LIKE THE RUSSIANS AND SLOVAKS (playing here) MAKE DO TO IMPROVE DESPITE THESE OBSTACLES

An exhibition series every year in a different European city would do wonders. Consistency is king: if MLB really wants to make inroads here, why not have two different teams open the season in a different European capitol for five straight years as a test case? Now, that'll get there attention! Play one year in Rome, the next in Berlin, another in Moscow, then Paris, and later Prague.

THE CZECHS OTHER GAME PROGRAM...
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...FROM THE '05 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS, WHICH WERE PLAYED AT FOUR DIFFERENT VENUES

THE CONTINENTS CHAMPIONSHIPS: DIVERSE
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CLUBS FROM AS FAR AS RUSSIA AND UKRAINE WERE AMONG THE TOP 10 INVITED TO PLAY

BIG DOG: SIZE IS IN, BUT EASTERN EUROPE IS POOR
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THIS BIG GUY FROM ROMANIA IS ONE OF A FEW TO PLAY COLLEGE BALL IN THE U.S.

MLB'S GLOBAL PUSH IN A CZECH GAME PROGRAM
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JETER, ORTIZ, DAMON, C. JONES, GAGNE AND SCHILLING NOTED

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