How the Czech Republic qualified for the World Baseball Classic

How the Czech Republic qualified for the World Baseball Classic

On a Saturday afternoon late last month, a two-vehicle convoy loaded with national team players made the three-hour drive from Prague to Brno for a full team workout at Cardion Hrosi Club. Along the way, the players, many of whom had played and traveled together since high school, stopped at a roadside McDonald’s, where they spoke mostly Czech, as well as English to include Willy Escala. They were eating, laughing, and sharing their food as a group of close, longtime friends, while fellow patrons, seemingly unaware that their national baseball team was in attendance, barely caught a glimpse.

Lucas Ercoli, a left-handed crafty pitcher, was part of the traveling staff that day. He started playing baseball 20 years ago, when he was six years old. He also served as the team’s publicity director until last week, when the team arrived in Japan. It’s time to focus on baseball pitching, not story ideas.

“Maybe it’s our advantage, that we’re so close,” said Ercole. “We grew up playing together. We love playing for each other. It’s like family.”

That would make Shadim, the director and neurologist, their father figure. In his office in Brno, he outlined the challenge they face in playing a host of matches against top players from China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. But he doesn’t feel afraid. He even made a deal with one of his players. Schneider, a 37-year-old right-handed firefighter, is likely to bowl against China in the first match, then either get an innings one against Japan, or just come in to face Ohtani.

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“I hope that after Tokyo all of our players will be proud of our matches, the tournament and the journey,” said Shadem. “I’m very proud, but like a father, I’m a little scared and hope no one gets disappointed and has bad feelings.”

Shadeem is doing his best to prepare his players. As the team gathered from all over the Czech Republic on Saturday night, with most of the team present in cramped indoor batting cages, the coach played a looping recording of crowd noise from the Tokyo Dome through a portable speaker – shouting, singing, drumming. The players suffered from the noise for more than three hours in a row.

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