The Irish National baseball team is just back from a roller coaster ride through the European Baseball Championships qualifier tournament in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Ireland enjoyed a fast start, only to be brought back down to earth as the tournament progressed. This particular Irish team was always going to find the going tough thanks to an unfortunate batch of injuries that hit the squad basically just before they departed. The 2014 squad is also one of the youngest and least experienced squads that Ireland has sent to Europe since the first tournament they entered in Hull, UK in 1996.
Ireland got off to a blistering start with a superb 11-1 win over an over-matched Norway side. Veteran Nat Anglin pitched 6 strong innings and also drove in 3 runs in the win. Ireland then followed that up with another fine win, this time 15-6 over a very decent Romanian side. Veteran Jamie Cuevas pitched a gritty 9 innings for the win, while Nat Anglin was dominant with the bat again, driving in a whopping 7 runs to lead Team Green. Ireland was firmly on the crest of a big green wave and continued the tournament with a hard earned 6-2 win over Hungary. Tommy Hernandez and Nat Anglin (yet again) drove in 2 runs each to lead the Irish to the win.
Ireland was now 3-0 in the tournament and looking to extend as far as possible. The great 2006 Irish squad managed silver in Antwerp; could this Irish team go further?
Sadly, this was as far as the team could push this time round. The relatively small squad, handicapped by pre-tournament injury, and the relative inexperience in the squad meant that Ireland got beaten badly by Slovenia 3-10 in the semi-final, and then knocked around 0-16 by Romania in the 3rd place playoff.
Ireland placed 4th out of 8 in the tournament final standings.
We had a chance to talk to the President of Baseball Ireland, Peter Kavanagh, about the tournament. Here’s what he had to say.
IC: Peter, as President of Baseball Ireland, how did you feel the tournament went?
Peter: As President of BI, I'm proud of the efforts the boys in green displayed in Ljubljana. While it was our stated aim to re-qualify for the B Pool by finishing first or second, given the injuries to the squad in the build-up to the tournament, a winning record of 3-2 and fourth place overall represents a fine performance (Tommy Enright and Brendan Hourihan - US college pitchers, both required surgery and missed out). As a fan of the team, I'm impressed by the style with which Ireland won their three group games, with home runs and double-plays all over the shop.
Do you think the team is moving forwards, or stuck in one spot as it were?
2013 was a challenging year for Irish international baseball, with the team failing to register a win. As such, 2014 represents a huge stride forward. We can't kid ourselves, though. At one stage Ireland was on the cusp of the A pool (elite level European baseball), so to be in the C Pool competition for another two years is not where we want to be. We have to rally hard and improve, little by little, to prove we belong at a higher level.
What would you like to see happen, to enable Team Green to advance?
I'd like to see us involved in more international games. We need to look at getting back to the US and playing against teams like the Slocum Baseball Club and the FDNY, who have challenged us and given us something to aim for in the past. We also need to expand the pool from which we select our players. Irish league players provide the spine of the team, and that's important for the development of both the team and the league. But the Irish league is not as strong as the UK MLBL, the German league or the Dutch domestic league. Until our own domestic league is at that level, we'll need to augment our teams with Irish-qualified players who play consistently at a higher level than the home-based boys. This is good for the league and for the squad. Think of what young Alex Holloway, who made his Ireland debut at just 17 years of age, can learn from guys who have played college ball in the US or Canada.
Any final thoughts, Mr. President?
I'm immensely proud of this team for what they did in Ljubljana. The way they conducted themselves on and off the field was a credit to the Irish people and they are excellent ambassadors for this country and for Baseball Ireland.