After covering almost every game of team Europe during the Asian Winter Baseball League, Yankeebiscuitfan’s Dutch Blog has interviewed former manager of HCAW from Bussum and current manager of the Buchbinder Legionaere from Regensburg, in an attempt to evaluate the participation and the creation of the European team in the Asia Winter Baseball League in November/December of 2015. Ivan was part of the staff of team Europe as the infield coordinator.
First of all I’d like to thank Ivan for the time that he spent with answering my questions. Even though the preparation for the upcoming 2016 season has started already, Ivan found time to read and answer several questions. Your cooperation is much appreciated from my side.
On the question about the strong parts and the weak parts of the European team, Ivan responded that the strong part of this team was that it contained very talented players. The weak parts were the fact that most of the players had not played or trained for two months and had to get ready within a couple of weeks all of a sudden. This showed in the first couple of games in which the defense was not good. But as the tournament lasted, the defense got better, and that was something that the Taiwanese press started to write about.
The biggest difference between the players of the European team and those from Asia is the big number of games that the players in Asia are playing. They are all playing in professional (minor) leagues and almost play every day. In Europe on the other hand, players play three games per week at most in their national competitions. Another difference between the two continents is the way how those players from Asia accept a decision by a coach or manager. In Europe (and especially in the Netherlands) players tend to say “Why?” or “But”, if they do not agree with something. But we also have to keep in mind that this winter league was an open league. There was no limit regarding age. Team Europe played against men or if you want to, against players that were more mature, baseball wise.
The most frustrating part as a fan, was the way how apparent big leads were given away rather easy. According to Ivan this wasn’t frustrating to the coaches as they knew that this trip was to make the players better and
that winning was not as important. The only hard part about this was to keep the players motivated for the next game. The reason for losing after blowing an apparent big lead, was the fact that the players were not accustomed to playing every day. But the bullpen faltered a couple of times as well. In an interview with www.honkbalsite.com, Ivan stated that this trip would not be easy. On my question what was the hardest part of this trip, Ivan answered that playing every day and staying focused on the next game, even though the previous game was still in their mind, was the hardest part for the players. Being manager of a young team like this has some psychological aspects. If a team has lost with big numbers, you have to know how to deal with a player. One player only needs an ear so he can vent his problems or thoughts. And some can deal with some criticism. But you have to be careful what to say. The most important thing is to keep repeating that having fun is what it is all about.
According to Ivan, there were plenty of players that showed that they were capable of playing good baseball. So the globalization of baseball is paying off and Dutch and Italian players are not automatically the best anymore. Ivan saw some very good French, German and Czech players as well.
The creation of this European team happened in the following way: First of all the manager and the coaches approached the local Baseball Federations. They sent lists with potential candidates on it. Of course several players were chosen because the coaches already knew them from their regular baseball “job” during the season. But in some cases they checked the players’ stats and contacted their opponents to gain information about them. Ivan would change a few things if team Europe would get another invitation. First of all he would like to have more time to build a team. With only two days of training you cannot create a team. You need a longer period so you can make cuts. But since the Asia Winter Baseball League is a instructional league, it is not about creating your strongest team. It is about making players better.
The chemistry of this team was good, according to Ivan. Despite the various nationalities, the players mingled rather well during the tournament. Despite the many losses, the atmosphere was good . The players could get along very well and had fun with each other.
On the question if he could tell if there were players with a big future in baseball, Ivan did not want to tell names (quite understandable), but according to him there are two Dutch players and one Italian player for whom he sees a big future in the USA. But then again when players are in the USA, it is always the question whether their organization allows them to participate in tournaments like this. Depending on the number of innings and games that players played during the season, they are allowed to participate. But there is a trend that MLB organizations do want their players to rest during the off season and therefore they do allow less players to participate in winter leagues. They invest in those players and they don’t want to lose the money that they invested because of injuries. If players opt to play in winter leagues to get back from an injury, the MLB organizations limit the number of innings that they are allowed to play in.
Team Europe gathered information about their opponents mainly through the interpreter and the social media. All stats about Asian players are in Japanese, Korean or Chinese. The coaches of team Europe approached friends in those countries and asked them to translate the text.
As a coach, Ivan had some good experiences during this tournament. He got along very well with one of the coaches of the NPB team and they exchanged information. Ivan is always trying to learn more by discussing things with other coaches. But for Ivan the best experience was to be on one team with players from former teams that he managed.
Once again, I’d like to thank Ivan for his time.