I have some new information from our new friend Gregor Gross. Not this Greg Gross. Gregi is in Germany and we have been emailing each other regarding the state of baseball in Der Fatherland. Please go visit Gregi's site, and don't be intimidated by the language barrier. Here's a free translator or two to help.
I hope that I am not being overly Weekly-Reader-ish by posting our conversations. I find the minor differences among cultures as far as the way my favorite sport is played incredibly interesting. It's like going abroad and seeing different cultures without the headache of actually travelling. And it reduces international travel to the most important site-seeing topic of all, baseball.
Well, enough ado... I had a slew of questions for Gregi regarding Das Baseball and he was kind enough to provide some well thought-out and often funny answers:
Mike: Do they [German teams] play by the same rules as the major leagues?
Gregi:Yup. Only we play seven innings instead of nine.
Mike: Are there any major distinctions that you see in strategy, style, approach, etc. between the majors and the German game?
Gregi:Well, I have no clue about the premier league. I recall there were not so many walks, only if the pitcher was awful wild. I can tell you of the league I was playing in: there were no walks at all, I recall. I'd hack at everything close to me, the plate and the space between me and first base it seemed. Even if a ball was in the dirt, the most I'd be able to do was checking my swing. And my approach was not unusual. That had to do with how the umps called the strike zone, and also with the fact that we had batting practice only 2 times a week.
The pitchers, on average, would throw their junk anywhere near you and into the catcher's glove. Sometimes there'd be a fellow that really could throw, and his team would ride him all the way. Guys who had two or three pitches ( if you could call a difference between them ) were incredibly valuable. We had one. The other guy was a big folk who would only throw heat or slow heat. I don't recall having relievers on the team-we used one of the catchers if the starter was retiring.
What was absolutely going wild was the amount of steals. Everyone except me would steal a lot. I am a fast guy, but not the explosive one, and I had problems taking my lead and timing my run down. Since the catchers had difficulties finding their target in time, and the middle of the infield had difficulties applying a tag, the steal was common. We also had almost no home runs in our league, so you needed to move the runners anyway. Usually, both teams would combine to score 15 runs or such a game. In the premier league there were some homeruns, but not from everyone.
Mike: How would you rate the caliber of play against the American major- and minor-league systems?
Gregi:My league was absolutely a spare time project. No one had any realistic idea of baseball. If you had, you'd be playing in the upper levels. In our big team was some guy from the Caribbean that knew Sandy Alomar Jr. from his youth. Both had played on the same team once, and that fellow also had played in AA or AAA once. He was by far the offensive motor of the big team.
Mike: Have any of those players been signed by American clubs?
Gregi:As to German players in professional baseball: Mitch Franke is one and he got signed by the Milwaukee Brewers. He is playing Rookie League, therefore his way to the show is a long one. Longer still, because he returns to Rookie League ball, I noticed. Out of 30,000 Germans playing baseball, he appears to be the only one getting attention.
I know of no one else. I do know of Dirk Nowitzki, Detlef Schrempf and Olaf Kölzig, but those fellows come from sports that are bigger around here. Compared to the 30,000 Germans playing baseball, you have more than 2.5 million Germans actively playing soccer, by the way.
[Mike: By the way, I did notice that German-born Steve Kent was sent down over the weekend by Seattle, though they say that he will be back up soon.]
Mike: Do they compete in the Olympics?
Gregi:I guess they do. Its just they don't qualify.
Mike: Is there a Little League system to develop interest among the German children in baseball?
Gregi:Yup. You can find it here, I guess. We had a little league team, also, and as a matter of fact, I hope my son plays there one day. He takes a baseball in his hand sometimes, but since he is but one year old, I limit his pitch count to one or two.
Mike: Does the champion ever play teams from Italy or the Netherlands where there are, I understand, strong semipro or amateur leagues?
Gregi:That may be. As a matter of fact, I checked, and it is so - for you, if you like to see (it's in different languages ). I don't know if German teams get their asses whipped or not. Teams from the western part of Germany tend to have a better financial situation, a good field (a real diamond instead of a soccer field ) and stuff. So they might as well have good players.
That is all. If you like, I can recount some more memories of my time as a hacking leftfielder:
We had a catcher, Greg, who would throw himself on the ground even on the ash field. Greg loved the game. He was a fine catcher who could also carry a stick, leading our teams in doubles and average. He would just injure himself by throwing his body in the dirt. Once he even injured while warming up, playing fungo...
My own glove, since it was the only black one on the team, was called Dark Force. That started when in one fielding session I didn't drop it on the ground like the coach wanted to. I probably did not like the ash there, because the glove was new. Since my fellows also had their share of problems, the coach gathered us to deliver a speech. Pointing to my glove he said, what is that you think, is the force with you on this one? So my glove now was the dark force.
Next to our training site were gardens with houses. We often bombed their evening meals with our baseballs. My longest shot dropped on a roof, rolled down and hit the cake of birthday party. Since it steered foul shortly before it went out, it was no home run either.
Back when I was playing baseball, I was also looking forward to the winter. Because in the winter you had snow and with my trained arm I was able to throw lasers like never before and after. A victim once was a sightseeing bus with no roof, that happened to wait for a green traffic light. By the time the bus rolled on, we three team members had emptied the upper deck of the bus from passengers.
Mike: Gregi, good to hear from you. Very interesting stuff. I daresay that German baseball sounds very similar to the early days of baseball in America (and I mean no offense by that): very few home runs and walks but high-scoring affairs all the same and pitchers having just one pitch
It's my favorite sport and the more international it gets, the better the athletes will be and the better the sport as a whole will be. I am sure that there are dozens of athletes in Germany that could be major-league players, but they probably didn't have an interest in the sport as they were growing up or became interested in another sport like soccer. I'm also sure that Germany is not alone in this. That's why I pull for the Matsuis and Ichiros. The first step will be to integrate Japanese players since they are so close to the majors talent-wise. I envision MLB being like the NBA one day, attracting players from all over the world-well, they do already but even more so. Of course, baseball's management is going to have to attempt to grow that support (like by ensuring that it's available on public TV as you suggested and by little league systems), and they are too concerned about breaking up the players' union and siphoning off the Yankees' billions to care right now.