Europe might not be the continent which immediately comes to mind when someone thinks of baseball. However, just as the European Baseball Championship proves, there is a long-standing popularity for the sport in the old continent. The competition started back in 1954 and remains, to this day, governed by the Confederation of European Baseball.
The tournament is organized every second year and a total of 12 teams compete for the trophy and the title of European Champions. In order to qualify, teams are split between 3 pools. Pool A is made up of the best teams in the sport and includes the previous event’s winners. Teams in this pool are automatically qualified for the following event. The best two teams in Pool B will also qualify for the event, whereas the worst two teams are relegated to Pool C. Similarly, the best two teams of Pool C are promoted to Pool B, where they have an opportunity to qualify for the competition.
The Netherlands has, historically, presented a very strong baseball team at almost every event. They have won the event a total of 22 times, almost a third of all the events since the Championship was first organized. They also have a further 9 presences in the final, where, however, they lost, almost every time to Italy.
The Italians, in fact, come second in the total number of wins, with a total of 10. They have been a runner-up a further 16 times. The only other two teams to have ever won this competition are Spain and Belgium, who won it in 1955 and 1967 respectively. On both occasions, the winning team were also the host country.
Breaking with the tradition of hosting it every two years, the CEB has decided to move the 2018 event to 2019 so that the winners will compete in the Baseball Olympics in 2020. This added incentive is sure to motivate all participating teams and promises an entertaining and exciting event.
Germany will be hosting the event, which will see the defending champions, the Netherlands challenged, amongst others, but the second favourites, Italy. The two teams have a long history of coming against each other in the competition’s finals, and the same is expected to happen in this event as well.
Apart from being the European champions, the Netherlands team, currently managed by Hensley Meulens, is also ranked 9th in the IBAF World Rankings. In 2011, the team beat Cuba to win the Baseball World Cup. Critics believe that part of the team’s strength comes from the diverse ethnicity of the players. In fact, a number of players come from the country’s territories in the Carribean, namely Aruba and Curaçao.
The Italian squad, led by manager Marco Mazzieri, is currently 11th in the IBAF World Rankings. Although they have not yet won any Baseball World Cups or Olympic Games, they have a strong team with potential for huge successes. One reason why Italy may have such a strong tradition of the sport is because a number of its team players have American ancestry.
A team to watch out for in the near future is Ireland. Whilst the country does not have a history of successes, its young baseball players are certainly making a name for themselves. The under 18 team, which was only formed in 2017, has already won the U18 European Baseball Championship Qualifiers. The team have learnt from Italy’s success and reached out across the pond to the United States. They are seeking experience and players who have Irish ancestry and wish to move to the country and play for the national team. It is a gamble which might give them the edge to win in the following European Championship.