The American influence on Little League baseball in Europe has been well-documented. If Europeans had ANYthing to do with introducing soccer in the U.S., then it’s at least equally true that Americans are responsible for the growth of baseball in Europe.It’s manifested itself in many forms, including a near-record 13 teams being on site for the opening of the EMEA (Europe Middle East Africa) championships in
Kutno, Poland on Tuesday.Relatively speaking, baseball is still a very young sport in Europe. There were so few teams playing Little League baseball here until just 5 years ago that LL did not have to have a separate category for its mostly European teams. It simply sent its Transatlantic champion to the LLWS – in other words, it sent the kids whose parents are among the 55,000 Americans working in Saudi Arabia. Saudi has gone to Williamsport 9 straight years.But in 2001, LL gave Europe a second bid to Williamsport, ruling that the Transatlantic champion must have predominantly an American makeup, while the European champion must be made up predominantly by native kids from that particular country. And Russia has dominated the latter class, winning every year except 2004, when it was sitting out a one-year probation. Host Poland won that year.So Russia is the odds-on favorite to repeat as European champion, even though it will have to go through more opponents than last year to get there. This year’s hopefuls include Russia, Germany, Netherlands, Belarus, Moldova,Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Lithuania, Italy, Austria and the host team from Kutno.Through U.S. military stationed in Europe like all the American umpires who come here every year, embassy workers like Tom Kelly (CA) in Lithuania, other government employees like Ken MacDonald (MA) in Austria, and missionaries like Scott Gill (CO) in Bulgaria, the game has spread far and wide through a region where soccer is still king.As of 2005, LL boasted 113 leagues in 50 countries totaling about 9,400 participants. Now, with the announcement that the Confederation of European baseball (CEB) has agreed to begin affiliating with LL
in 2007, those numbers have increased exponentially. CEB has been the default baseball program in Europe for decades, but after two years of negotiations with LL, primarily with European LL Regional Director Beata Kaszuba, it decided to take advantage of LL’s global reach and get in touch with American baseball and not just the game of baseball itself. It’s a huge step, and one which LL recognizes might be the most significant yet.
NOTES: When the Moldova juniors team was here in Kutno a few weeks ago, they wore the White Sox jerseys that Dublin LL donated to them last year. The Moldova 12-year-old team will wear Padres uniforms donated by Pleasanton LL…Bulgaria drove 25 hours in a van with no air conditioning from Sophia to get here: Italy drove 24 hours to et to Kutno from Venice…I was remiss in failing to acknowledge 2 other CA umpires who are here: Dave Diaz from Riverside and Larry McEwen from Moorpark. That makes 7 of the 13 umpires for this tourney from CA…play gets under way at 10 am local time Tuesday – I have the plate for Netherlands-Slovenia at 1:30 with Perry Tucker, Vic Langford and Larry McEwen.