We begin in Brno, the southeastern city of the Czech Republic close to the Austrian and Slovakian borders.
While the city is known by many as the second city of the Czech Republic, it is known within the baseball community as the Czech baseball capital.
Both in the professional ranks and the youth levels, Brno has consistently had the best teams over the century long history of baseball in Czechia.
And on 20 August 2013, this would come to life on the ESPN networks as we saw Brno’s South Moravia LLWS team make history. Brno would battle out Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores (Michigan) 5-3 in the Czech Republic’s only LLWS victory in its history.
People may have not realized the high level of play coming out of the Czech Republic before, but after that day, people now knew that the bats were swinging in Brno.
And perhaps, this game was foreshadowing for the Czechs greatest baseball accomplishment to date just 9 years later, when the Czechs defeated Spain 3-1 this past Wednesday night to Qualify for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) for the first time it its history!
But, how did we get here? How did a country so focused on ice hockey, basketball, soccer, and other sports become a baseball haven for Central Europe?
Baseball was first introduced in 1919, but fell out of Czech society almost completely during World War Two. After World War Two, American troops in the Western half started to re-introduce the sport. However, the Czech and Slovaks quickly became one communist state, Czechoslovakia. And, within three years of the end of World War Two, the new government had banned baseball.
Baseball did not return again until 1964 when a softball club began playing baseball in Prague. This began baseball’s ascent into Czech life.
In 1969, the Czechoslovakia Baseball and Softball Association was created, and teams had already started to play outside of the nation.
By 1979, the first Czechoslovakian Championship was held!
You can read more about this history here.
Since this moment, Brno has made their name known in Central European baseball.
Brno has had four major Czech teams: Draci Brno, Hroši Brno, VSK Technika Brno, and MZLU Express Brno. These teams have all featured in the top Czech League, the Czech Baseball Extraliga.
This league currently consists of ten teams with Cardion Hroši Brno and Draci Brno being the Brno representatives. Both of these teams met in the 2022 Extraliga Final this year with Draci Brno winning the series 4 games to 2.
Despite Technika Brno not featuring in the Extraliga currently, it is Technika Brno and Draci Brno that have been most successful over the years from Brno. Technika Brno has won 5 Czech/Czechoslvoakian titles, while Draci Brno is the best Czech team of all-time, winning a record 23 Czech titles, and as mentioned before, are the current Czech National Champions.
This dominance by Draci Brno did not start until 1995, and by 2010, Draci Brno had won 16 straight Czech championships!
At the youth levels, Brno has also dominated for a while now. In European-Middle Eastern-African LLWS qualifiers, Brno has often represented the Czechs, and in 2013 and 2014, the aforementioned Brno’s South Moravia qualified for Williamsport!
The City of Brno has thus become a household name for baseball fans from the Americas and Asia too, opening up these fans to the realization that good baseball exists in the heart of Central Europe.
But, what many people may not know is that Czech Baseball has expanded its reach domestically. Other regions of the Czech Republic are now dominating. Recently, we have seen teams from Prague, the largest city and capital, dominate, while the Czech Republic’s third biggest city, Ostrava, had their main professional team the Arrows win the 2021 Extraliga, as well as the 2018 and 2019 editions. And in the youth setup, Prague broke the streak since 2008 of Brno appearing in the LLWS qualifiers in 2018, displaying Prague baseball at a high level. Brno would return after, and in 2022, went 3-0 in the final European qualifiers until the last game where they lost to Bologna 1-4 in the Final, who they had beaten previously.
The Czech Baseball influence thus covers from the youth to the highest levels in the three historic regional capital cities of the Czech Republic: Prague (Bohemia), Brno (Czech Moravia), and Ostrava (Czech Silesia). In addition to this, there are more baseball cities that feature in the Czech Republic, probably the most notable being Jablonec nad Nisou who has a team in the Extraliga. This city sits in the metropolitan area of Liberic, the fifth largest city and the former industrial home of Czechia.
As displayed here, the Czechs have created a very good baseball environment with the main cities and all the regions represented by a team. Plus, they have invested in youth level training to build up their domestic talent pool. These workings have catapulted the Czechs into a perennial Top 5 European nation in baseball, a ranking they have finished within in every European Baseball Championship since 2012.
And hence, this Czech victory is a really good victory for baseball in Europe.
It is great to see Spain and others do well and make it to the WBC like in 2013. It is even fun to see Great Britain qualify this year.
But, the Czech Republic is a nation that features players coming from the Czech youths to the WBC. It is a nation doing everything right from the grassroots and up to its highest levels and has been rewarded for it.
Outside of one player, all the players on the field that qualified are Czech and from the Czech Republic, with most of them still playing in the Extraliga and all of them having played there. The only player not from the Czech Republic is American born pitcher, Jake Rabinowitz, who pitches in the Extraliga and qualifies for the American, Czech, and Israeli national teams. And out of these 29, 12 play for Brno sides, which means a majority of the players represent the clubs from the rest of the nation.
When you look at baseball infrastructure and talent pool, in the Czech Reoublic, they have it and it is home grown.
These facts make the Czech achievement even more impressive. They did not have to bring over dual nationals to get a win.
Rather, the only player not from the Czech Republic on their side was already playing in the Czech Republic to begin with and is Czech.
The biggest hurdle for baseball according to most experts overseas is the development of players. Many of these nations are able to recruit their diasporas, but outside of the baseball blue bloods, most of the other nations that can compete at a high level get their players from abroad. With the Czech Republic qualifying for the World Baseball Classic, a new high level national team has added itself into the mix of the high performaning home grown national teams.
What is even more significant for the growth of the sport as a whole is that the Czech Republic became the first Central and East European country to qualify, as well as the first Slavic nation to qualify.
Despite many Americans’ lineage originating from these regions like 2018 NL MVP and 2017 WBC Champion, Christian Yelich, these regions have been in a WBC drought since this new professional world championship of baseball was created in 2006.
Now that the Czech Republic has qualified, more will see the benefits of having their nation playing in one of the world’s most popular sports, in some of the nicest, largest, and unique stadiums of any sport.
With new nations appearing in the European Championships from these regions like Croatia, Slovenia, and Slovakia, there now once again appears to be a new region on the rise for baseball.
The Czech momentum will thus not only help the Czechs out in America’s past time, but will also likely improve the play of baseball in places like Croatia that are already vastly improving. All of these realities make the Czech qualification a good story for international baseball, and a well deserved accomplishment.
Congrats to the Czech Republic on qualifying for the 2023 WBC!
Photo from Sebastian Widmann/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images