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from Tom Renner, Hope SID
Saturday, June 30
At the conclusion of Saturday’s game, the Flying Dutchmen were presented a beautiful engraved crystal trophy. Tournament director Jan Bagin presented the trophy to the team’s senior players – Mike Rodgers, Mike VanderVelde, Anthony Pastrick, Matt Van Beek, and Bill Lutke. The Czech Republic is reknowned for its crystal. This trophy will be a beautiful addition to the baseball alcove in the new DeVos Fieldhouse on the Hope campus.
Coach Stu Fritz met his goal of getting every player on the field as much as possible. Hope won five games with five different winning pitchers – Dustin Wuis, Mike Rodgers, Brian Guerierro, Sean Grose and Steve Tompkins. Of the 17 position players, 16 had at least one hit. Mike VanderVelde batted 7-for-14 for the top average while leadoff hitter Matt Sattler went 9-for-19 with seven RBIs.
Was using wooden bats a limiting factor? The Flying Dutchmen batted .292 over their six games. During the spring season, Hope batted .318 with their aluminum bats. The team had 51 hits, just seven for extra bases. The lone homerun was hit by Scott Sommavilla. The team will return to campus with about half of their bats, the rest broken over the course of the games.
The pitching staff had a combined earned run average below 1.00, allowing five earned runs over 50 innings. Opponents struck out 52 times. Hope batters were hit with a pitched-ball 11 times in these “friendly” games.
Sunday will be spent touring Prague with a dinner river cruise in the evening. The traveling party returns to the States on Monday, some leaving as early as 4 a.m. Prague time.
Friday, June 29
You could take the term “friendly” out of the description of Friday’s game. There were several disputes over balks called and not called by the umpires. Australia’s third base coach appeared to have radio communication with his dugout. Things boiled over in the ninth inning when an Aussie player was hit by a pitch, bringing both teams to the edge of their dugouts, but cooler heads quickly prevailed. Hope’s Matt VanderVelde had been hit by a pitch earlier in the game. At games-end the teams exchanged handshakes in a display of good sportsmanship.
There was plenty of national pride as both teams displayed their country’s flag in the dugout. Flags of all the countries represented in the tournament fly above the grandstand.
After Friday’s game, fans were treated to a homerun-hitting contest involving players from six of the competing teams. Mike VanderVelde represented the Flying Dutchmen. He correctly picked a number chosen by coach Stu Fritz -- #9 --; coach Fritz’s uniform number when he played baseball at Wartburg College many years ago. VanderVelde failed to hit a homerun in 10 chances. The winner was Will Rikard of the Swedish team who hit three homeruns.
Thursday, June 28
Prague Baseball Week is celebrating its 26th anniversary. The tournament started in 1980, but a champion was not declared until 1984. Since then, an American entry has been the champion eight times, most recently the New England Stars in 2006. The only “pure” college champion was Williams College of Massachusetts in 1990.
Matt Richardson, a second-year player, is slated to be the starting pitcher on Friday. Richardson, who hails from Niles, Mich., was 2-1 in eight appearances this past spring.
Friday’s activities will include a homerun derby and a barbecue
for all the participating teams. Hope’s entry in the homerun derby
has not been announced.
Wednesday, June 27
It took a journey of 4,400 miles for the Hope baseball program to play in its first-ever televised game. Wednesday’s Hope vs. Czech Nationals game was beamed live nationwide by a crew from Ceska Televize. The crew used seven cameras to present an ESPN-quality broadcast. Coach Fritz was interviewed between the sixth and seventh innings.
The contrast in the age of the players is striking. Moscow has pitched a 15-year-old while Sweden put a 42-year-old player-coach on the mound. Many of the players are in their 30s. The Czech Nationals came from eight teams that play in various cities across The Czech Republic.
The person responsible for the success of this internationally recognized tournament is Jan Bagin. He and coach Stu Fritz have been friends for several years through the College Baseball Coaches Association. Mr. Bagin attends the convention of the coaches’ group and extended an invitation to coach Fritz and his team to participate this year. Mr. Bagin is multi-talented. He served as the color commentator for the telecast of Wednesday’s game. Mr. Bagin’s brother, Daniel, is the groundskeeper for the beautifully maintained complex of baseball and softball fields. Running simultaneously is a six-team softball tournament. Coach Fritz prior to Wednesday’s game presented Jan Bagin with a pair of hand-carved wooden shoes.
For the third straight game, coach Fritz used every position player. It has created a very interesting scorebook.
Young Czech baseball players crowd around the Hope dugout every game. Their favorite “souvenir” has been the remnants of the wooden bats broken (many shattered) during the games. Seven-year-old Tucker Fritz, son of Stu and Carol Fritz, is the team’s batboy. Hope’s big offense to date has kept him one busy young man.
The team’s favorite food so far? How about Kentucky Fried Chicken and pizza. Our hotel provides a plentiful continental-style breakfast each morning.
Tuesday, June 26
The beautiful KRC Altron baseball/softball complex in Prague is the largest in Europe. Many of the teams in this tournament are prepping for the European tournament, which is an Olympics qualifier, and will be held in Barcelona in September.
The players on Hope’s opponents range in age from high school to the late 30s. Many have played on their country’s national team for a period of time. This tournament has drawn a Major League scout for the Minnesota Twins. Hope alumnus Jim Kaat spent a large share of his major league career pitching for the Twins.
Coach Stu Fritz and Mike VanderVelde were interviewed by a Czech national television reporter in advance of Wednesday’s game.
Monday, June 25, Part II
Hope started Monday with 24 wooden bats and ended the day's game against Sweden with 22. The Flying Dutchmen, many using wooden bats for the first time, broke two of them in the second inning, first by Bill Lutke of Allendale, Mich. on a ground out and just two batters later by Scott Sommavilla of Holland, Mich. on an infield fly.
The first-ever Hope pitch thrown on foreign soil was a strike by 6-8 Shawn Grose who went on to strike out Sweden's leadoff batter. Hope's turn at the plate in the bottom of the first inning began with a single by Matt Sattler of Brighton, Mich. One of the busiest players was freshman catcher Curtis Moran of Allendale, Mich. He warmed up each of Hope’s six pitchers before entering the game in the seventh inning.
In addition to being a "friendly game," Monday's outing had a "friendly ending" as coaches Stu Fritz and Ron Boeve returned to the team's hotel on the Swedish team's bus following a pre-tournament meeting.
Monday, June 25, Part 1
Sunday, June 24
Dana, our tour guide who was waiting for us at the Prague airport, is very familiar with Hope College. Earlier this summer she was the tour guide for a group of Hope students participating in the college’s Vienna Summer School. She explained that she has worked with Hope professor Stephen Hemenway, director of the Vienna program, for a number of years. She provided the team a motor tour of Prague’s central city upon their arrival and will be leading others during the week.
Hope’s roster is one player fewer than expected. Sophomore Paul Neumann of Holland, Mich. was unable to make the trip after suffering a work-related head injury on Friday.
On Monday the team will get their first look at the field when they play an exhibition game against the Swedish entry in the tournament. Coach Stu Fritz’s intent is to use a different pitcher each of the nine innings and as many of the 16 position players as possible. The tournament uses the American League’s designated hitter rule (the pitcher doesn’t bat).
Players in this tournament, which begins Tuesday, will use wooden bats. Coach Fritz predicts there will be fewer hits and runs than if metal bats were used. This will be a good experiment because the NCAA is currently reviewing a possible change in the college game from metal to wooden bats. Another reason for this possible change is to shorten the length of games because the amount of offense would be reduced. The era of the .400 hitter could be in jeopardy. “A .380 hitter nowadays could have an average that is 100 points less with wood and still be viewed as a good hitter,” he said. Hope will be using Louisville Sluggers which were acquired through Matt Bultman, a Louisville Sluggers representative and son of Hope College president Jim Bultman.
Wednesday’s game between the Flying Dutchmen and host Czech Republic has been pushed back 30 minutes to 7:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. ET) to allow it to be beamed in prime time on Czech national TV. That will be a first for Hope College baseball.
Wednesday first pitch is scheduled to be thrown by the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Hope coach Stu Fritz will be presenting the ambassador a pair of wooden shoes, hand-carved at Veldheers in Holland. Several thousand people are expected for this game. We’re told that on Saturday an estimated 3,000 people watched one of the softball games here between the U.S. team and a team from Japan.
Assistant coach Ron Boeve and his wife, Sunny, will be having a reunion of sorts this weekend. In exchange of emails recently, the Boeves learned that Nobuyuki Shimizu, a Japanese student they hosted while he attended Hope College, would be attending a conference being held at the SAME hotel we are staying at here in Prague. They visited with him this afternoon.
Saturday, June 23
The team will depart from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids at noon on Saturday. The traveling party of 49 includes players, coaches, parents and family members. After stops in Detroit and Amsterdam, the group will arrive in Prague at 8:45 a.m. Sunday. (the Czech Republic is six hours ahead of Holland.)
On Monday the Flying Dutchmen will play an exhibition game against a team from Sweden. This will be the first time that the entire Hope team has been together since the NCAA tournament in mid-May. Many of Hope's players have been playing in summer leagues.
The first three days (Tuesday thru Thursday) will be pool play. The teams will be matched based on the outcome of pool play for the tournament's semi-final (Friday) and consolation/championship (Saturday) games.
Hope's first game in the tournament will be at noon Monday (6 a.m. in Michigan) against a team from Moscow. It will be the first of four games on Monday. The others will be: Sweden vs. Czech Republic 18, Australia vs. Prague, and Czech Republic vs. Slovakia.