Sunday, October 14, 2012

Season 6 Wrap-up!

I have returned to Detroit with the conclusion of the 2012 baseball season in Europe. As a player for Janossomorja Rascals I was amongst the league leaders in the Eastern-European Inter-League in many pitching and hitting categories, despite missing almost half of our teams' games while I finished my law degree in Detroit (Yes, I am now officially a lawyer). After I began the season in May, we reeled off 6 straight victories upon my arrival and helped the Rascals finish 4th in the Inter-League North division and 1st in the Hungary domestic league. Although I had to return to the U.S. for my amazing sister Rachel's wedding and ended up missing the playoffs, it was still an incredible year of playing baseball.
You can find the statistics at this link:

More importantly, I spent the majority of the season working as Head Coach for the Hungarian National Team, Under-21 National Team, and Under-16 National team, as well as player development director for the country. Traveling across Europe with these 3 teams to a variety of international tournaments, and traveling weekly throughout Hungary helping to promote and develop baseball in Hungary.  In this capacity I was recently honored as one of the top 5 coaches in European baseball for 2012, and I am a finalist for Coach of the Year which will be awarded in November at the European Baseball Coaches Association convention in France.

Here is the link to that press-release: and

I wrapped up the 2012 campaign as a player/coach, assisting my friends John Dobkowski and Ty Eriksen with their International Game company/team for games in Germany and Switzerland in August. Here is a video of my last pitching performance of the year, in Zurich Switzerland, striking out 2 batters in just over a minute, to finish the game against the British All-Star team we played (a great chance for many of you to see me pitching, if you haven't had a chance to make in to Europe or Australia in the past 6 years):

I would like to leave you with a summary of my first season as Head Coach for the Hungary national team program, as I was asked to provide the achievements of 2012 to the EBCA, as a finalist for their coach of the year award, here it is:

In a place like Hungary, where baseball has never been a priority for the majority of our national team's players lives; where there is a weekly battle (with even our best players) just to show up to international tournaments, let alone, once a month practices, and where the baseball budget means we usually have to sleep on gym floors at almost every tournament we participate in, baseball victories can't be measured in only the wins and losses.  

My proudest achievements were getting guys to want to aspire to be better, to changing the baseball culture where dedication, accountability, hustling, playing smart, and having fun are the priorities. From making sure every national team player had a dirty uniform by the end of the game, to getting the guys to talk to each other about the "upcoming play" in their native language on every pitch, to having an entire team showing off their same color socks by wearing their pants up, to holding our heads high, accepting and not blaming anyone in defeat, and to our Under-16 National team pitchers picking-off the most base runners at the Little League Senior World Series Qualifier against teams and players that have at least double the playing experience.

I arrived in Budapest at the end of April to coach the National team at the 2012 Danube Cup against Austria and Slovakia in Vienna.
Due to injuries and retirements we were missing our starting Catcher, 1B, 2B, SS, CF, and top 4 starting pitchers from last year's team that played in the European Qualifier in Barcelona. We managed to still lead heavily favored Slovakia until the 8th inning and ended up losing by 1 run.

My coaching philosophy is that more game experience, especially against better/more experienced competition, will create better baseball players. In order to get our predominantly younger national team more experience, we expanded the roster to include almost 40 players this year, attempting to instill the new mentality and style of baseball to be played. To accomplish these goals I established a full inter-squad series with our entire national team program (Seniors, U-21, U-16) called "Red vs. White" in which we gathered national team players from all over Hungary for 3 games throughout the spring and summer.  We were even able to hold one of the game's on a weekday late afternoon, where guys came from over 3 hours away, something that I was told would never work in a country like Hungary where baseball has never been a big priority. 

We played a friendly match in Erd Hungary against a US traveling team and won 22-0 (what I'm told was the biggest win for the National Team ever) captured on video here:

Soon thereafter we traveled to Prague Czech Republic for the Prague International Cup from June 30 to July 1, finishing in 5th place but missing the same starting players from the Danube Cup and additionally our 2nd and 3rd string catchers who were both lost to injuries mid-season.
One of the highlights of this experience was after losing to a predominantly older German club team, we moved over to an adjacent field and in sweltering heat, practiced with energy and enthusiasm that we lacked during the regular game, to record 27 outs in a row without making any mental errors. The effect of this was that we didn't need to play "tight" and it didn't matter how tired we were in order to make the proper play and use our minds. We won the ensuing game, the next day, 13-3. I thought this was an extreme measure, wasn't sure how our guys would respond and it was also challenging to get players, especially with about half the team older than me, to buy into a different baseball philosophy - but to their credit, they did (some guys spent more time hitting in cages with resources we aren't fortunate enough to have in Hungary, even though they had the rest of the day off).

In July I helped raise emergency funding so our Under-16 National team, despite last minute government cuts to our budget, would be able to travel with 2 vans, for 12 hours, to Novara Italy, where we finished in 4th place (last) at the Little League Senior World Series Qualifier against European baseball powerhouses Italy and Netherlands, and against a strong team from South Africa. We had only 4 days of training camp together as a team, while the other participants had won numerous games/tournaments to get to that point.  However, we scored more runs (3) against eventual winner Italy, in one game (in which we led all the way to the 5th inning) then all the other teams scored against Italy in the tournament combined.

In July I also coached the U-21 National team at International Youth Baseball Tournament in Prague.  We tied for 4th (3-3) most wins for a Hungarian U-21 national team in a tournament.

Finally, we finished the 2012 Senior National Team campaign at the Bratislava Cup the last weekend of July with the Hungarian Senior team and knocked off the Tempo Titans (who would be eventual 1st League Champions in Czech Republic in October) and falling to Apollo-Bratislava to finish in 2nd place.

Throughout the spring and summer, I traveled weekly to various cities and baseball clubs throughout Hungary in my role as Development Director.  My goals were to help bring about this new brand of baseball to the different clubs and assist coaches in recruitment of new players in schools.
On the eastern end of the country (bordering Romania) I assisted the Debrecen Tigers, weekly visits to the Rangers little league program based in Budapest, worked with the Szentendre Sleepwalkers outside of Budapest on player recruitment, and the Janossomorja Rascals on the western part of the country (whom I also pitched and hit for during various weekends in their Inter-League competition).  I worked with the U.S. Embassy in Budapest in coordinating efforts to spread more information about baseball in various media outlets and assisted in setting-up demonstrations at cultural exchanges and sports days. I was also in charge of organizing and the baseball programming for multiple week-long training camps for the Senior National Team, Under-21 National Team, Under-16 National Team and assisted with our Little League "Juniors" National Team as well.
One of the biggest achievements I had as a coach was helping our Under-21 National Team starting catcher get over his "yips" when he suddenly lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher. It was an incredible challenge that I didn't really have an answer for, and had to make some tough decisions in the middle of an important game. Through continued confidence and support, he was able to overcome this difficult a few weeks later. However, this "small victory" that occurred during our last tournament in Bratislava, could not prepare me for one of the biggest challenges I've faced in all my years of baseball, where I truly learned the importance of being a coach FOR your players.
No matter all the lessons we learned in baseball and in life this year, when something tragic happens everything else becomes secondary. 
The same starting catcher who had just overcome the yips, Pasztor Domokos, age 21, died tragically in an auto-accident just two days prior to our last "Red vs. White" Inter-Squad game. I've never lost anyone that I was so close to in age, and I had to set-aside my own grieving process, to make sure our Senior and Under-21 national team players came together at a difficult time.  "Domi" was the very first player to give his confirmation that he would be at the inter-squad game, just a week before the tragedy, and I thought it was best to honor him by continuing the game and having a memorial in his honor. I don't know if it was the right decision but I think it may have helped his family by showing our support and by giving the players a meaningful way to say good-bye and feel like they were honoring him.

Photos from my 6th season in Europe can be found here on facebook: