9/17/2012 6:00 P.M. ET
Czechs plan to make most of Classic opportunity
By Cash Kruth / MLB.com
The Czech Republic opens the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Germany knowing full well that it has the talent to pull off an upset or two.
That win, as well as its 3-2 tournament finish in the Netherlands, has the Czech Republic confident that it can make some noise at Armin-Wolf Baseball Arena in Regensburg, Germany, in the second qualifier. The winner of the pool, which also includes Canada, Germany and Great Britain, will advance to the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
"The European Championships in Holland brought a lot of confidence in players' minds, there were no washout games," Team Czech spokesman Vladimir Chlup wrote in an e-mail. "Players realized the saying that any team could be beaten on any given day has a real meaning."
At the European Championships, the Czech Republic -- the No. 20 team in the world -- beat No. 5 Netherlands, while also playing Sweden, Spain and Germany close.
"I am excited to be part of the staff and see the confidence that the team has after this week of the [European Championships]," coach Rod Delmonico wrote in an email.
The Czechs open the qualifier at 1 p.m. ET on Friday and play their second game at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday.
Chlup said that participating in the qualifier "is the biggest thing in Czech baseball so far."
One reason why is because the country has a chance to measure itself against top competition. Another is the opportunity to show off the development of its young players, on which the Czech Republic prides itself. The roster features six players who have participated in Major League Baseball's European Academy: Jakub Hajtmar (2005, 2006), Petr Cech (2006), Matej Hejma (2006, 2007), Marek Minarik (2010), Daniel Vavrusa (2009, 2010) and Martin Cervenka (2008).
Delmonico feels that the development of such players has made a big difference in regard to the talent on Czech Republic's roster. Chlup added that displaying that growth will be key during this weekend's qualifier.
"Czech baseball is known around Europe as one of the leading forces in a youth movement, so there is a need to show the progress of transferring the youth movement into a senior level," he said.
The Czechs also are getting help from five Minor Leaguers: Mike Cervenak (Triple-A, Marlins), Alex Sogard (Double-A, Astros), Martin Cervenka (Rookie-level, Indians), Marek Minarik (Rookie-level, Phillies) and Daniel Vavrusa (Rookie-level, Yankees).
The presence of those youngsters, coupled with the experience of having already knocked off top teams, make the Czech Republic a dangerous squad.
"[We're] looking forward to play the host nation on Friday with a chance to win and actually [face] Canada to go to [World Baseball Classic]," Chlup said. "Players feel that that could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."