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The National Baseball Team of Hellas

Yes, believe it or not, Greece has a National Baseball Team and since the year 2002 it has been competing at the highest of International levels including the Olympics, European Championships, and even the prestigious World Cup of Baseball.

The results of its participation in the various international competitions that it has played in are as follows:

 

2002 European B’ Pool Qualification Tournament 1st Place

2003 European Championship & Olympics Qualifier 2nd Place

2004 Athens 2004 Olympic Games 7th Place

2005 European Championship 9th Place

2005 World Cup of Baseball withdrew due to lack of funding

2007 European Championship withdrew due to lack of funding

2008 European B’ Pool Qualification Tournament 1st Place

2010 European Championship 4th Place

2011 World Cup of Baseball 15th Place

2012 European Championship 7th Place

2014 European Championship 10th Place

The Hellenic National Baseball Team has, from its inception, primarily depended on support from the Hellenic diaspora of North America.  The whole idea of assembling a National Baseball Team was conceived shortly after Greece was awarded the honor of hosting the 2004 Olympic Games.  The announcement that Greece would host the games was made on September 5, 1997 and The Hellenic Amateur Baseball Federation (HABF) was, the very next day, registered with the Greek courts as the officially recognized governing body for the sport of Baseball in Greece.  The underlying objective was to field a Greek National Baseball team that would compete in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.  While the federation was quickly established, there were no teams, no athletes, no coaches, no umpires, and no score keepers that actively participated in the sport at any organized level. To develop a baseball league that would produce baseball players that could supply the National Team with athletes that could compete at the Olympic level was a great idea, but the HABF lacked important elements that were critically necessary if this goal was to be realized. They did not have the know-how and they did not have the needed funding, but most importantly, they did not have the time that would be needed to transform very young elementary school aged Greek kids into professional caliber baseball playing men who could compete against the giant baseball playing countries of the U.S.A., Japan, Cuba, Canada, Korea, and others.

Major League Baseball International (MLBI) helped to kick start organized baseball in Greece in the year 2000 by sending a full 40 foot container that was packed with enough baseball equipment to field at least two dozen baseball teams. The following year, they also sent a full time professional resident coach to develop youth baseball programs while also helping the men’s teams. That coach was former Pomona College Head Coach Mike Riskas who was chosen for the post since he was of Greek heritage and spoke enough Greek so that he could conduct much needed clinics.

The first Greek Baseball Championship was played in the year 2000 with 6 teams participating.  They were:

Marousi 2004

Spartakos Glyfadas

Evryaly Glyfadas

Titans Argyroupolis

Pelopas Patron

Petritsi Thessalonikis

With the help of MLBI, baseball in Greece began to attract more and more interest as more and more young athletes wanted to participate. By the year 2004, the HABF had 20 baseball teams and almost 1,000 registered athletes. The Marousi 2004 team won the first 4 championships in a row (2000, 2001, 2002, & 2003) because the overwhelming majority of their players were Greek-Americans or Greek-Canadians who obviously had a much better grasp of the sport than the players of the other teams who were mostly young Greeks who were born and raised in Greece.

However, even the players of the Marousi 2004 team would have been completely outclassed by the professional athletes that competed on the teams that were scheduled to participate in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.  While the President of the HABF, Panos Mitsiopoulos, and the Greek Sports Ministry authorities thought that Greece would get an automatic berth for its representative baseball team, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) were not willing to allow the Olympic Games or the sport of Baseball to endure a "Jamaican Bobsled Team” type of scandal. Such a humiliation of the games, the sport, and of Greece as the organizing country, simply would not be tolerated. Consequently, IBAF demanded that Greece needed to qualify for the Athens Olympics.  The same was required of the Hellenic Amateur Softball Federation (HASF) for the Greek women’s softball team and the same was required from the Hellenic Hockey Federation (HHF) for the Greek Field Hockey team. While the Greek Softball Team did qualify for participation in the Athens Olympics, the Greek Field Hockey Team did not. Therefore Greece did not have a Field Hockey Team for the Athens Olympics.

With their participation in the Athens Olympics in jeopardy, the President of the HABF sought help from across the Atlantic. As luck would have it, the then United States Ambassador to Greece was Nicholas Burns who was an avid baseball fan. He took the lead and created the “Friends of Greek Baseball” initiative. During a visit to Washington DC, he was invited to speak at an AHEPA function where he got the chance to speak to his friend, former Senator Paul Spyros Sarbanes. During their conversation, Ambassador Burns asked Senator Sarbanes to try and get support from the Greek-American community for the Greek baseball program so that Greece might field a competitive team for the Athens Olympics. Senator Sarbanes, logically, thought of his old friend, Peter Angelos, who was the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. Mr. Angelos was very happy to provide his help and he immediately assigned one of his best scouts, Robert (Dirk) Derksen, with the task of assembling a competitive team.

With the Orioles organization on board, the task of qualifying for the Athens Olympics was quickly transformed from an insurmountable pipedream into a legitimate, realistic, and quite attainable objective. Under Dirk’s able leadership, the Orioles assembled a team of 22 players from North America and 2 players from the local Greek league who were all of Greek heritage and sent them to play in a first round qualification tournament that took place in the year 2002 in Hungary. The Greek team won every game by mercy rule scores and thus easily qualified for the second qualification tournament that took place the following year in The Netherlands. Dirk assembled an even stronger team in 2003 and led the team to the final game against the home team, The Netherlands. Greece lost the final by a very respectable score of 2 – 0, but that second place finish gave Greece the right to participate in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. This was not a “Jamaican Bobsled Team”. This was a team of proud Greeks of the Diaspora who heeded the call from their family’s ancestral homeland to hoist the Greek flag as high as they could so as to help bring honor, glory, and respect to Hellas!

Since 2004, the HABF has been working hard to keep the sport of baseball alive in Greece and has been fielding a National Team to represent Greece at every opportunity. While the HABF has acquired a very high level of “know-how”, it is still greatly lacking in financial support for the Greek Baseball League and for the National Team. For obvious reasons, after the 2004 Athens Olympic Games the Greek government and the Greek Ministry of Sports have been completely unable to provide any financial or other support. This situation has been particularly acute for the last 8 years.

For the 2014 European Championship, all the players and coaches were asked to pay for their own airfare, hotel, and meals due to a nearly complete failure of all fund raising efforts. As a result, only 11 North American Greek players and one young Greek player from Australia were able to cover their expenses and help the 10 Greek players from the Greek league with only one coach on the bench. Obviously this translated into a rather weak team that did not play as well as it had in previous competitions. Losing 6 of the 7 games it played, Greece ended the tournament in 10th place while Sweden finished 11th and Croatia in last place.

 

This year, the Hellenic National Baseball Team is scheduled to participate in the 2016 European Championship that will be played in The Netherlands in September. Once again, the HABF is dependent on the Greeks of the diaspora for talented players of Greek heritage and for funding. A considerably large number of players from the Diaspora have come forward with sincere and enthusiastic interest in playing for Hellas in this year’s tournament. However, our fund raising efforts have not matched that level of participation or enthusiasm. The National Team has established a 501c3 non-profit corporation “The Greek Baseball Project, Inc.”. This corporation can accept donations and it has established a crowd-funding campaign at: www.gofundme.com/greekbaseball Any and all donations are accepted.

Let us band together once again and send a competitive team to the European Championships for our ancestral homeland, Ellas! 

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