Federation Focus: World no. 14 Czechia has one of the top baseball programs in Europe

Federation Focus: World no. 14 Czechia has one of the top baseball programs in Europe
Czechia is currently the second-highest rated European nation in the WBSC Baseball World Rankings. In the August episode of WBSC's Federation Focus series, Petr Ditrich, who has chaired the Czech Baseball Association since its founding, told the WBSC: "The position in the WBSC ranking is our reward."

The August episode of WBSC's Federation Focus series takes a deeper look at the Czech Baseball Association and the history of the sport in the heart of Europe.

The Czech Baseball Association is one of the four organizations born after Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993. The Czechoslovakia Baseball Softball Federation, founded in 1963 and a full member of the European Confederation since 1989, dissolved in December 1992.

The first baseball clubs in Czechoslovakia were born as a continuation of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) summer camps. In 1947, Jaroslav First, son of American baseball pioneer Joe First, translated the rules of baseball into Czech.

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The 2021 Federation Focus series

In 1954 professor František Stiebitz published a college paper about baseball and softball rules. Softball became a curricular activity at the Institute of Physical Education and Sport. Organized softball competitions began in 1963, and baseball followed in 1967.

Petr Ditrich, 58, has been the president of the Czech Baseball Association since its founding. He also serves as WBSC Europe's first vice president.

A tennis player until he was 17, he discovered baseball when a friend invited him to the Eagles Prague field. He played baseball and softball.

Czechia played for the first time at the top European level in 1996. It has kept growing since and is today ranked No. 14 in the world by WBSC, the second programme in Europe after No. 8 Netherlands and ahead of No. 17 Italy.

"It is great for us," told Ditrich to the WBSC. "I cannot say we worked specifically for this goal. It's more a consequence of our work with the youth and the activism of our clubs. Our mission has always been to participate in all international events; this position in the ranking is our reward. I'm not sure how long we can keep this position in Europe, but I can tell you that our ultimate goal would be participating in the WBSC Premier12."

The WBSC Premier12 is an elite, professional-level competition between the top 12 nations in the WBSC Baseball World Rankings, so Czechia would need to climb two positions to lock in their ticket.

Czechia won the U-21 European Championship in 2010 and 2014, the U-23 European Championship in 2019, and the U-15 European Championship in 2021, but so far failed to make the podium at the European Championship.

"It's true. We got close a couple of times. At the European Championship 2021 in Italy, we lost against Israel in a very tight quarterfinal. I think we will get there, but the European Championship is tough. Many countries have the support of professional players who developed overseas. We earned the hosting rights of the 2023 European Championship, and we hope we will get there."

The main level of club competition in Czechia is the eight-team ExtraLiga, one of the top baseball leagues in Europe.

"We also have a six-team U-21 ExtraLiga and a 14-team U-18 ExtraLiga," added Ditrich.

Youth activity at the club level is also relevant, says Ditrich.

"Youth activity starts in the U-8 age bracket. The Czech youth play at the regional level, then the best teams qualify for a week-long national championship. The finals involve 8 to 12 teams. We have national championships [starting] from the U-10 age bracket."

During the 2021 season, 15 teams participated in the U-5 and U-7 activity, 13 teams played at the U-8 level, 29 in the U-9 age bracket, 24 at the U-10 level, 21 in the U-11 age bracket, 29 teams competed at the U-13 level and 22 played in the U-15 age bracket.

The Czech capital has organized Prague Baseball Week since 1980. The international tournament just celebrated its 41st edition.

Czechia hosted the European Baseball Championship in 2005. Blansko, Chocen, and Olomouc hosted group play. Prague was the host city of the finals.

What about baseball in your country?

"Czechia is doing good, but could be better. Soccer is the main sport here. Amongst team sports, basketball and ice hockey are also popular. Ice hockey is special to Czech people because of our international success. The number of baseball players is growing steadily, but there's a lot of competition between the different sports to recruit the best athletes."

The most recent numbers rate baseball registered players at 7,000, softball registered players also at 7,000, while ice hockey has 40,000.

The Czech Baseball Association believes that being on television is the key to development.

The Czech baseball leaders said they reached an agreement with CT Sport Plus, the national TV streaming platform, which increases the exposure of the game to potentially attract new players and bring more top athletes into baseball.

"Czech baseball is now visible live and open to all fans," Ditrich says.

On a final note, we asked Ditrich what kind of support he expects from the WBSC.

"I think it's vital that baseball becomes a permanent feature on the Olympic programme. The most important thing for us is participating in international baseball. If we perform well on the world stage, we receive more government support, increasing our budget."

Czech National Baseball Teams have been busy this summer, recently finishing 10th in the WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup, ahead of all other teams from Europe, Africa and Oceania. Czechia placed 9th in the U-12 Baseball World Cup, again ahead of all other European and African teams.

In continental championship action, Czechia placed second, behind U-12 European champion Germany, to qualify for the next U-12 Baseball World Cup.

The Czech Women's National Baseball Team had its best-ever result, reaching the final of the Women's European Baseball Championship, before falling to defending champions France.

Czechia is set to compete in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Germany, which start 16 September. They are the highest-ranked team in the Regensburg group and will face No. 18 Germany, No. 19 Spain, No. 22 France, No. 23 Great Britain, and No. 26 South Africa. The top two finishers will advance to 2023 World Baseball Classic.