12 Things to Know About Playing Baseball in Europe

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Playing Baseball in Europe

As I tell every pitcher that I work with, Baseball is a very rewarding game to those who fully dedicate themselves. It can introduce you to a lot of great people, open new doors for you, and take you to places you may never get to experience living an ordinary life.  That for one, being an all expense paid trip to Europe….to play baseball of course!  I was fortunate to play in 2 European countries (Belgium, Sweden) and be in contract negotiations with several others.  This is the time of year when European teams begin contacting players who they can bring in for the next season.  Players can be any range of those who just finished the college eligibility at a DIII school or even an ex Big Leaguer, and everyone in between. With that being said, here are 12 Things to know about playing baseball in Europe.

 

Playing Baseball in Europe
1. The Layout

playing baseball in Europe

If you are familiar with any of the European soccer leagues, the set up is the exact same. Every country has their own federation of tiered leagues. Ideally, you want to play in the top league. There are playoffs and playdowns. What is a play down?  The bottom 2 teams from the top division will play against the top 2 teams from the second division. Of the 4 teams involved, the 2 best will play in the higher division the next year.

For several years now, they has been talk of a Euro Baseball League.   The top teams from all of Europe play in a televised league.  That would be a huge step for the game.

 

Playing Baseball in Europe
2. Strength of the Leagues

playing baseball in europe

Italy and the Netherlands have long been the 2 best leagues in Europe. Thus haveing been represented in every World Baseball Classic since it began in 2006.  Needless to say, they also pay the best.

Germany, Czech Republic, and Spain are in the next tier. Sweden, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Croatia have competitive players native to those countries.

What is the level of play in these leagues?

Anywhere from DII Level in College to Independent League talent.  It is shocking how many European players you will come across who went to play in college for a year in the US.  There is good chance that you will find a mutual teammate with someone from across the pond.  It is mind boggling how baseball is family.  A very special thing to be a part of in the greatest game on Earth.

Playing Baseball in Europe
3. Expectations for Imports

First and foremost, get ready to being called a foreigner. Majority of the import players in Europe come from America. Others from Canada, Australia, or the Caribean. Depending on the country and the team, as an import player, there can be very lofty expectaions of you…sometimes outlandish.  Such as:

 – 7 scoreless is not enough! 

 – Why did you only throw a 5 hit shutout?  

 – How come you only went 5-8 in the doubleheader?

It is bizarre, yes.  These are things that have been said. You just got to roll with it.

Whereas, other places respect the fact that you come from a baseball country, you have had advanced coaching and you have had your success there which enabled you to play at this level.  

Regardless, they are paying you and putting you up, so they expect you to be one of the top producers on the team.

In addition to that, it is preferred that you are a 2 way player. Position Player/Pitcher. However, they are more leniant with your weaker half.  If are a pitcher, and can swing the bat a little bit and can play other positions, you are a stronger asset to them in their eyes.  They want to get their money’s worth out of you.

Playing Baseball in Europe
4. The Accommodations

playing baseball in Europe

So what all is included?   Roundtrip airfare, housing, meals, salary, gym membership, maybe a even a car.  If not you can surely negotiate for a bicycle.  There is a surplus of them there.  Go to any train station in Europe. There are more bicycles than cars in the parking lot. Also, there is a possibility of running clinics or having a side job. 

Having the transatlantic flight covered is a cool perk. Although, best of luck telling the European customs officer that you are there to play baseball for seven months.  They will look at you like you are crazy.

playing baseball in europe

As for housing, you will either be with a host family or in an apartment. Or as they call it over there, a Flat.   When you have a host family, all your meals will be taken care of at home.  The club will usually give the host family a monthly stipend to cover the expenses.   When you live in an apartment, most times, 1 or 2 resturants in your city will sponsor your meals.  So you can alternate for lunch and dinner.

Salary depends on the club. Some clubs just have more money than others. So you may get hooked up pretty good.  Others make their max offer which you may have to pass on.  

Overall, it could be anywhere from $300-$5,000 per month.  Maybe even higher.   Keep in mind that anything over $3,000 a month is a lot of money by non MLB standards.  So you have to be established as a professional player to get that kind of offer.  All living expenses are covered during your stay.  Recreational activities are the only thing that you have to pay for out of your own pocket.

Also, based on the culture in the country in which one plays, there can be a monthly beer allotment written into the player contract.  Yes that is correct.

Playing Baseball in Europe
5. Season Schedule

playing baseball in europe

Import players usually arrive early to mid March, practice for a few weeks, play some exhibition games, and the regular season begins early April.  Some countries with desolate winters will start in May.  The post season will finish around end of September. There will be breaks through the season for national team tournaments or the summer Holiday of that country.

The regular season can be anywhere from 25-40 games along with some tournaments and cup games in addition.

The most common way around the old world diamonds is that you practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays and play on the weekends.   A doubleheader on either Saturday or Sunday, or you play a single game each of those days. Some games may be played during the week for make up and if the travel is feasible.  Also in your contract, you will be required to coach one of the younger teams.  Some cities have the Mega Clubs.  Teams at all levels from T Ball all the way up to the grown men, girls/womens fastpitch softball, and even coed slow pitch. The beer leagues even exist over there too. I believe that you were beginning to pick up on that…

Europe does not have high school or college sports. Everything is club based.  Many of your teammates will gave grown up in the club since T-Ball.  So the meeting spot is the Canteen which is at the field.   This is where you can cash in on your beer currency and hang out with teammates on most nights. The community has a lot of monthly events year round within the club. Dinners and parties along with all the game day festivities.  It is a strong community within these clubs, and as the foreigner, everyone will know your name.  You may even be a god to them.

 

Playing Baseball in Europe
6. Rules for Playing 

playing baseball in Europe

Every country has different rules based off of how the import players can be used.  Most teams only have 2 imports on the roster.  Often times because only can be 2 in the lineup at once.   

Most other rules are about pitching usage.  Such as the import players are only allowed to pitch collectively in one of the games each weekend, or cannot pitch more than 6 innings in the weekend doubleheader. Or the imports cannot be the battery together (pitcher/catcher).

In the past, monopolies were created of former big league pitchers and catchers working together. Made the compitition rather one sided.

Aside from that, it is baseball as usual.  Therefore when it comes to umpires, that can be a crapshoot anywhere in the world.

Playing Baseball in Europe
7. Downtime

playing baseball in Europe

One of the biggest adjustments to playing in Europe for a full summer is finding a way to deal with having nothing to do.  When you only play on weekends and practice twice a week, and coach 1 or 2 more times a week in the evening, you will get bored during the day.  Being in an ancient part of the world, there is a lot to do and see. However, after a while it all looks the same.  You will have time to travel and get the whole European experience.  

The club may put on clinics where the import players go to schools in gym class and teach baseball to complete newbies.  It is a very rewarding experience to watch kids who have no idea how to wear a baseball glove to fcomprehending the excitement of hitting the ball and running the bases in under an hour.  You quickly realize you are now an ambassador to this great game of ours. Those can be paid gigs.  Just be prepared for the rockstar treatment as fifty screeching 3rd graders corner you for autographs and you have to be snuck out the back door by your interpreter…..Oh come on! Who wouldn’t like that?

Depending on who you know and where you are located, you may be able to work a job during the week.  After a while, you will be chomping at the bit to do something worthwhile.  Obtaining a work visa can be a difficult process.  I played in a small town of only 10,000 people in Sweden and had a full time construction job and 2-3 other part time gigs to help the time pass.  My club president was active in our town and was able to work deals with local businesses.  

Playing Baseball in Europe
8. Commitment Level

If you are coming from the US or another baseball dominant country, you will be rather baffled and even frustrated by the commitment level of your teammates.  It’s just the Euro way of life. There will be a significant number of practices where say only 6 people show up 2 days before a big series. You may even practice with a few 15 year olds from the Cadet team.  And if there is a home soccer game in your city, don’t expect many there that night… if any.  There will be weekends where the top native pitcher on your team doesn’t show up, along with a few others.  It happens.

The necessity of getting in repetitions as a ball player isn’t fully immersed there quite yet.  If you are able to lead by example to get all your teammates to show up for practice regularly, please let me know how you were able to get them to buy in.  It’s a tough code to crack.

 

Playing Baseball in Europe
9. Shocking Things About Playing Across the Pond

playing baseball in Europe

My first European baseball contract had regulations stating:

This year beer drinking in the dugout and in the field during games is unacceptable.

Because the previous year, apparently it was a problem. There are things that make even the wildest of ballplayers scratch their head in wonderment.   

Although cigarettes in the dugout between innings can be openly acceptable.  Not even trying to hide it like Jim Leyland.  

From a playing standpoint, the strangest, most amazing thing that I ever saw was a teammate of mine in Sweden. He was the best native pitcher in the country.  Rarely showed up to practice, yet living right across the street from the field.  Lazy by nature. He would long toss before the game and then go right to the mound and pitch.  No bullpen session.  He would deal for 9 innings.  I have never seen anything like it.

 

Playing Baseball in Europe
10. Language Barrier

If you are an English only speaker, don’t be put off by the opportunity.  Most Europeans can speak enough English to help you out.  Some are exceptionally fluent.  Taking 7 years of English in school for them, you would imagine so. Europeans have a secret sense of spotting an American without even hearing one speak. It is eerie sometimes.

If you can speak another language, it surely will come in handy if you were to play in that region.  It will make your high school foreign language teacher proud.  Many of the French teams recruit French Canadians to play there…It’s a natural transition of course.

Because it is baseball, you will quickly find out how much the game is English dominated.   Players, coaches, and umpires will speak English with you on the field.  They will address the team in English most times.  In an event that your fellow import teammate is not at practice one day, the native tongue will take over.  Mark my word on that one.

Although, being heckled by fans in a foreign language which you have no understanding of makes for a good laugh.   Your grandchildren will appreciate the story someday.

Playing Baseball in Europe
11. Passport/Resident Status

playing baseball in Europe

If you have dual citizenship with a European country or have direct, recent genealogical lineage to a European country, can play in your favor.  If you have a passport from a Euro country, you can be considered as not an import.  Which means that the rules mentioned above do not apply to you.  Clubs welcome that incentive.  Italy for one requires that you have strong enough Italian bloodlines to play there as an import.  

Having dual citizenship or if one of your grandparents was born in a country, could make you eligible to play for that national team.  There are many national team tournaments throughout the world involving the countries from from Europe.  There are a number of Americans and former MLB players who coach the national teams in Europe.  

playing baseball in Europe

The Great Britain National team is mostly Americans with dual citizenship, ie, one of their parents is British.  This team was legit.  Having played against them in a tournement, that team could play! Several former college and minor league players, in addition to a pitcher who looked like Harry Potter throwing straight gas.  Don’t let the glasses fool you.  I guess Quiddich is intense.

 

Playing Baseball in Europe
12. Future Opportunities

playing baseball in Europe

There are imports who go to play in Europe for a year and are hooked!  They may play for several years with the same team or bounce around to different countries…who ever is playing the Top Euro.  Or they settle down in Europe, get married, thus receive permanent resident status, and can play for the national team.  

Many imports who play in Europe will meet their wives while there. I did!

Since playing the international circuit, one may be able to also play down under in Australia during winter, their summer. Quite a few players do that every year.  Playing almost year round thoughout the world….not a bad lifestyle to take advantage of while you are young.

Baseball is on the rise in Europe.  MLB has several training academies in Germany, Italy, Sweden.  All 30 teams have scouts throughout the continent.  With the likes of Alex Liddi (Italy) Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), Donald Lutz and Max Kepler (Germany) making it to The Show, has increased popularity for the sport in Europe and enhanced the World Stage.  

 

Playing Baseball In Europe
How to Contact Teams

There are scouting agencies in the US.  You can attend their showcases, and they will assess where they think you can play, and send out your information to corresponding teams they are in contact with regularly.  It is also very simple to do research yourself and contact clubs to find out who has availabilities.

 

LINKS

Mister Baseball
Confederation of European Baseball
European Baseball Coaches Association
Baseball Jobs Overseas
Baseball de World

 

Want to know anything else about playing baseball in Europe?  Leave a comment below and I will happily respond to you.

Keep Dominating!!!

 

About the Author

Brad Kirsch Slider DominationBrad Kirsch is the Owner/Creator of Slider Domination. He is a former professional pitcher who blogs about all things Pitching. Brad has also authored the AudioBook, 7 Reasons Why YOU Should Throw a Slider. If you haven’t done so already, you can Download the AudioBook Here

 

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