Baseball might be America’s favourite pastime, but it belongs to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Nanaimo’s Mike Griffin has seen that first-hand as he’s coached baseball in a lot of different places. The former premier Pirates player is back in his hometown this week to lead a baseball clinic at Nanoose Bay, and then it’s on to the next international adventure.
Griffin, the coach of the Czech Republic national team, is taking a U27 team to Taipei, Taiwan this month in an exhibition tournament to prepare for the World University Games this summer in the same city.
He’s taking a lot of freshmen and sophomore college players, he said, with an eye to evaluation, development and building experience.
“Our main goals are closer to 2019 to 2020, qualifying for the World Baseball Classic and then the Olympics,” Griffin said.
Those aren’t out of the realm of possibility – the Czech team has made strides with Griffin as coach, earning wins in recent years against Germany, Italy and Spain and losing one-run games to Mexico and Nicaragua.
“There’s a bigger gap between the top 10 teams in the world, and then the 11 through 16, we have a shot to qualify, for sure,” he said. “We kind of took a huge step last year on the international stage, beating some really good teams … We’re getting closer. So the next few years are really important for us.”
After playing university ball in Southern Idaho and Hawaii, Griffin went on to play professional baseball in the Czech Republic and began coaching the junior team there. He was hired by the MLB Development Center in Asia and went on to become head coach of that program. He now works with Pro 5 Baseball Academy in North Carolina and one of his colleagues there, former MLB player Trot Nixon, assists Griffin with the Czech national team as bench coach.
“He gets excited about helping internationally, helping the game grow,” Griffin said.
He said the Czech players have the size, power and speed, but said the program will need to keep developing pitchers.
“It’s not a culture that throws the ball a lot … There, they play hockey and soccer, everything is with their feet, so it’s really about developing arm strength from an earlier age,” Griffin said.
The national team players should have all the tools to be competitive this month, though, as long as they can get into the swing of things quickly.
“The biggest challenge is right now it’s snowing in the Czech Republic. So they’re full-on playing in Asia and our guys can’t even be outside yet,” Griffin said. “So our biggest challenge is, can we get ourselves and our bodies ready for competition?”
The baseball clinics and coaching conferences will be held Friday through Sunday (Feb. 3-5) at the Arbutus Meadows Equestrian Centre at Nanoose Bay. Players in the U13-U18 age groups can participate in the clinics.