European H.S. baseball preview: Forecast, title picture cloudy are at outset
Anyone wanting to be present at the start of something new should plan on traveling to Ansbach, Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern, Mannheim or Wiesbaden on Saturday.
That’s the day those schools, weather permitting, will host the first officially scheduled DODDS-Europe high school baseball games.
High school baseball players in Europe won their battle to have their sport adopted officially by the school system last year, but they’ve been battling the weather so far this spring.
"We’ve only had three or four days so far where we could be outside since tryouts on March 3-4," Heidelberg assistant coach Tom Saunders said by telephone on Monday. "The rest of the time we’ve had to stay inside."
Things are on the uptick in the atmospheric department, however, and 10 of the 19 baseball-playing schools hope to get their inaugural seasons under way Saturday.
Whatever the weather conditions, all 19 are working in the dark as Season No. 1 opens.
All that’s known is that the European titles are on the line May 21-23 in Ramstein. And all presume that the leading contenders for the first DODDS-Europe Divisions I, II and Small Schools crowns will be teams benefiting from well-developed youth programs..
"… obviously, teams like Bitburg, SHAPE and Aviano all have strong youth programs and should be competitive," Wiesbaden coach Steve Jewell wrote in a Monday e-mail, "but because this is the first year of DODDS baseball [the races are] pretty well wide open."
Division I: If youth programs are the key, look for Ramstein as the favorite in Year 1. Ramstein teams finished first and third in last year’s Youth Services tournament, and coach Glenn Porter welcomes 11 players from those teams to his first edition of the Ramstein Royals.
"We have lots of potential," Porter e-mailed Monday.
He added, however, that his team has to reach that potential, given the expected competition.
"I expect all teams to have one or two talented pitchers," Porter concluded, "which should make for a competitive and exciting season."
No team will field a more talented pitcher than Patch ace Justin Phelps, which is one reason Vilseck coach Jim Hall groups Patch, the 2008 YS runners-up, with Ramstein and Heidelberg, as the teams to beat in his division.
As for his young Falcons, Hall said they "are trying to get our pitching situated. We will be OK if that happens."
Division II: Hall believes that Wiesbaden rates as D-II contender, "especially if they come up with two pitchers," and Jewell provided their names.
"[We] will be relying heavily on the arms of Chance Martin and T.J. Rieger," he wrote. "We should be led at the plate by Mike Phillips."
Phillips will test his bat Saturday against Patch, while Mannheim hosts Vilseck, Ansbach hosts Bamberg and Bitburg travels to Kaiserslautern in the only games involving D-II teams on opening day. SHAPE opens March 27; Aviano and Naples take the field for the first time the next day.
Small schools: Rota’s Admirals, who rode an eighth-grade heavy lineup to the 2007 European YS crown, and Hohenfels, which opens at D-I contender Heidelberg on Saturday, rate as the favorites, at least until everyone gets a few innings in. AFNORTH, Sigonella and Vicenza round out the Small Schools field.