On the field, the Baseball World Cup Group C qualifier could have gone a lot better for Sweden. But the tournament was a great victory for Swedish baseball.
The Swedes lost all three of their games. The closest was the opening 10-8 loss to the Netherlands Antilles.
The 5-1 defeat to South Korea’s was a lot closer than expected considering they are Olympic champions, and ranked number two in the world, compared to Sweden at number 26. But a glance at the roster showed that around half the Korean players were university students. This was obviously not the same team that did so well at the World Baseball Classic.
So it probably wasn’t really a surprise that Antilles beat Korea 9-5. (Although someone mentioned that the best players from the Netherlands Antilles are actually playing for the Dutch national team, so perhaps this was the Dutch team B we saw here.)
The Canadian team (with former Rockies/Cardinals slugger Larry Walker as hitting coach!!!) was made up completely of minor league players, ranging from AAA to the Rookie League. While Sweden probably matched them defensively, the lack of Swedish pitching depth was apparent. There were seven Swedish pitchers in a game called under the mercy rule after the 5th inning, with Canada ahead 19-1.
One of the most emotional moments of the game was when opening game starter Joakim Claesson came in in the fourth inning in the final game, in an attempt to put out the fire and stave off the mercy rule loss. The entire crowd went wild, fully aware that Jocke had pitched well in the first game, and couldn’t have a whole lot left in his arm on one day’s rest. He had pulled it off two weeks previously for Stockholm in the Swedish baseball finals, Jocke winning the first game on the Saturday and coming in as the closer in the final game the next day.
Alas, despite the emotional outpouring things didn’t quite work out the same. Jocke game up a grand slam before closing the door, and Per Sjörs came in to pitch the fifth inning, giving up four hits and one earned run.
So Sweden could have done better on the field. But in terms of organization Sweden was a big winner in the Group C qualifier.
The Nya Örvallen stadium was amazingly transformed, with stands for 3000 instead of perhaps 50 before the upgrade. Where the right field bleachers were during the tournament, there used to be a bench on a small hill overlooking the field.
Most of the new bleachers are temporary, apparently only a handful behind homeplate will remain. But it was amazing seeing the old stadium with so much seating!
And all the concessions were also amazing. The little Sundbyberg Heat kiosk and tiny single toilet were closed, replaced by several restaurants and lots of porta-potties. There were sales of t-shirts, caps, baseball gloves, and even balls signed by all the players on the various national teams. There was even a place with a radar gun so kids could practice pitching and see how fast they were throwing.
It really reminded me of attending a game by the old Sonoma County Crushers, a Santa Rosa team that played in the sadly gone independent AAA Western Baseball League. Same concessions, but a much more powerful feeling, as all of baseball Sweden came together for a three day celebration.
The tournament also gots lots of publicity in the Swedish media. The national dailies “Dagens Nyheter” and “Svenska Dagbladet” not only reported the scores, as they do with Swedish Elite Division games, they ran large articles almost every day. The photo news agency Scanpix sent photographers every day. Even Swedish Radio’s Radiosporten reported the final scores after the end of the tournament. (First time I’ve ever heard them report on anything baseball other than the final game of the World Series.)
So congratulations to the Swedish Baseball and Softball Federation and the tournament organisers.
(And a tip for next year…change the selection process for the national team. The coach actually has to go watch the various teams play before picking his team. There were only four players on the 24 man roster from Sweden’s best team Stockholm. The three Stockholm position players all hit home runs, the only Swedes to do so, and the pitcher was Sweden’s best.)