The Regensburg (Germany) Qualifying Tournament for the 2023 World Baseball Classic took place from Friday to Wednesday and Great Britain and the Czech Republic emerged as the two nations to advance to the main tournament in March of next year. It is the first trip to the WBC for both countries.
The format of the Regensburg Qualifier was a double-elimination tournament with six teams: Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, South Africa and Spain. South Africa competed in the 2006 and 2009 WBC and Spain played in the 2013 event. The other four countries were trying for their first appearances in the main tournament.
Germany and the Czech Republic were given byes in the first round of the Qualifier. In the first round, Spain beat South Africa 5-4 and Great Britain trounced France 14-4.
Spain’s win got them a matchup with the Czech Republic in the second round and routed the Czechs 21-7. Next, Great Britain advanced with an 8-1 win over Germany. Both teams then got two days off before playing for the first bid in the winners-bracket in the tournament on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic had to qualify through the loser’s bracket. They got off to a good start with a 7-1 win over France. After Sunday’s second game in the loser’s bracket between Germany and South Africa was postponed until Monday, Germany knocked out the South Africans with an 11-5 win.
Despite featuring former major leaguers like Bruce Maxwell and Aaron Altherr as well as several minor leaguers, Germany lost 8-4 to a Czech Republic team that featured only one player born outside that small central European country.
In the winners-bracket final for the first berth in the WBC main tournament, Spain was three outs away from advancing, leading Great Britain 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth. Spain called on former major leaguer Rhiner Cruz to get the save, but Blue Jays minor leaguer Jaden Rudd hit a solo home run for Great Britain to tie it up and send it to extras.
After Great Britain’s (and Pirates minor leaguer) Tahnaj Thomas kept the automatic runner (or anyone else) from scoring in the top of tenth, the British won after an out call at third base was overturned by replay in the bottom of the tenth and a sacrifice fly by Alex Crosby feels Great Britain to their first WBC.
Here the team is celebrating and for the first time in international competition in over 70 years, a national team from Great Britain sings “God Save the King” in victory.
The Great Britain team only had seven players on their roster who were born in the UK. This includes former major leaguer Chris Reed, who was born in London but grew up in California. There were several players from the Bahamas, a couple from the British Virgin Islands and the rest were mostly Americans and Canadians who were eligible for British citizenship because of their parents or grandparents. This included Mariners 2021 first-round pick Harry Ford. Similarly, Spain only had two players born in Spain. The rest were born in Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the US and other baseball hotbeds in the Western Hemisphere.
Against Spain, the almost-completely homegrown Czech team were massive underdogs. For one, they’d lost to Spain 21-7 in their first game of the tournament.
Spain got off to an early lead when the first batter of the bottom of the first, former Ranger Engel Beltre, doubled. He went to third on a fly by top Reds prospect Noelvi Marte and then got the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Senators minor leaguer Justin Connell.
But the Czechs took the lead when they jumped on Spain’s starter Ronald Medrano, a former Cardinals farmhand, with a two-run home run by Martin Muzik in the second inning. They tacked on another run to make it 3-1 when Marek Chlup hits a solo home run in the fourth.
The game would end in a 3-1 Czech victory. Spain could do nothing else off of Czech starter Martin Schneider, who pitched 6.1 innings. Marek Minaret would pitch the final 2.2 innings to get the save.
The Czechs lived up to the slogan the set for themselves at the beginning of the qualifier: “Small Country, Big Dreams.”
Six more teams will vie for the final two spots in Panama City Qualifier that starts on September 30. Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Panama will face off in that double-elimination qualifier.