It’s no secret, anymore, that the Italian Baseball League (IBL) and the Dutch Major League are the top two leagues in Europe. But what about the other circuits dotting the old continent?
Unlike in Asia and Latin America – where the game has a storied past – most European baseball leagues struggle to attract even a paltry 100 spectators on any given weekend. However, in areas like youth player development and facilities, significant strides are evident.
Similar to the “big” boys of Major League Baseball (MLB), money seperates the have and have nots in Europe as well. The most successful clubs, more often than not, are the ones generating the most revenue.
Now, here’s a brief capsule of some European Leagues which recruits American ballplayers:
• ITALIAN LEAGUE: Complete with cozy fields and minor league-like salaries reaching US$2,000 monthly for certain foreign mercenaries, the IBL is a well-organized circuit with the most competitive brand of baseball on the continent.
• DUTCH LEAGUE: The Netherlands is arguably Europe’s epicenter for up and coming minor league prospects, and the Dutch League is the training ground for the hugely successful Dutch national team. Although the title race is usually a 3-4 team affair, these elite teams feature an abundance of talented ballplayers.
• SPANISH LEAGUE: Expect to see more standouts from the Spanish League inking contracts in Italy over the next few years. A pitching-rich circuit with a trio of elite teams in the Tenerife Marlins, FC Barcelona, and Sant Boi.
• GERMAN LEAGUE: Europe’s sleeping giant continues to underachieve while possessing the potential to be so much more. The sport would gain much more credibility in Germany if the eight best squads were battling every week. Instead, most weekends in the Bundesliga is filled with routs and predictable sweeps.
• FRENCH LEAGUE: The Rouen Huskies continue to be one of the most successful clubs in Europe and the French League is reaping the benefits with a higher level of competition. If this circuit ever features five title-contending teams annually, the balance of power on the old continent will be altered permanently.
• BELGIAN LEAGUE: A solid league which has seen its top team compete well against the elite squads at the European Cup competitions. While immigration restrictions on foreign players and the high costs involved for youth players are serious concerns, this remains a circuit capable of being one of the top five leagues on the continent.
• CZECH LEAGUE: Sometimes mistakenly called the Draci Brno League (17 consecutive titles) and home to Europe’s longest dynasty. However, Draci’s reign has been challenged in recent years and the Czech Baseball Association has enjoyed success executing their youth development program which bodes well for exporting future talent to the U.S. minor leagues and top European circuits.
• BRITISH LEAGUE: A small but competitive league seems to be on the rise after an exciting post-season in 2009. Hopefully, British baseball can build on the momentum of this past campaign to expand the number of teams in the top league next year.
• SWISS LEAGUE: One of Europe’s best kept secrets, the top teams in Switzerland have consistently performed well against B-Pool level countries in recent years. While the league has serious depth issues with just three quality teams in 2009, the emergence of another two clubs could elevate Swiss baseball to an even higher level.
• AUSTRIAN LEAGUE: Three years ago it appeared the ABL was primed for unpecedented growth. While the top teams failed to reach the next level on the international stage, parity has come to Austria which has made for some exciting playoff baseball.
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Photo courtesy of Henk Seppen/L&D Amsterdam Pirates
Marvin Moore coached baseball in Europe for six years and is Managing Editor at BaseballdeWorld.