When the Cincinnati Reds brought Donald Lutz up from the minors on Monday and employed him as a pinch-hitter that marked the first time a player from Germany had participated in a Major League game.
Lutz, 28, was actually born in Watertown, New York, which is upstate, slightly north of Syracuse, but he moved with his family to Friedberg, Germany as a 1-year-old. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound outfielder-first baseman made his debut against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday and through Thursday had appeared in two games. He was still looking for his first hit and was oh-for-five at the plate.
Lutz is just another example of how the world is shrinking in so many ways. Players in all sports can come from anywhere and somehow scouts in those sports find them if they have the talent. No one is suggesting Lutz is the next Dirk Nowitzki, but the fact that a German made it to the majors is less surprising in 2013 than it would have been even in 2005.
Yet for Lutz the odds were stacked about as high as the maximum number of chips at a $1,000 Las Vegas blackjack table. Lutz was lucky if he knew a strike from a ball before he was 14 when an older brother brought him to a Friedberg Braves practice. Who knew that there was a Friedberg Braves? Heck, how many people in the United States, who were raised with baseball the way Germans are raised with Volkswagens, knew that anybody in Germany not stationed on a U.S. military base played baseball?
At 15 Lutz showed some raw ability at a baseball training academy in Regensburg, Germany, an operation that Major League Baseball helps support.
We have seen a large influx of players to the National Hockey League and the NBA from European countries, but baseball lagged, particularly overseas. Lutz made his way to the Major League Baseball International European Academy in Tirrenia, Italy in 2006 and 2007 and that’s where the Reds saw him and signed him.
He’s paused at most of the team’s minor-league stops since then, including Billings, Daytona Beach, Bakersfield and Pensacola. Also, Lutz has been a member of the German National Team and played in that team’s games as it sought to qualify for the final rounds of the World Baseball Classic earlier this year.
Lutz was following his unlikely dream of reaching the majors and some other numbers illustrate just how unlikely that was. The Academy has showcased 57 players who have earned contracts with big-league organizations, but before Lutz only Alex Liddi of the Seattle Mariners had reached the majors.
There was a time when almost every single Major League player grew up in the United States. With a few rare exceptions of players such as Dolf Luque, the pitcher from Cuba who played from 1914 to 1935, and is in the Reds Hall of Fame, it wasn’t until the very late 1940s (into the first half of the 1950s) when Latin players began showing up in numbers and that inched Major League Baseball towards a more international flavor.
These days around 25 percent of big-league players are from Latin American places such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Curacao, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Panama. There are also players from such countries as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Brazil, and the Netherlands. The game is more cosmopolitan than ever.
Donald Lutz doesn’t have superstar written all over him, and when certain injured Reds come off the disabled list, it’s likely he will be returned to the minors. But if Lutz never again inhales the air of a Major League clubhouse he can always say he made it to the top.