Bringing Baseball to a Land Without It: Croatia


My brother, Jeremy Bohall, lives in Croatia with his wife and two children. He is a missionary and one of his activities is organizing a baseball team in the town where he lives, Orahovica. Now baseball is not really a popular sport in eastern Europe, but they do have a national team. My brother relates that when the Croatian National team played in the World Cup, he was one of the few people there. However, he is determined to do his part in growing the game and reach out to a group of teenagers through it. These kids are about as raw as can be about baseball. They had literally never seen a game and of course did not know any of the rules.

Last May, my wife and I had the chance to visit my brother in Croatia. It was there that we had the opportunity to see my brother’s team. At that point, they were just in the beginning stages of learning the game. I did not have a chance to actually seem them play (we went during an especially rainy week), but one Sunday night, the team was invited over for a meal and to watch a baseball game thanks to my subscription to Sunday night translated to Sunday afternoon back here in the states, so we settled down to watch the Twins play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It was interesting watching a game with them. Some of them were more interested in the family dog or the two year-old that was running around the house. There was one teenager that was especially interested in the game, however. Not only had he figured out most of the rules, but he was asking about strategy.

Fast forward about a year when my brother received a tremendous opportunity for his local nine. He had another team that was interested in playing them! Through a mutual friend in Bosnia, my brother met Garret. Garret is a former minor league umpire in the United States and currently a coach of the Baseball Klub Slavonski Brod. The two agreed to have their teams play in Orahovica on June 11, 2011. My brother was very excited, understandably at the prospect. No matter how well his team player or whether or not they won or not, it would be a tremendous step for his program.

The game was to be played by the rules that we are used to in the United States, Jeremy’s team had 12 players, while Garret’s had 16. Players would not be allowed to reenter a game after a substitution. Although because of the size of the rosters, they would be allowed to reenter if there was an injury. The game had one umpire, a Croatian. The game was also delayed about 10 minutes every half inning as the two teams were sharing catcher’s equipment. Unlike normal baseball rule, the game was under a time limit. There was a soccer game that was scheduled to played on the field immediately after the baseball game. They managed to fit in six very eventful innings.

Garret’s team took a 6-1 lead after four and a half innings. Jeremy, who did a very good job on coaching his team on the rules of baseball forgot one crucial rule–what to do on dropped third strikes. A few different times during the game, the catcher on Jeremy’s team dropped the third strike and the opposing runner ran to first base. Jeremy, realizing his mistake, shouted to his player that he should throw to first. Flustered, the player threw the ball away a few times. After the fact, Jeremy thinks that at least four runs scored because of this play.

Jeremy’s team stormed back to score six in the fifth and take a 7-6 lead. Jeremy, who describes himself as a “batting-practice pitcher” took over in the top of the sixth on the mound and promptly gave the lead back. Garret decided to put his starting pitcher back on the mound (he had been playing in the field) and he ended the game by striking out the side.

Even though his team lost, Jeremy felt it was a great experience. It was quite an opportunity for his team. He also recently learned of further opportunities for his team. There is a league that his team can join. The fee for one year is 1000 kunas (about $200), but the first year is free. More importantly, the league provides materials that is designed to help the coaches, like teaching material and baseballs.

Just talking to Jeremy, I can tell he is very excited and encouraged by the progress that his team has made. Not only has he been able to reach out to some of the teens in his local church, but he has also recruited other teens from the town. If you are interested in what he is doing, you can contact Jeremy directly.