European team joins USA Baseball 17U tourney
National Championships event gets international dynamic for first time
This year's USA Baseball 17U National Championships has a bit of international flair.
For the first time in the annual event's history, a team of top European players is participating in the tournament, which gives American players an opportunity to be considered for the 17U National Team Development Program. It also allows for professional and college scouts to see players from both the United States and, this year, Europe.
"Us being able to have those guys here, it adds a different dynamic to the tournament, it adds another quality team for our teams across the U.S. to play against," said Brooks Webb, who oversees the national team championships for USA Baseball's 14U, 15U and 17U levels in Florida. "I think many of these teams run in the same circles and play in the same tournaments over the summer. To be able to match up against a team put together by MLB with international players that is obviously very talented, I think that's something these guys are very excited about."
The team of 25 European players shares that excitement. The players are aged 16-18 and were hand-selected by Major League Baseball from a group of talent that participated in MLB development programs such as MLB European Elite Camp and the MLB Academies Spring Tournament.
The players hail from eight countries across Europe: Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Slovenia. They're coached by Andy Berglund, who also works as an MLB European Baseball Academies consultant.
For Berglund, who is based in Europe and roves to different MLB academies, it has been a culmination of three years of working with players, coaches and scouts.
"Through our academy programs, we've been constantly pushing the development, starting with our coaches and then the players -- especially the strength and conditioning program, getting them bigger, faster and stronger to play with the best of the United States," Berglund said.
"The end result is our first real good look to see how these guys can compete in a high level tournament."
The event, which is taking place at Roger Dean Stadium and Santaluces Complex in Palm Beach County, Fla., runs from Tuesday until next Wednesday.
"Our goal for all 25 of these guys is to play at the next level, whether they sign a pro contract or get scouted by a college recruiter," Berglund said. "We also want this to kind of be a starting point or a building point for us going forward, that more of our academy players that are younger ages look at this for a benchmark for an elite team they want to be involved with."