Spain defeats Great Britain for first European Championship since 1955

October 1st, 2023
Spain celebrates following their European Championship victory. Photo by Petra Voet.

BRNO, Czechia -- One year ago, at the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers in Regensburg, Spain had two opportunites to win one more game to advance to the main tournament. First, they lost to Great Britain, blowing an 8-3 lead along the way. Then, they were upset by the now-beloved underdogs, the Czech Republic.

The team got some revenge this year. Playing at the most attended European Championship in the tournament's history, Spain defeated the Czechs, 9-0, in the quarterfinals to deny the host nation from its first ever medal. Then they came back in dramatic fashion to take down European giants, the Netherlands, winners of the previous four tournaments.

Finally, on Sunday night, before a packed house at YD Arena -- home of the Czech Extraliga's Draci Brno -- Spain got revenge on Great Britain, 11-2.

"When we eliminated Holland -- they had never been out of the finals [since 1967] -- that was the first step for us," Spain manager Nelson Prada said after the historic victory. "Now winning this title is great. It's great for Spain, it's great for baseball, it's great for all of our office and our staff. I've only been here for three years, but I know there's a lot of people that have been here for 20 years, 30 years, and have never won. For the front office and all those people that have really wanted it all these years, finally, the dream came through."

The Spanish ballclub never left much room for doubt in this one. They scored five runs in the first inning on a barrage of doubles from team captain Engel Beltre, Jesus Ustariz, Daniel Jimenez, tournament MVP Wander Encarnación and Gabriel Lino and never trailed again.

Starter Pablo Guillén, who earned the victory in the game against Czechia, took the ball again and kept the Great Britain bats quiet for five innings, giving up two runs and striking out five, before the bullpen took over. Former Astros and Blue Jays pitcher Rhiner Cruz then closed out the game to deliver Spain its first European Championship since 1955.

To put that in perspective, there were only 16 Major Leagues teams in 1955 and baseball was still over a decade away from finding a foothold in the Czech Republic, which hosted the most successful Euros in history this year. Now, nearly 70 years later, Spain has once again lifted the trophy and baseball interest is exploding across the European continent.

"I've been playing since 2012 in European competition and these baseball teams have been growing every year," Beltre said. "I'm glad to be part of that."

Engel Beltre celebrates on base. Photo by Lenka Brožová.

That La Roja -- as the Spanish soccer team is called -- had to beat not just the Netherlands, but the teams that also knocked them out of the World Baseball Classic, made it a little more special for everyone involved.

"The guys had a fire," Prada said. "We know we got eliminated last year by the Czech Republic. We respect them a lot. Great Britain beat us in the past in the semi-final, so we got everything in this tournament to try to show people that this pain is a good thing, too."

Former Texas Rangers outfielder Engel Beltre, who was 3-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs, agreed that there was a little more on the line.

"These things are special and we never failed to have heart," Beltre said. "We came from the first game to do the work and to beat these guys."

While Great Britain lost, manager Drew Spencer saw plenty of reason to remain optimistic.

"The goal was to do better than we did two years ago," Spencer said. "Two years ago, we finished sixth. This year, we're in second place. Go back the last several years: 9th, 9th, 9th, 6th, 2nd. What does this mean? It proves that we're headed in the right direction. We have a lot to be proud of."

Pitcher Chris Messer, who plays for the London Mets in England's National Baseball League, pitched four shutout innings for Great Britain -- following up on the four exemplary frames he tossed in GB's crucial victory against Italy earlier in the tournament.

"Not only that, but you go back two years ago, we had a really important game against Belgium. That was the difference between getting to that fifth and sixth place game or not," Spencer said. "Again, in a sticky situation, we put Messer on the mound, and he came through for us. He's becoming Mr. Reliable."

Chris Messer throws a pitch against Spain. Photo by Petra Voet.

Spain's victory didn't just end the hegemony at the top of the European Championships medal stand -- either Italy or the Netherlands had won every tournament since 1967 -- but was a statement that the rest of the continent can contend, too.

"Being champions is going to help a little bit with the federation," Prada said. "They're gonna believe more in baseball. We're going to try to create a team with a new generation and we're looking at the 2025 [World Baseball Classic] qualifier, we're looking at 2025 Euros, we're looking to maybe the Olympics in 2028. We're trying to create a good team from now with a lot of young talent."