How the Czech Republic Qualified for the World Baseball Classic

On a Saturday afternoon late last month, a two-vehicle caravan loaded with national team players made the three-hour drive from Prague to Brno for a full national team workout at the Cardion Hrosi club. Along the way, the players, many of whom have played and traveled together since high school, stopped at a roadside McDonald’s, where they spoke mostly Czech, plus English to include Willie Escala. They ate, laughed and shared their food like a group of intimately close, longtime friends, while fellow patrons, seemingly unaware that their national baseball team was in attendance, barely glanced over.

Lukas Ercoli, a crafty left-handed pitcher, was part of the traveling crew that day. He began playing baseball 20 years ago, when he was 6. He also served as the team’s publicity director until last week, when the team arrived in Japan. It was time to concentrate on pitching baseball, not story ideas.

“Maybe it is an advantage we have, that we are so close,” Ercoli said. “We grew up playing together. We love playing for each other. It’s like a family.”

That would make Chadim, the manager and neurologist, their father figure. At his office in Brno, he outlined the challenge they face in navigating a gantlet of games against the top players from China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. But he senses no fear. He even made a deal with one of his players. Schneider, the 37-year-old, right-handed-pitching firefighter, will likely throw against China in the first game, and then get either one inning against Japan, or come in just to face Ohtani.

“I hope that after Tokyo, all of our players will be proud of our games, the tournament and the journey,” Chadim said. “I am very proud, but like a father, I am a little bit afraid and hope nobody will be disappointed and have bad feelings.”

Chadim is doing his best to prepare his players. As the team gathered from all parts of the Czech Republic that Saturday night, with most of the squad in attendance at the cramped indoor batting cages, the coach played a looped recording of crowd noise from the Tokyo Dome through a portable speaker — yelling, singing and drumming. The players suffered through the pounding din for more than three straight hours.

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