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In a Big Moment For European Baseball, Mazzeri, Team All-Europe Are Not Intimidated

 Leif Skodnick  |    Mar 5th, 2024 11:00am EST
Team All-Europe manager Marco Mazzieri and Samurai Japan manager Hirokazu Ibata pose at the Kyocera Dome on March 5, 2024. (Photo Courtesy of WBSC)

Team All-Europe manager Marco Mazzieri and Samurai Japan manager Hirokazu Ibata pose at the Kyocera Dome on March 5, 2024. (Photo Courtesy of WBSC)

OSAKA, Japan – Standing by the visitors dugout at the Kyocera Dome as his team worked out on the turf, Team All-Europe manager Marco Mazzieri understands the challenge he and his squad will face on Wednesday and Thursday night when they take on Samurai Japan.

His team, comprised largely of players from Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Caribbean territories of those nations, and players with European heritage who have EU citizenship, are facing the top-ranked national team in the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s World Baseball Rankings in the 2024 CARNEXT Samurai Japan Series.

And their opponents have been on the field since January, when teams in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball start spring training, while Mazzieri’s players have been scattered around the world, some playing winter ball, some resting during the offseason.

“We want to compete and fight all we can, because some of these players haven’t seen the field in a long time,” Mazzieri said. “Of course in Europe, you start the spring training a little later. Yes, you do work in the gyms and indoors, but it’s not the same. Even though we gave the guys enough time to prepare and we brought some guys that played in the Winter League on purpose so that they were a little bit more ready than these other guys. And we’re just going to go all out.”

Among the Team All-Europe players is former Seattle Mariner Alex Liddi, a native of Sanremo, Italy, who has been plying his trade each summer and winter in Mexico since 2015, and has also made stops in Taiwan and Puerto Rico during what has been a nearly continuous nine-year run of year-round baseball.

“It’s still baseball in March, and it’s not the time of the season where you want to face a team like this, but it’s not an excuse,” Liddi said as he prepared for a round of soft toss batting practice. “And I think their minds can be there. Maybe their body is not there 100%, but their mind is going to be there. And they’re willing to win. It’s always going to be there.” 

But regardless of how much or how little they’ve been playing, Mazzieri’s players know how big this moment is for European baseball.

“It’s very cool to play with these guys, get to know them, talk with them, and share the field with them, because we always play against them and stuff. Now we have a chance to play with them,” said infielder Juremi Profar, a native of Curacao and former Texas Rangers farmhand who recently represented the island at the 2024 Caribbean Series in Miami. To be here in Japan is something like a dream.”

That Team All-Europe is an underdog at this event doesn’t seem to matter. The focus is on the process, to live in the moment, to do what they can the best they can.

“They’re going to be good. So I need to bring my best,” said reliever Dalton Von Schamann, whose father moved to the U.S. from Germany when he was 16. A native of Tulsa, Okla., Von Schamann pitched at Texas Tech and reached Triple-A in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Guardians organizations. “My expectation is to go two scoreless innings, but to a team like that, I know what I have to do to do that. I’m going to have to be very sharp and very focused and execute pitches. So that’s kind of all I’m focused on.”

Among the batters that Von Schamann and the Team All-Europe staff will face is Kensuke Kondoh, a career .304/.415/.445 hitter in 12 seasons in NPB with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

“He barely swings and misses. He puts his barrel on the ball all the time,” Mazzieri said of Kondoh. 
“You know, with those kind of guys you try to pitch to your strength and if he hits it, he hits it. There’s nothing else you can do. Obviously hitting is never easy, so if he can get one hit each at bat in two games, you just tip your cap to him.”

Manager Hirokazu Ibata has said that he wants to avenge Japan’s 2015 loss at the Tokyo Dome to Team All-Europe, but that doesn’t faze Mazzeri.

“Knowing their fighting spirit, I’m not surprised,” Mazzieri said. “He is his first year manager for the Samurai Japan team, so he wants to show that he’s legit, to say the least.”

For Mazzeri and Team All-Europe, there seems to be no fear and a simple goal at the 2024 CARNEXT Samurai Japan Series.

“To win it. That’s the expectation, to put Team Europe on the map and show that we can play very competitive baseball,” said pitcher Franklin Van Gurp. “We have a good group of guys here from all over, played so many backgrounds. So it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun.”

The fun starts tonight, when Team All-Europe’s Tom de Blok starts against Japan’s Kaima Taira at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka.

Streaming Information – The CARNEXT Samurai Japan Series will be streamed live via GameTime for $7.99.

Fans will have access to both games. Viewers must log in on GameTime and then buy the Japan vs. Europe Series Pass, available here.

CARNEXT Samurai Japan Series Schedule
March 6, 2024
5 a.m. EST – Japan vs. Team All-Europe – Game One

March 7, 2024
5 a.m. EST – Japan vs. Team All-Europe – Game Two