2021 has been a whirlwind year for the Greek National Baseball Team, as the program went from being an early underdog in the European B-Pool to guaranteeing its spot in the continent’s highest level of competition for the next two years. The A-Pool tournament took place two months ago in Turin, Italy, with all 16 A-Pool teams playing a round-robin style format to crown a champion.
The Greek program, who had steamrolled through B-Pool competition a few months before, found themselves in unfamiliar territory when they faced the best teams on the continent. The Greeks began the tournament with a 13-3 defeat at the hands of heavily favored Italy, followed by a nail biting 14-13 triumph over Austria. Hellas would go on to drop the next two contests against Belgium and Sweden by scores of 5-4 and 10-0 respectively. However, a 12-9 victory over France in the penultimate game staved off relegation for the Greeks. Hellas ended the competition with a 5-4 loss to Ukraine, but their 2-4 record was enough to secure them a spot in the next A-Pool tournament in 2023. “It gives us a good idea of where the program is at,” manager Rye Pothakos stated, “We stayed in A-Pool. That was our main goal.”
Hellas baseball enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past year just to be granted entry into the A-Pool, and the team’s top priority quickly shifted to ensuring relegation did not happen. When asked what this competition meant to his squad, Pothakos claimed, “to play with the top teams in Europe was a great experience for our program… We performed well.” With A-Pool tournaments taking place on a biannual basis, Hellas has safeguarded its spot among Europe’s best until at least 2023. This two year gap gives the Greeks some crucial breathing room, as they now have an additional 24 months with which to raise funds, recruit players and train for upcoming events. Next up for Hellas is the 2022 Prague Baseball Week, where the team will battle it out against six more of Europe’s top squads.
In the interim, Pothakos and General Manager Tom Mazarakis hope to recruit some more firepower to their team, eyeing a slew of Division I college players, as well as some more familiar names to MLB fans. Atop Pothakos’ wishlist is former Pirates and A’s outfielder Andrew Lambo. The 33-year-old has been in contact with the team and could potentially use his father’s Greek heritage to speed through the citizenship process. Right behind Lambo is 2021 Red Sox draft pick Niko Kavadas, a power-hitting first baseman who signed for twice his slot value. Beyond these two big names are some more reinforcements who are at various stages of development. Veteran American Association catcher Christ Conley has a powerful lefty bat and a keen eye, while two college players, Michigan State right-hander Andrew Carson (who’s father Jimmy was an NHL star in the early 1990’s) and Florence-Darlington Technical College infielder Andre Demetral are high-upside prospects who could give the team an immediate boost. More familiar to Greek fans is Western Michigan freshman Luke Pappas, whose father Erik was a member of the 2004 Olympic team, and appeared in 104 MLB games for the Cubs and Cardinals. The junior Pappas is a 20-year-old left-hander with only ten college games under his belt, but certainly possesses the bloodlines to be a key piece for Hellas in the future.
With powerful reinforcements on the horizon, General Manager Tom Mazarakis has his sights set not only on climbing higher in the A-Pool, but on a loftier goal as well: the World Baseball Classic. Mazarakis expressed, “My ultimate goal is to get an invitation to a WBC qualification tournament for the Greek National Team. That kind of exposure will surely bring more attention to Greek baseball, and that will help to attract sponsorships and increase youth baseball popularity.” Only a year ago, the World Baseball Classic would have seemed like a pipe dream for Team Greece. However, with the squad’s Cinderella victory in the B-Pool tournament, as well as securing a place in the A-Pool for the next two years, they’ve put themselves on the map. With this recent success comes notoriety, and more importantly, donations. More funding and publicity will only aid the team in its quest to play in the WBC, and with a significant talent infusion in the next few years, they’ll be a team to be reckoned with.