A Window into Pro Baseball in Europe

A Window into Pro Baseball in Europe

My European Pro Baseball Guide

For those of you who are without agents, who are at the end of their college career or whose days in the minors has reached a dead-end, there are many opportunities for you out there to continue to play the game you love while also getting paid to see some of the world. Europe is an excellent place to start as there are plenty of leagues with teams at many different levels of baseball that are looking for import players and coaches.

Follow this link for a spreadsheet summary on the most active importing leagues in Europe. 

Baseball is a fast growing sport in Europe which is opening doors for a large number of ball players to travel abroad. Many are extending their current pro career, some use it as a stepping stone towards higher levels of pro ball, or many use it as an opportunity to simply see some of the world while having fun playing the sport they love.

I came over to Europe as an import in 1999 to play in Austria for the Attnang Athletics. I returned to Austria to work and live permanently in 2004 and have played for the club ever since. Since I launched this website in December 2012, I have established many networks in Europe and therefore have become much more knowledgeable about the many other European leagues.

The overall trend in importing that I have witnessed is a recent dramatic increase of more and more clubs bringing over 2+ imports and sometimes a coach as well. This importing is extending down into the second and third divisions within some countries.

Create your free profile now at the international baseball community social networking website. 

 

Potential Jobs in European Baseball 

Again, all information below is knowledge obtained through contacts I have acquired within the leagues or with players or coaches who have spent seasons within these leagues.  Please take this information for what it is, a general guide to give you some insight into European Baseball

To simplify things, I have to separated the baseball in Europe into classes according to level of pay (which in most cases matches the level of play).

CLASS A – Professional Leagues

The Netherlands and Italy are in a class of their own. Both the Italian Baseball League (IBL) and the Dutch Major League are professional leagues without relegation. The level of ball demands imports with minor league experience only, typically double A or triple A.

Contracts within these leagues bring in the most pay ranging from $600 a month to $2500, depending on your baseball background. This is in addition to a return flight and apartment plus extras.

Italian importing rules allow 4 foreigners, however they often have more when including those that hold Italian passports, typically Venezuelan players. Recent rumours is that the league is struggling financially and therefore opportunities are becoming more scarce.

Listen to Episode 28 of the IBC podcast for more on playing  in Italy.

In the Netherlands the importing has decreased due to the enormous expense that comes along with hiring a professional player under a working visa. The government has clamped down on the pro players playing under other visas and therefore clubs are only importing 1 or 2 players. This has opened up an opportunity for Canadian and Australian baseball players who qualify for a working holiday visa at very lost cost. Download our free eBook with more info on this: The Ultimate Guide for Canadians Looking to Play Baseball Overseas. 

Listen to IBC podcast episodes 19, 25 and 30 for interviews with former Americans who played baseball in the Netherlands.

 

CLASS B – Semi professional leagues

The first division leagues of the following countries will bring in 1-3 imports; Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Spain. Contracts are all very similar across these leagues and typically include a return flight, shared accommodation with another import, transportation, salary ranging from $200-$800 a month and some perks like free food and beer at the clubhouse and a gym pass.

Many of these clubs will take on an extra import even after their foreign roster spots are full, however the player would often have to pay their own flight or settle for no salary and have the flight paid only.

Germany and the Czech Republic are the top two leagues within this group in terms of level of play. In terms off opportunity to find a contract, Germany and Austria present the most opportunities, most likely due to stronger economies. You can download for free our eBooks on German and Austrian baseball for more insight.

In Spain most imports are Venezuelan or Cuban and qualify for EU passports. The occasional American is picked up by a club.

The second division leagues of the following countries also offer similar contracts:

Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium.

I know for a fact that there are a lot of second division German teams importing, even down to the third division. Austrian second division teams are importing more and more as well. The second divisions of the Netherlands and Italy do import but the opportunities are very limited.

The top clubs from Croatia,  Slovakia and Hungary  play in the Interleague and are all known to import a little, but not much. But if you are imported to any of these three, you will most likely receive the standard package mentioned above.

 

CLASS C – Work and play or baseball holiday

From what I know, the United Kingdom doesn’t import much and when they do they typically will stick with guys that have dual citizenship and provide them with a place to stay and set them up with a job. Members of the commonwealth who qualify for working visas are always welcome.

Bulgaria is beginning to look for outside help, but so far only a free place to live is all they can offer. The country is very affordable so for those looking for an experience of a lifetime and have a few bucks, this is a more affordable route. The Sofia Blues are one of the more active clubs there.

Poland has not begun to get active and there have been a club or two import players. The extent of compensation is unknown at this time.

All countries mentioned in class A and B will take on players who are willing to pay their flight if they have the skills and knowledge that can help them improve their club. This is assuming they have a roster spot open after their paid imports.

 

UNKNOWNS

Finland, Norway, Slovenia, Portugal, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus are still not on my map. However ,over time I am sure I will find out about all these places and will continue to update this page. I think these leagues have seen the odd foreigner but chances are they were in the country for other reasons and showed up to the field. It is possible that an keen and persistent coach or player-coach could find a contract to help develop one of these leagues.

Duties of an import professional baseball player. 

As an import player, your duties don’t end with just baseball except for the top leagues or the top German and Czech clubs. Most teams require that you help coach the youth or coach the men’s team that you play on. Coaching can range from helping as an assistant coach to head coach of the entire youth program so make sure to clarify. Other possible contractual duties can include field maintenance, promotional events within the community, school projects and youth camps.

My advice would be to negotiate a certain day or two of the week that is entirely free for you to be able to travel. I would also make sure that you get a week off at some point to see some destinations that are a little further away. Imports in the past have complained that there is something every day and therefore they were not able to get away to see much because they had to be back at 4pm for practice. If this is the case, you can always request that someone relieve you of your coaching duties every second tuesday for example, and have mondays be a free day off. That will give you the time to take the occasional two day trip somewhere.

Check out IBC podcast episode 12 for more on contractual advice when negotiating with clubs overseas.

My calculations

So let’s do the math. I have compiled a list of 26 European countries that rank in the top 75 in the world according to the IBF (see below). Assuming that the cumulative average per country is 10 imports between the first and second leagues, that would mean that there are approximately 260 baseball jobs that are vacant every year ranging in compensation and level of play. Of course many of the current imports will resign, but the chances of landing a job are pretty good if you know how to market yourself correctly and how to communicate with these clubs.

Check our youtube video on the best approach to emailing these clubs.

Gain A Competitive Edge

One thing I can say with certainty is that many clubs of  leagues in these class B countries I mentioned above are much more comfortable signing a player that has already played in Europe. Why? Because Europe is what they are familiar with and European baseball is something that they can measure. Many clubs are not familiar with all the professional leagues in the states and do not have the time or energy to research since they all have 9-5 jobs and families. Most clubs are built on VOLUNTEER work and they have very tight budgets. they don’t want to risk accidentally spending their hard earned cash on a bum. So how do you overcome this disadvantage? In two steps:

1) Provide as much detail as possible. That is where this website comes in. Fill out the entire profile with linked stats, linked videos, testimonials, and offer a skype interview or even create an introduction video.

2) Do whatever you can to get over here. Take a job in a second division or third division if you have to. Don’t be too picky. Once you are here you are in. Of course you still have to perform and be a nice guy and all that, but provided you do what is expected, you can move up the European baseball ladder.

Here is a blog post on tips to landing your first pro job in Europe: 5 Tips to Playing Baseball Overseas.

Follow this link for a spreadsheet summary on the most active importing leagues in Europe.

 

European Baseball Ranking by Country

Netherlands #6 – right behind Canada

Italy #9 – right after Venezuela and before Australia

Spain # 16

Germany #17 – just 4 behind the Dominican republic

Great Britian #21

Czech Republic #25

Croatia #30

France #31

Sweden #33

Belgium #38

Russia #44

Ukraine #48

Lithuania #49

Switzerland #52

Bulgaria #53

Austria #54

Poland #55

Slovakia #56

Slovenia #57

Ireland #60

Romania #61

Hungary #62

Georgia #64

Belarus #68

Finland #69

Latvia #72

 

 

 

It’s not about the number of hours you put in, it’s about what you put in those hours.