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The National Baseball Team of Greece

By on June 7, 2014

by Tom Mazarakis

The National Baseball Team of Greece

The National Baseball Team of Greece

When reading the above title, an obvious question comes to the minds of almost everyone:  “Greece has a National Baseball Team?”  The answer to this question is a resounding YES! Competing in premier international competitions since 2002 Greece has played consistently and faired very well. The team’s accomplishments include:

  • 2002 – 1st place in the European B’ Pool Championship
  • 2003 – 2nd place in the European Senior’s Championship
  • 2004 – 7th place in the Athens Olympic Games
  • 2005 – 9th place in the European Senior’s Championship
  • 2005 – (Although the team had qualified for the World Cup, no government funding forced the team to withdraw)
  • 2007 – (Although the team had qualified for the European Senior’s Championship, Greece was forced to withdraw)
  • 2008 – 1st place in the European B’ Pool Qualification Tournament
  • 2010 – 4th place in the European Senior’s Championship
  • 2011 – 15th place in the World Cup
  • 2012 – 7th place in the European Senior’s Championship

The next question that is typically heard is: “Is baseball actually played in Greece?” The answer to this question is another resounding YES! Yes, despite the fact that this may be one of the best kept secrets in Greece, baseball is played in Greece and the Hellenic Amateur Baseball Federation has been organizing a Greek men’s league every year since 2000 when the first Championship was played on the old baseball field on the grounds of the old American Air Base in the Athens suburb of Hellenikon. That first championship featured six teams: Marousi 2004, Spartakos Glyfadas, Titans Argyroupolis, Evryaly Glyfadas, Petritsi Thessalonikis and Pelopas Patron.

The championship was claimed by the team from the northern suburb of Athens, Marousi 2004. This same team also claimed the following three championships of 2001, 2002, and 2003, which were all played on the baseball field that was also located on the grounds of the old American Air Base. Marousi 2004’s dominance was primarily the result of the fact that most of the players on that team were Americans and Canadians of Greek descent who knew how to play the game. Most of the other teams also counted several players from the Greek Diaspora on their rosters, but most of their athletes were local Greeks who were only practicing the sport for a relatively short period of time.

The Greek baseball league currently features 8 men’s teams including: Panathinaikos, Aris Thessalonikis, Marousi 2004, Leaders Vouliagmenis, Milonas Neas Smyrnis, Evryaly Glyfadas, Olympiada Peristeriou and Dias Patron.

Greece vs Cuba game in the Athens 2004 Olympics

Greece vs Cuba game in the Athens 2004 Olympics

Why and how did it all get started?

In 1997, when Athens was selected to host the 2004 Olympic Games, several people in the Hellenic Secretariat of Sports decided that it would be appropriate that Greek athletes compete in each and every Olympic sport. However, Greece had no baseball. Thus, shortly after the announcement, the Hellenic Amateur Baseball Federation was created and it began the task of getting the sport started in Greece. The goal was to generate enough interest in this new sport so as to attract and identify enough talented athletes to field a competitive national team. Although the HABF’s efforts were commendable, by the end of 2001, it became abundantly clear to everyone that the HABF did not have enough time to train enough local athletes to field a realistically competitive team for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

With his back to the wall, HABF President, Panos Mitsiopoulos, sought assistance from across the Atlantic. He first contacted the U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Nicholas Burns. An avid baseball fan, Ambassador Burns spearheaded the effort to help Greece by creating the “Friends of Greek Baseball” initiative. Among others, he contacted Senator Paul Sarbanes from the state of Maryland. As luck would have it, Senator Sarbanes was good friends with the Greek-American owner of the Baltimore Orioles, Peter Angelos who very enthusiastically accepted the challenge and immediately set upon the task. He assigned one of his best scouts, Robert Derksen, with the mission of finding the best baseball players he could identify that were of Greek descent so that Greece could field the needed team.

Mike Koutsantonakis

Mike Koutsantonakis

With the financial backing of the Orioles organization, Robert Derksen was able to travel all over the U.S. and Canada in search of talented baseball players of Greek descent. Within a relatively short period of time he accumulated a list of over 70 names of high school, college, minor league, and even a few major league players who were all of Greek ancestry. The first team he assembled played in the 2002 European B’ Pool Championship and that team completely demolished all the teams it faced winning all its games by mercy rule scores. The following year at the 2003 European Senior’s Championship, his team played in the final against The Netherlands and only lost that game by a very respectable score of 2 – 0. That second place finish in the 2003 European Seniors Championship secured Greece’s participation in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
Unfortunately, the heart and soul of the Greek National Team, Robert Derksen, suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack only 2 months prior to the Athens Olympic Games. Without the team’s architect and mentor, the chemistry was missing and that made it all the more difficult for the team to accomplish what it was created to do. Everyone’s dream was to see the Greek team reach the medal round. Unfortunately, that did not happen as the team only won one game out of the seven preliminary games that it played and that result eliminated Greece from the medal round of the games.

Since then, the Hellenic Amateur Baseball Federation has been struggling to find the necessary funding to send Greece’s National Team to compete in international competitions. No funding was secured for the Greek team to participate in the 2006 World Cup and the same thing happened in 2007 for the European Senior’s Championship. As a result, Greece was forced to withdraw from both of these tournaments. The Greek National Team has raised some money through sponsors such as the Greek Olympic Committee, the official Greek betting corporation “OPAP”, The American University of Athens, the AHEPA, private sponsors, and even the athletes themselves.

Who and How?

Nick Theodorou and Chris Demetral

Nick Theodorou and Chris Demetral

Exactly who are the players who play for the Greek National Team and exactly how are they selected? This question has been a serious matter of contention from the beginning. Logically, all Greeks who have ever played the game, dream of being selected to play on their country’s National Team. However, only the best players should and normally are selected for this honor. As one might guess, with over 3.5 million Americans and Canadians of Greek descent living in North America, the best Greek baseball players can be found in the United States and Canada. Many of them were drafted by MLB teams and have played in the big leagues. In 2013, there were 3 Greek Americans and 1 Greek Canadian playing on Major League teams. First round draft pick Nick Markakis was the starting right fielder for the Orioles. George Kottaras was the back-up catcher for the Royals. (Note: Both Markakis and Kottaras played for Greece in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.) George Kontos was a relief pitcher for the Giants, and Mike Moustakas was the 3rd baseman for the Royals. Several other Greeks are playing on a variety of minor league and independent league teams. Many others, are playing College baseball and are hoping to get drafted. In the mean time, players who compete in the local Greek league are consistently raising their level of play, which has given their dream of playing for the National Team of Greece some realistic hope. Consequently, the General Manager for the Greek National Team has a very large pool of talented and gifted athletes to choose from.

The last international competition that featured the Greek National Team was the 2012 European Championship. The men who played on that team were:

Name
Theodoros Bourdaniotis
Dimitrios Chatzikyriakos
Panagiotis Cheilakis
Christian Christopoulos
Christopher Demetral
Stefanos Giannakopoulos
Max Warren
Christos Kapothanasis
Efthimios Karkatselos
Harry Koulos
Peter Kritikos
Thomas Lekas
Christopher Lemonis
Dimitrios Lomis
Evagelos Orfanakos
Panagiotis Sykaras
Antonios Tountas
Nikolaos Tountas
Peter Tountas
Angelo Tsingerliotis
Georgios Lempessis
Joseph Vreonis
Jason Zachos

James Essian
Mike Riskas
Tom Mazarakis

Position
LHP
RHP
INF
C
INF
C
OF
RHP
LHP
OF
OF
INF
INF
RHP
RHP
RHP
INF
C
INF
OF
INF
RHP
OF

Manager
Coach
Coach

From
California, U.S.A.
Montreal, Canada
Athens, Greece
North Carolina, U.S.A.
Detroit, U.S.A.
California, U.S.A.
Washington DC, U.S.A.
Maine, U.S.A.
New York, U.S.A.
California, U.S.A.
New York, U.S.A.
Toronto, Canada
New York, U.S.A.
New York, U.S.A.
Toronto, Canada
Chicago, U.S.A.
Chicago, U.S.A.
Chicago, U.S.A.
Chicago, U.S.A.
New York, U.S.A.
Montreal, Canada
California, U.S.A.
California, U.S.A.

Detroit, U.S.A.
California, U.S.A.
New York, U.S.A.

This team of North Americans from the Greek diaspora, is proud to play for the ancestral home country. Their only motivation is to freely offer their talent and expertise in the art of playing baseball to the National Team of Greece.  Their underlying objective is to do battle on the diamond and rise up victoriously in order to ultimately bring glory and honor to the country of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. In that process, they have learned to understand what it means to be “Greek”. They have solidified the perception of their glorious heritage and have learned the priceless value of being able to say that they are of Greek origin.

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COACH TOM MAZARAKIS

Tom Mazarakis

Tom Mazarakis

Tom Mazarakis was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx.  Just as most first generation Greek Americans, his father, Nicholas,  loved the game of baseball.  He, naturally, taught his son everything he knew about the game.  His father made a career change that took the family to Greece in 1970 when Tom was only 15 years old.   From 1970 and on, Tom lived in Greece where he led a relatively regular life, but without baseball. He married a nice Greek girl, Penny, and they raised two sons, Nicholas and Emmanuel, who, of course, learned to love the game of baseball despite the fact that the sport was virtually unknown in Greece.  In the year 2000, a baseball league was created in Greece and Tom has been an active participant with the sport ever since.  He is currently the Manager for the newly assembled Panathinaikos Baseball Club and he has served as the General Manager for the Greek National Baseball Team since 2005.

About NEO Magazine

NEO Magazine. Established 2005. NEO Magazine is published monthly in New York by Neocorp Media Inc.