SARASOTA REDS CZECH CATCHER MAKES SELF AT HOME
19-year-old catches Reds' attention, hones skills at extended spring training
By CHRIS ANDERSON
SARASOTA -- Professional baseball is becoming more and more global, boundaries are being redefined, and proof can be found at the Cincinnati Reds' minor-league complex in Sarasota.
That's where you'll find Petr Cech.
He's a 19-year-old catcher from Ostrava, a city in the Czech Republic of 310,000 people.
The Czech Republic has not played baseball for long, and the sport isn't nearly as popular as it is in the United States, but scouts are starting to take a closer look there, hoping to unearth hidden gems.
Actually, scouts are going deeper into Europe and countries that are traditional soccer powers, such as Italy and Poland.
Asia and Africa are also being explored more than ever before.
The Reds signed Cech last spring after a workout for major-league scouts in Prague.
Cech originally planned to attend a three-week camp at MLB's European Academy in Tirrenia, Italy, last spring in the hopes he would be signed.
But before the camp, he worked out for scouts in Prague and caught the eye of the Reds, who signed him.
Cech is one of four players from the country playing in the minors.
He is working out in extended spring training for the Reds in Sarasota.
The Reds have players from five countries in extended spring training, including three pitchers from Australia.
In their minor-league system, the Reds have players from eight countries.
The Czech Republic, known for soccer and hockey, has a population of about 10 million people.
Cech said there are maybe 30 baseball fields in the whole country and estimated about 3,000 people play baseball.
The sport is not a big deal in the Czech Republic, he said, and "we play for fun."
Cech began playing at 8, largely because he grew up near a baseball stadium that holds about 5,000 people.
"Kids play who are near the stadiums, but in small towns nobody plays," Cech said.
And those who do play the sport don't play every day.
"We have talented people, but we play in school leagues and they practice like two days a week," Cech said. "Our coach started to play baseball when he was like 20 years old because we are a post-communistic country and baseball is an American sport and the communists didn't like American sports.
"Back then they would play illegally on some soccer fields."
Cech, who speaks English, Czech and Russian, was able to follow Major League Baseball on television.
He also followed it through baseball cards his mother would send him from the U.S., where she lived.
In the Czech Republic, he said a pack of baseball cards cost $5 and the cards would be 2 years old.
He said his favorite players are catchers Jason Kendall of the Oakland A's and David Ross of the Reds.
This spring he got a chance to watch Ross play in an exhibition game, something he never thought possible a year ago while playing in the Czech Republic.
It was made possible by Major League Baseball's ever-expanding search for talent.