From Prague to Prince George's

(Laura Wolf)

By David Driver, Special Correspondent / Bowie Baysox | May 13, 2019 9:48 AM

Prague, the spiritual and political capital of the Czech Republic, has a famous astronomical clock that was installed in 1410 and its castle is a must-see for the millions of tourists that traverse across Charles Bridge in the summers.

The who's who of those that have called Prague home includes Albert Einstein, former writer & Czech president Vaclav Havel and nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova.

For all its grandeur and allure, Prague does not have a reputation of producing Major League Baseball players. 26-year-ol catcher Martin Cervenka, who began the season on the Baysox roster, is hoping to change that.

Cervenka was born and raised in Prague, and was acquired by the Orioles on Dec. 14, 2017, on waivers from the San Francisco Giants. He played in 97 games with the Baysox last year and hit .258 with 22 doubles, 15 homers, 60 RBI and an OPS of .774.

"I always played baseball. My dad got me into it when I was two or three years old. That is how I got into it," said Cervenka, standing in the outfield at Prince George's Stadium during media day earlier this month. "My dad played back home. He played baseball and softball growing up. Softball was bigger (and more popular) than baseball."

While many Americans don't equate baseball with Europe, the Czech Republic is one of the better European countries when it comes to baseball. European sports, especially basketball and soccer, are geared more to local clubs. That is a little different than travel baseball in the United States.

"You go to school and then after school you have practice with a bunch of players," said Cervenka. "In Prague we have about seven teams and play against each other."

Cervenka played soccer and hockey with his brother, but never at the organized level.

Baysox first-year manager Buck Britton, who held the same post at Class-A Delmarva last season, got a closer look at Cervenka during spring training in Sarasota, Florida.

"He is a grinder. He is a good guy to control a pitching staff. We are looking forward to him helping out those guys," Britton said of Cervenka.

The Baysox began the season with two catchers: Cervenka and Cael Brockmeyer, 27, a native of San Diego.

"Another veteran presence," Britton said of Brockmeyer, who played 14 games at the Triple-A level last season in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system.

 "Ever since I was little, I had dreams of getting to the major leagues," Cervenka said. "They don't sign many players in the Czech Republic."

Those dreams became closer to reality when as a teenager he attended an MLB Academy camp in Italy. That is when the Cleveland Indians learned about him, and he was signed in June of 2011.

He spent several years in the Cleveland farm system before signing with the Giants after the 2017 season, but he was picked up by the Orioles before he could play in the San Francisco system.

Cervenka spends his winters in Prague and works out there at public gyms and other facilities. He headed to Florida in February for Spring Training with the Orioles, though he is not on the 40-man roster.

With a new general manager and manager in Baltimore, he feels a sense of excitement in the Orioles system.

"Last year here in Bowie in the second half we had some young guys from trades," said Cervenka. "We had a good second half. Anytime you have new players it is exciting."

Cervenka sometimes is approached about fans who ask about Prague. So, what does he miss about his home country?

"My girlfriend and my family. That is probably the main part. I have been coming to the U.S. for so many years (that) it is like second nature," he said.

So, what would it be like the make the majors? "A dream come true," he said.

 

 

Editor's note: David Driver is a free-lance writer from Cheverly who has covered the Baysox since their inception in the 1990s. He has contributed to Baseball America, milb.com, Baseball Digest and Orioles Magazine. He can be reached at davidsdriver.com and @DaytonVaDriver.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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