Underdog Czechs can advance at World Baseball Classic, says new arrival Sogard

Underdog Czechs can advance at World Baseball Classic, says new arrival Sogard
Eric Sogard is a huge addition to the Czech team for the World Baseball Classic
Eric Sogard is a huge addition to the Czech team for the World Baseball Classic
Baseball Czech / Lenka Brožová
The Czech baseball team couldn't ask for a more distinctive reinforcement than Eric Sogard (36), who joins the team for the World Baseball Classic. In this interview with Flashscore, Sogard says he thinks the Czechs could spring a surprise at the tournament.

Sogard played 11 seasons of Major League Baseball (MLB) and is characterised by his bone-rimmed glasses, cheerful nature and warm relationship with his family. He has taken his wife and five children, two of them adopted, to Tokyo with him.

He is well-respected by the Czechs. The American reinforcement even had the privilege of having team captain Pavel Zyma dedicate his No. 9 to the MLB rookie.

When the Phoenix native arrived in Miyazaki, where the Czech team is preparing for Friday's start of the tournament, you could just tell he was a class apart thanks to his incredibly graceful movements at bat and at second base, where he usually plays. He oozes experience.

Flashscore: Eric, your mother is Czech and she emigrated to the US during the communist era. Did she tell you about the Czech Republic?

ES: "You know, this kind of thing always has a special place in people's hearts. I used to hear when I was a kid how she grew up in Czechoslovakia, how she remembered her parents and how much she loved it there and how sad it was that they had to leave. She always made us understand what was happening, and maybe still happening in Europe, and I often heard her talking to her parents. They always told her (to) never stop speaking Czech. You never know when you'll be able to come back."

Have you talked about going to the Czech Republic?

"My mother is still in touch with her family in the Czech Republic. You know, I've always said to myself that when I ever get the chance, I have to go there. It's a little town just outside of Prague, but I want to see the places in the beautiful country where my mother grew up. I know that time will come."

Where did your parents meet?

"My mother met my dad when she was studying in the US, although my father wasn't at the same school, they found each other somewhere in Massachusetts. My dad fell in love and got married. And just before I was born, they moved to Arizona, where I also grew up."

Your brother Alex has represented the Czech Republic in the past. Was he an inspiration for you?

"Of course! Our conversations on this were very emotional because he told me that I should follow him. He tried to qualify for the World Baseball Classic twice with the Czech Republic in Germany (2012) and in 2017 in Mexico. And he told me it was an experience to remember."

You've already posed in the Czech jersey last February. Did you plan to play for the Czech Republic before that?

"When I was playing (in MLB), it was basically impossible. But last year I wanted to be at the qualifier in Regensburg, where the boys famously advanced. Unfortunately, I had a knee injury and sport had to take a back seat. However, I'm glad I've pulled myself together and can enjoy it here in Tokyo."

After 11 seasons in MLB, you had a year off last year. What did you do?

"It was time to be with my family. We travelled a lot. I was suddenly a full-time dad and it was something special to be with my kids every day and night. When I was playing (in MLB), I was away a lot and missed a lot of time at home. I'm not going to lie, I regretted not being able to watch my kids grow up. So to suddenly be able to be there, it was really a blessing."

You've now taken the whole family with you to Japan. How difficult was that?

"Of course, we have five kids with us! (laughs) I wanted to share this experience with them as well. My wife and I have been lucky enough to go to Japan already. It was in 2012 when I was playing for Oakland Athletics. We really liked Tokyo, so now that the opportunity to take the whole family seemed like a great plan. I hope it will be something that the kids will always remember."

And what will you be remembered for in the future when they ask about your baseball career?

"I've been a part of five MLB playoff teams, and it always has an amazing atmosphere. The fans really get into it and the little things make all the difference. It's succeed or die. I love the atmosphere of the games for everything!"

And starting at the World Baseball Classic? That's a special one for many players...

"Yes, in that sense, the World Baseball Classic is a similar thing, it's definitely one of the special moments for me. It can be the cherry on top of my career, right? I've had a long career in MLB and I'm very grateful for it, but this is really something special. Of course, I think I'll evaluate it when it's over."

You've already played some preliminary games for the Czech Republic. Where do you see the strength of the team and is there a chance to succeed at the WBC?

"I think we have a good chance. The team is strong because of how long it has been together and played. I've been on teams where there was a big star who needed to be seen in the headlines and it didn't work out too well. In baseball, it's also how the team is set up, how guys work for each other. A lot of things can happen. Take a look at the qualifiers. The Czechs lost the first game to the Spanish horribly and then beat them in the next game. We could easily make it to the quarter-finals. I'm excited to be here and see what these guys can do on this stage."