In Barcelona, Spain, the soccer pitch provides biggest opponent for sports fans in Real Madrid. However, for Catalunya Little League, their opponents come from a different sport: baseball.
The Europe-Africa Region Champions arrived at the World Series as a relative unknowns because Spain has not been represented in the Little League Baseball® World Series in 32 years. Catalunya has made it their mission to change that. While their hopes for a World Series championship ended with a 2-1 loss to Canada, their participation in this event was well worth the wait.
Since first chartering Little League® in 2014, Catalunya has made its presence known in the Europe-Africa Region. In their first year of existence, the league from Baercelona won the national title, and made it to the championship of the Europe-Africa Region Tournament. The team was defeated by the Czech Republic, 11-6. Their immediate success opened their eyes to the potential their country had to make a run at Williamsport.
“That was a key point for us,” said manager Oscar Roman. “We realized that we are not that far from the rest of Europe. It really motivated us to keep moving forward and improving.”
In 2015, in its second year, Catalunya made it to the region finals again, but fell once again, this time to Uganda, 16-0. Despite coming up short two years in a row, this program kept a keen eye on earning a Little League World Series berth.
But it was not easy. With baseball being somewhat of an afterthought in Spain, finding the time and place to play created immense struggles for the coach and his team.
The first struggle Catalunya faces is scheduling. In Barcelona, students go to school from 9 a.m.-to-5:30 p.m. The result is practices are often conducted from 7-9 p.m., which is an obstacle for children whose first responsibilities are to be students. Even when they get players to practice, fields are tough to find and not in optimal conditions.
The biggest struggle is just to compete with the other sports that dominant Spain.
“It’s really complicated,” Mr. Roman said. “We try out best to get kids involved in baseball, but soccer takes over everything.”
However, they got help from a few children born outside of the country. Zachary Freer was born in New York, while Ronald Vizcaino, the biggest player in the tournament, came over from the Dominican Republic.
“They came to Spain a few years back because of family problems, job issues, or other personal reasons” Mr. Roman said. “We received them with open arms and allow them to play the sport they love even though they are not in the States or the Dominican Republic where baseball is so big.”
Catalunya Little League helped Freer and Vizcaino make Barcelona their new home. The team, made up of mostly Spanish natives, seamlessly integrated the two foreigners into their family.
Finally, in 2018, Catalunya prevailed in the Europe-Africa Region Championship, crushing the Netherlands 19-0, to earn their first-ever trip to the Little League World Series.
The team has overcome adversity on and off the field.Regardless of their finish at the World Series, all of the players on Catalunya Little League’s World Series roster are champions in their view.