July 2 - In what will be remembered as the trade of the year in the NVTBL, the Moose Baseball program received four players from the Budapest Reds Baseball Academy for four weeks this summer. In return, Will Gibson, a former Moose player and right-handed pitcher from Gettysburg College, will serve as a player-coach for the Budapest Reds Pro-Am team.
The agreement between the Moose and the Reds was finalized by Tom Gibson, the Chairman of the New Generation Foundation and József Szamosfalvi, the Executive Director of the Hungarian American Institute. The player exchange marks the first of its kind between organizations and will hopefully open the door for future international opportunities.
"Why should Americans, Japanese and other traditional baseball-centric nations have all the fun?” said Szamosfalvi in a press release. “After four weeks playing highly-competitive Moose baseball, Máté, Zsolt, Ádám and Dominik will return to Budapest as both changed young adults and probably with more baseball skill than I ever possessed, when I played on Hungary's first national team 20 years ago."
"This will be remarkable for our U.S. players, host families, and our four new best friends from Hungary," said David Thompson, President of Moose Baseball. "We have planned a full-immersion baseball program and are thrilled to be expanding in an international direction."
Hungarian natives Máté Belle, Ádám Piros, Dominik Staindl and Zsolt Győri traveled over 4,500 miles from Budapest to Washington D.C. to grow their knowledge of the game of baseball from American coaches and hone their skills for the Hungarian European Championship in Belgium later this month.
Since arriving, the four players have worked daily with Moose coach Trey Polston, learning different hitting drills and fine-tuning their pitching mechanics.
“There are lot of things we are doing but they are picking it up quick,” Polston said. “We are writing things down and making sure we go slow because we are trying to give them as much information as we can.”
“We just want to learn everything we don’t know about baseball,” Győri added.
It didn't take long for Polston the see the boys' work-ethic and the type of players he was adding to his team.
“They are very disciplined players and they understand the game very well,” Polston said. “They have real passion to work hard and get better.”
In a country where soccer rules supreme, they boys got their passion for baseball through either family or friends. Belle began playing baseball in the first grade following in his brother’s footsteps while Győri started playing just four years ago after learning the game from Staindl and his dad.
Piros has been playing baseball the longest out of the four boys, picking up the game after discovering his father's glove when he was six years old. Staindl also learned the game from his dad, who grew up playing with Japanese workers outside of the Suzuki automobile factory in Budapest.
Over the next couple of years, the fathers of Piros and Staindl coached the boys and helped found the Budapest Reds Baseball Club, one of the six teams in the Euro Interleague Baseball league.
“[Dominik’s dad and Adam’s dad] taught me everything about baseball,” Győri said. “No one in my family has ever played baseball. It’s really cool that I get to play.”
Recently, Győri struck out seven in a three-hit complete game effort while combining with Belle to score four runs to lead the Moose to a 5-2 win over the DC Dynasty on June 22. In four games with the Moose, Piros is 2-for-7 with four runs and has made one appearance on the mound, not allowing a hit in 1.2 innings with two strikeouts. Belle has drawn five walks in five at-bats while Staindl has gone hitless in three at-bats.
For the four Hungarian players, getting to play kids their own age is a refreshing change-up from the older competition they have become accustomed to back home. With almost no youth baseball teams and organizations in Budapest, there are very few opportunities to play with players the same age. The Reds have five players 40 or older and just one other player on the team is younger than 20.
“These kids end up playing against guys that are 40 and face pitchers that are in their mid-20s,” Polston said. “They don’t get to play a lot of competition their own age, so to see them enjoy competing with kids that are their age and see how they matchup against the Americans is pretty cool. They definitely fit right in with us and they have been doing really well against the rest of the players in northern Virginia.”
Besides the age of their competition, Belle and his peers could only notice one other difference between the baseball played in the United States and in Hungary: the dirt infields.
“We play on grass fields. There are not many dirt fields in Hungary,” Belle said. “But, the skill of the players are the same between us and the other players.”
Gibson, who just completed his junior season at Gettysburg, will play for the Reds through the end of July and conduct daily baseball clinics. He will also support baseball academy programs in Budapest, Debrecen, Jánossomorja, in Hungary, and in Bratislava, Slovakia, under the direction of the Bratislava Apollos Baseball Program.
Creating this player exchange program, the Moose program aims to help grow and develop baseball in Hungary and build the talent level in Central Europe with hopes for a lasting impact on an international scale.
"We hope to expand this program in 2019 throughout the five countries that play Euro-Interleague Pro-Am baseball,” said Jimmy Silk, head coach at Wilson High School and board member of the Moose Program. “We want to bolster Central European national teams for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and enable young European players."
Left to Right: Dominik Staindl, Zsolt Győri, Máté Belle and Ádám Piros. Photo courtesy of Moose Baseball.