Roberto Angotti interviews MLB European academies consultant and France bench coach Andy Berglund

im_mlbinternational_132x92 On my recent journey to the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Regensberg, Germany, I was fortunate to speak with 37-year-old MLB European academies consultant and 2014 Team France bench coach Andy Berglund. His energy and passion for the game was apparent on and off the field. Serving as France manager Eric Gagne’s right-hand man, Berglund proved to be worth his weight in gold as the French advanced with Italy and Germany to the second round of competition in Brno, Czech Republic.

Andy Burgland led the Czech Republic to its first ever Silver Medal and was nominated as 2011 European Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
Andy Berglund has been big news since he set foot in Europe. He first gained notoriety after leading the Czech Republic national team to their first ever Silver Medal and being nominated for the 2011 European Baseball Coaches Association (EBCA) Coach of the Year Award. (Photo courtesy of www.Mister-Baseball.com)
Roberto: Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in Valley City, North Dakota and attended the University of Minnesota, where you graduated magna cum laude in Public Relations in 2001. You played literally every single position, correct?
Andy Berglund: I played outfield and pitched when I was in high school and in college I was a utility player in the leagues I played in. I had two shoulder surgeries during my college years that knocked me out of competition. When I was healthy again I played that utility role over in Europe and Australia. I did catch some games in Europe, so I’ve played every position.

Roberto: Did that help you later as a coach knowing the roles and responsibilities of each position?

Andy Berglund: Absolutely. I think once you’ve played the position, you at least have a feel for what a player goes through. There are some many intangibles (receiving, blocking, throwing, calling a game, being a vocal captain of the infield) to being a solid catcher, for example, that to teach it at a higher level, I think you have to also experience it as well.

Roberto: You actually began coaching youth baseball while still very young, right? What attracted you to this profession?
Andy Berglund: I started coaching youth baseball when I was still around 15, during summers in North Dakota. My father was a high school wrestling, football and baseball coach, so I took after him and saw how much enjoyment he got out of coaching. I started focusing more on coaching as a profession when I realized injuries were going to keep me from reaching the level I wanted to on the field. I didn’t want to be away from the game, and coaching was the next logical step.
Andy Berglund and Mark Melancon
Andy Berglund and Mark Melancon

Roberto: Did you consider playing professionally in America before embarking on your first European adventure playing in Sweden for the Alby Stars and coaching the Eliteserien team in 2002? How were you recruited?
Andy Berglund: To be honest, I was planning on going to law school out of college. After I graduated, an opportunity came about to go to Europe for the summer, and I discovered baseball was developing there. I worked for MLB International that first summer and through meeting other European players, I landed a spot in Sweden. Those first two summers got my foot in the door to the playing and coaching opportunities I’ve had over the last 13 years now in Europe.

Roberto: Knowing European baseball was in its infancy, did you have the patience to grow the game?
Andy Berglund: To me, the game is still in a grass roots phase here, just trying to be mentioned with soccer and hockey, which dominate the European landscape. Your patience is definitely tested at times, but that’s the beauty of the challenge. I’ve met dozens and dozens of people in the same situation in Europe baseball development, who have had their own part in growing this beautiful game on European soil.
Roberto: Was it difficult to play in adverse weather conditions in North Dakota and later in Scandinavia? Please describe the worst care scenario you ever played in.
Andy Berglund: The cold conditions you deal with are part of growing up in the north for sure. I’ve played in games where snow was coming down, actually coached in games in April in Prague where it was snowing and have been “snowed-out” in games up in Sweden. Coaching the Czechs in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in 2012 was brisk. There were parkas everywhere in the stands.
Roberto: You played baseball internationally in England, and Western Australia as well, correct? Exactly where? How did that help your mission?
Andy Berglund: I played for the Melville Braves in Western Australia. They actually won the WA State League title this past year, so I’m very happy for the club. It was a long time coming. The experience in Australia was very helpful in me seeing how aggressive they played the game. The Aussie’s are just flat out tough characters on the field. I truly respected that about them. Part of the mission here in Europe is to make the players tougher and more game-tested, and the experience in Australia was a good reference point. I loved how they played. The game has developed a lot in Australia the past 10 years as well with the ABL coming back and more and more players in the U.S.Roadshow
Roberto: When did you become a Major League Baseball International coach?
Andy Berglund: Working with the MLB Roadshow from 2001-2004 in the UK and Germany. I started as an MLB Envoy in 2009 in Germany and 2010-2011 in the Czech Republic.
Roberto: Your coaching stints for MLB included time in England, Sweden and three years in Germany, correct?
Andy Berglund: Yes, and that’s expanded into the role I have now, which is an MLB Academies Consultant. There are nearly 20 different Academies in 11 different European countries now that MLB supports with coaching, equipment and player development.
Roberto: As the Ambassador for MLB and its development in the UK and Germany, you introduced baseball to over 20,000 children for their first time. Describe that experience. How were you recruited for this position?
Andy BerglundAs part of the MLB Roadshow, we would spend weeks on the road and each week visit new schools in bigger German and UK cities to introduce the game of baseball. The goal of the program was to introduce the sport and get kids excited about playing and joining local clubs and participating in MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run program as well. I was recruited through a friend named Ian Young and in turn met Jason Holowaty, who I now work directly with on game development in Europe and Africa.

Andy Berglund and Prince Fielder
Andy Berglund and Prince Fielder
Roberto: You returned to the states to earn your Masters in Communications from North Dakota State University in 2006. How did you balance your love for the game in Europe while missing family back home?
Andy Berglund: The toughest part of working in Europe is being away from family and I try to get back as often as I can. My oldest brother has three young sons, and it’s challenging being away and missing the finer parts of watching them grow up. Still, we find ways to see each other every year and make the most of it.
Roberto: Considering you returned to Northern Europe as a player and coach for the Stockholm Baseball Club in 2008, you must have loved it there. In fact, you led the team to its first ever Swedish Championship. Did that validate your belief that you could instill success into the mindset of other players?
Andy Berglund: Sweden is a beautiful country. That season, I specifically wanted to come back over to coach, play and win a title with Bjorn and Peter Johannessen, who had became friends over the years. I was really welcomed there by the Claesson family, who oversee the club. The dedicated people in the club made it a goal to really put together an action plan to develop the youth programs and build the best club in Sweden. Stockholm has won 5 of the last 7 Swedish championships since then and have a solid youth program with new facilities being built.
Roberto: You later became a member of the Swedish Senior National Team in 2009. At that point, did you know coaching in Europe was your destiny?
Andy Berglund: Not fully, but I knew that there would always be an attraction to coaching baseball in Europe not matter where I was in the world.
Roberto: However, it appeared that the West Coast was tugging at your uniform as you spent time in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Carlsbad. What attracted you to Southern California?
Sage Hill H.S. manager Andy Berglund
Sage Hill High School head coach Andy Berglund was named 2008 Academy League High School Coach of the Year for his excellence.

Andy Berglund: I wanted to experience baseball year-round and found a great opportunity to coach at a high school in Newport Beach. It was my first real head coaching position, and I really enjoyed learning what it takes to try and build a championship program.
Roberto: You began as the head coach for Sage Hill High School in Newport Beach in 2008 after the baseball team had endured its third consecutive losing season. You turned things around there after developing a thorough communication program involving the student-athletes and their parents. You were selected as 2008 Academy League High School Coach of the Year. While at Sage, you put together a 51-18 overall record which included two league titles and one second place finish. During this time you were influenced by the likes of Mark McGwire, Wally Joyner, Bruce Hurst, and Lee Smith. You also studied the modern science of pitching with Tom House and Ron Wolforth. Care to comment on your experience coaching in Orange County and working with these former pros?
Andy Berglund: I had seen videos on Ron Wolforth’s Athletic Pitching program and read books on Tom House’s pitching philosophy as a way to learn more as a coach, on arm action and pitching. We were fortunate enough to have Tom House come visit Sage Hill for a practice and he worked brilliantly with our pitchers. I met Ron Wolforth this past year at a conference in Paris. I thanked him for showing me a new way to train and protect young pitchers arms. I met Mark McGwire while doing ProKids Academy camps with his sons back in Southern California and picked up some great hitting tips from him. Joyner, Hurst and Smith, I met later on at our European Elite Academy in Italy. They are all wonderful teachers. You’d have to pinch yourself sometimes, being such a fan of these guys growing up, and then having conversations with them. The past few years the Elite Camp has featured Barry Larkin, Steve Finley, Greg Swindell, Tom Gordon, John McLaren, Art Howe and Dale Murphy, to name a few. It’s an amazing experience to pick these guys’ brains on the game.
Roberto: You left it all behind to become the head coach for the Eagles Praha of the Czech Pro League. In addition, you served as head coach for the Czech Senior and Junior National Teams in 2011 and 2012–leading to the highest finishes in the country’s history (Silver Medal). Did that give you confidence that you could impact a developing nation’s appetite for the game?
Andy Berglund: My time on the field in the Czech Republic was very rewarding. We took the same approach with trying to build on what was already there and fine-tune it into something special. I think you said it correctly, because the appetite for baseball in the Czech is definitely growing and they are really having some success. It’s great to see their young teams go to the Little League World Series, the World Championships and have the success they are having. It proves a small baseball country can achieve big things.
Curtis Granderson (third from the right) and Andy Bergund (far right)
Curtis Granderson (third from the right) and Andy Berglund (far right) on the MLB Roadshow

Roberto: How did it feel being nominated as the EBCA Coach of the Year in 2011 and speaking at the Coaches Convention?
Andy Berglund: I was very fortunate to be considered and very happy for Brian Farley when he won. I thought the Dutch’s 2011 World Championship really helped put European baseball on the map in ways it had never been before. Now the Dutch and Italians are beating traditional baseball powerhouses in the World Baseball Classic and it is great for the exposure and development of the game overseas.
Roberto: Did you start up the Czech MLB Baseball Academy?
Andy Berglund: No, Martin Smidt started the Prague Academy and David Winkler started the Brno Baseball Academy. I help with their development on behalf of MLB. The Brno Academy has really developed into a solid program and a lot of those players are representing the Czech U15, U18 and U21 teams that are winning medals at the European Championships.
Czech Republic manager Andy Berglund visits pitcher Alex Sogard in the 2012 World Baseball Classic Qualifier.
Czech Republic lefty Alex Sogard listens to manager Andy Berglund in the 2012 WBC Qualifier.

Roberto: Did you enjoy serving as the bench coach for Team France in the 2014 European Baseball Championship?
Andy Berglund: Yes. A lot of work was put into getting France back on the right track by the federation, so it was good to be a part of.
Roberto: You have been a strong advocate for baseball in both France and Czech Republic. Both teams made strong showing in the Euros and their numbers have jumped up considerably in the International Baseball Rankings. Do you think that your coaching has catapulted these countries into becoming up-and-coming powerhouses?
Andy Berglund: I would say the success in France and the Czech Republic has been result of the good people in the federation that are willing to push the envelope for development working well with the best coaches in the country. It takes getting into a room, getting to the bottom line, discussing the resources you have, putting together a blueprint and attacking the goal you all want to achieve. Throw away the politics. Get down to business. For me, wherever I have coached, my goal was never to finish anywhere but the top. Once the players embrace that vision, you truly have something powerful and dangerous anytime you step on the field.
Roberto: Do you believe MLB will embrace European baseball as they have in other parts of the world and invest there beyond the MLB academies?
Andy Berglund: I do. I know they are looking into having an opening MLB series being played in Europe, much like they did in Australia this past year. I know it is an intriguing market for MLB, especially with the success the NFL has had hosting games in London and the NHL has had hosting games in Europe.
Roberto: What is your personal opinion on the future of baseball in Europe?
Andy Berglund: It’s going to continue to grow. You are going to continue to see more players signed out of Europe and Africa. Hopefully soon, you’ll see more of them playing in the Big Leagues. The process is just going to take time. The level of play here has definitely increased; the domestic leagues have become stronger, as have the national teams. There are some more established countries here in Europe that have strong ambitions to take the game to another level, numbers wise, exposure wise and game development wise. They will be leading the charge to see where the game is over the next 5-10 years.
Team France at the 2014 European Baseball Championship was led by bench coach Andy Berglund (fifth from right) and manager Eric Gagne (far right).
Led by bench coach Andy Berglund (fifth from the right) and manager Eric Gagne (far right),
France placed sixth in the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Brno, Czech Republic.

Barry Larkin and Andy Berglund
Barry Larkin and Andy Berglund
Roberto: It’s nice to know MLB veterans like France manager Eric Gagne and Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza are on board?
Andy Berglund: Definitely. They bring even more exposure to the sport and raise the interest that much higher. You are talking about two huge names in baseball that only stopped playing in the MLB less than 10 years ago. To have them involved is huge for marketing the sport and also raising the interest back in the U.S. on how and why these guys are getting involved.
Roberto: Any final thoughts to share?
Andy Berglund: The last thing I’ll mention is something I’ve learned from Barry Larkin. His advice to the game is: “Get Better Every Day. Today, be better than you were yesterday. And tomorrow, be better than you were today.” I think that’s the best way to look at what we are all trying to accomplish in baseball, as players, coaches and in development, to keep you humble and to keep you motivated.

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Chinese God of the Land AKA Pitcher Fu-Te Ni Summoned to Reclaim Taiwan All-Star Series

It may be a case of divine intervention to help the young and talented Chinese Taipei national team after suffering three consecutive to Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Enter Taiwanese-born Fu-Te Ni–often referred to by Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) fans as “Tu Di Gong” or “Fu Teh Cheng Shen” because his given name is the same as the formal name for the Chinese God of the Land–taking the mound Saturday, November 5th at Kaohsiung’s Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium to the delight of mortal and deity beings everywhere and restoring balance in these seemingly lopsided exhibition games.

Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the lefty Fu-Te Ni soon became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009 Ni signed a minor league contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t take long for Ni to be the first player to transition from the CPBL to MLB when he was called up by the Tigers in June 2009, becoming the sixth Taiwanese player to enter the big leagues.

Ni made his major league debut on June 29, 2009 in relief of Rick Porcello against the Oakland A’s. His first major league match up was no small feat as the once famous Moneyball all-star who got away, Jason Giambi stood sixty feet away. Ni would strike out the left-hand hitting slugger and two other batters in 1.2 innings of relief. Mixing a four-seam fastball with a change-up and slider, Fu-Te Ni kept the hitters off-balance. Offering no free passes to first base with precision pitch control, Ni threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Later Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented, “He’s not afraid. That’s what I like about him. He’s got a little hitch of giddy-up.” In his first season with Detroit, Fu-Te Ni put away some of MLB’s best including Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Aubrey Huff.  Opponents batted just .187 against Ni, and he became a reliable left-hander out of the Tigers bullpen. Most impressive, however, was his American League relievers-leading 8.6 percent of inherited runners to score statistic(3-35).

In 2010 hitters began to take advantage of Ni’s troubles in hitting the low-end of the strike zone and locating the breaking ball against left-handed hitters, resulting in a catapulting .290 batting average against the left-hand throwing hurler. He struck out 22 batters over 23 innings, but also gave up 19 walks before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Although he had participated in the 2011 Tigers Spring Training Camp, Ni split his time as a starter and reliever in the International League, where he started 12 games and posted a 6-3 record with a 3.24 ERA. In 111 innings pitched, Ni struck out 93 and walked 34.

Equipped with renewed confidence and control of his pitches, Chinese Taipei’s Fu-Te Ni is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the MLB skeptics in the Taiwan All-Stars Series. Of all the players on the MLB All-Stars roster, only the recently awarded 2011 Silver Slugger winner New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient Los Angeles Angels of Angels Shortstop Erick Aybar have faced Ni in Major League action. As a former 2009 Detroit Tigers teammate of MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson–who was crowned “American League Outstanding Player” in the 2011 Players Choice Awards and also recipient of a 2011 Silver Slugger Award, Fu-Te Ni held Cano hitless. In 2010 Aybar did not fare any better as he struck out in his only at bat against Ni. The writing is on the wall and in the sky for the Chinese God of the Land that “Tu Di Gong” is back with a vengeance to earn his Chinese Taipei national team their first victory against his fellow MLB All-Stars.

Chinese Taipei Baseball All-Star Chien-Ming Wang + The Unknown Factor Against Kung Fu Panda & MLB All-Stars = 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series

Could this be the Year of the Panda? Coined “Kung Fu Panda” for jumping over a catcher at home plate to score a run and demonstrating acrobatic play at the end of the 2008 season by San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito, switch-hitting infielder Pablo Sandoval from Venezuela has been at the center of “panda-monium” since the Giants won the 2010 World Series. Kung Fu Panda’s good luck charm and real-life manager, San Francisco Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, is also the manager for the visiting MLB All-Stars during the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series against the talented Chinese Taipei National Baseball Team. Sandoval will be eating his share of fortune cookies as he faces off against MLB’s Taiwanese-born pitcher Chien-Ming Wang in a Chinese Taipei uniform and a slew of unknown hurlers for the first time ever in Taiwan. Sandoval is not alone as only four of the players on the MLB All-Stars roster have had any at bats against MLB.com’s 2006 Starting Pitcher of the Year.  In the 2006 and 2007 seasons during which Wang led the New York Yankees pitching staff with nineteen wins each year, infielder Ty Wigginton batted a respectable .353 and outfielder Curtis Granderson put together a lukewarm .273 batting average against Wang. More recently this season, utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and pitcher Dillion Gee managed to squeak a hit each during Chien-Ming Wang’s comeback year after a long bout with injuries, surgery and rehab assignments. Former New York Yankee teammate and current MLB All-Star Robinson Cano looks forward to seeing Wang–even if he is playing for Chinese Taipei. He commented, “Wang’s a good person both on and off the field, and he always works hard on the mound. I’m happy to see that he’s back from his injury, and I believe he’ll be able to continue to maintain his health and have a bright future.”

Televised 2011 Taiwan All-Star Baseball Series Extends MLB Season, Unites Countries & Cultures

While most believe the World Series marks the year end of professional baseball and the beginning of a long drought without America’s favorite pastime, the true diehard fans get a weeklong reprieve as some of Major League Baseball’s best players will go head-to-head against a very talented Chinese Taipei national team beginning November 1st. MLB Network has announced its plans to televise the highly-anticipated 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, five contests between the MLB All-Stars and the Chinese Taipei national team. The games will be played in three different cities in the Republic of China–November 1 at XinZhuang Stadium in New Taipei City, November 3 & 4 at Intercontinental Stadium in Taichung, and November 5 & 6 at Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung. With the exception of a 2 pm(PST) start time on November 5th, first pitch is scheduled for 6 pm(PST) every night. MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger and Larry Bowa will call the games.

“Major League Baseball is excited to take another important step in showcasing our great game to Taiwan, continuing our objective to bring baseball to fans throughout the world,” said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. “We are pleased that many fine players will represent Major League Baseball when they meet the top talents of Taiwan.” The series is made possible through a partnership between MLB and the Major League Players Association in an effort to promote the game of baseball internationally and showcase talent from around the world.

The Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, has a wealth of talented baseball players. Los Angeles Dodgers Hong-Chih Kuo was expected to pitch for the Chinese Taipei national team, but instead upon the recommendation of his Los Angeles-based team doctor skipped the series to undergo surgery on his left elbow. However, there is still Washington Nationals Chien-Ming Wang–the highly-touted Taiwanese-born pitcher once known for his dreaded sinkerball and near 100 mph velocity–who is slated to be among the Chinese Taipei national team’s pitching rotation. Upon his arrival in Taipei last week, Wang commented that it had been a long time since he had played with Taiwanese players but expressed joy in being in his home country of Taiwan. His MLB comeback after two years of rehabilitation from injuries was described by Nationals manager Davey Johnson as “a remarkable season” for Wang, who posted a 4-3 record and a 4.04 ERA. In his final four starts of the season, Wang struck out 16 and walked none in 23 2/3 innings pitched. The Nationals have set a three inning or 60 pitch limit for Wang according to Taiwan national team manager Chen Wei-Cheng, who has yet to decide which game Wang will pitch. Part of the Chinese Taipei national team’s secret arsenal includes Detroit Tigers lefty reliever Ni Fu-Te, the Taiwanese-born southpaw who posted an impressive 2.61 ERA as a rookie two years ago. Although Ni was confined to AAA ball this season, he did get the opportunity to shine at MLB Spring Training Camp, where he allowed only four hits and one earned run in his 10 innings of work.

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy will manage the MLB All-Stars. Bochy’s coaching staff will be comprised of his current Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, Giants bullpen catcher Billy Hayes, Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Tampa Bay Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton along with Rays equipment and home clubhouse manager Chris Westmoreland. The MLB All-Stars include: pitchers Colin Balester, Trevor Bell, Bill Bray, Phil Coke, Ross Detwiler, Dillon Gee, Jeremy Guthrie, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Melancon, Felipe Paulino, Ramon Ramirez, Rich Thompson and Jose Veras; catchers Drew Butera, Jeff Mathis, and Ronnie Paulino; infielders Erick Aybar, Robinson Cano, Michael Morse, Ryan Roberts, Pablo Sandoval, Danny Valencia and Ty Wigginton; outfielders Emilio Bonifacio, Curtis Granderson, Logan Morrison, Josh Reddick and Andres Torres.

Perhaps the biggest proponent of the upcoming Taiwan All-Star Series is the Washington Nationals Mascot, Screech. The furry white eagle was chosen as the mascot for the series and will accompany the MLB All-Stars to Taiwan. This week Screech was on the set of a short film shot in Washington, DC to promote the international baseball games. Screech dazzled the crowd–including the Ambassador of Taiwan, Jason Yuan–by speaking and whistling in Mandarin Chinese and eating with chopsticks. The short film of Taiwan culture, featuring Screech, can be viewed on the Washington Nationals official website (washingtonnationals.com) and the mascot’s blog (screech.mlblogs.com).