(MARYLAND-OOSTERHOUT)- Collegiate Baseball League Europe (CBLE) President Jan Maarten Kops had a beer with Sant Boi Barcelona Falcons manager Mike Graham at beautiful De Glaskoning Twins Baseball Park in Oosterhout at the end of last season.
If there were any doubt about a coaching extension, the uncertainty ended there. Graham said he would return for summer 2017.
The Falcons wrapped up one of the more impressive seasons in franchise and CBLE history, breaking numerous league and team records. Sant Boi Barcelona clinched the best record in the CBLE by a four-game lead with a week left in the season.
The team finished with an 11-4-1 (.718) record in 2016, earning the CBLE’s regular season Western Division Championship and a fifth consecutive berth for the club in the CBLE Championship Series finals.
When Graham took over as Sant Boi Barcelona manager, he brought in former college player Chris Cummings and former pro Jim Hoyer — friends from Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU) baseball — to handle the on-the-field duties and Bob Davenport as assistant manager.
Even with the summer a long way off, he thinks this year’s team is already ahead of where the Falcons were last season.
“Going into our second year, we are much farther ahead in staffing and recruiting. There’s definitely a better feel for everything and we’ll see what happens,” said Graham.
Jan Maarten Kops agreed. “In the first year under Mike’s leadership, he brought in a strong pro-style coaching staff and some of the best players in the league,” Kops said. “And the results were shown on the field. The Falcons had seven players selected as All-Stars and their coaches were named the Western Division coaching staff of the year.”
With that coaching staff returning almost intact (Davenport isn’t returning) following last year’s record-setting division championship season, it’s the kind of familiarity that brings high expectations and has Sant Boi Barcelona eyeing another CBLE Championship Series run. The two-time CBLE champions (2012, ’15) are the league’s all-time winningest franchise, and Graham and Cummings are Major League Baseball© (MLB) certified coaches.
“I think we can compete again for another championship. We’ve got some experience returning, which is always a plus in any league, so we should be all right defensively,” Graham said. “Pitching is always a question mark at this point until we get further along in the recruiting.”
Taking over Sant Boi Barcelona last year, Graham consulted MLB, international and college baseball colleagues to expand the club’s scouting and analytics operations and loaded up with many prized recruits, such as MLB Prospect Guide select Stewart Rich (Georgia College & State University, RHP) and former East Cobb Astros travel-select team teammate of Atlanta Brave Danby Swanson, MLB’s No. 1 pick in 2015; and a pair of Northwest Missouri State University rising seniors, Nikko Pablo (RHP), two-time NCAA Division II Pitcher of the Week and last season’s Falcons Player of the Year, and James Holler, Falcons Defensive MVP.
The addition of talent from the ballfields of Maryland made big impacts, including Brandon Snow (then SUNY Farmingdale State University, now Eastern University), Falcons Offensive MVP; Brandyn Vogtsberger (Towson University), CBLE Most Valuable Pitcher; CBLE All-Star Jake Fedorczyk (UMBC); Jimmie Gentry (Albright College); Eastern’s Mac McGrath, Gold Glove OF; Connor Graham (Virginia Wesleyan College); Dominic Stanbery (Anne Arundel Community College); intercollegiate club players CJ Cummings (University of Mary Washington) and Jake Hoyer (Towson).
The emergence of Dutch club UVV Utrecht’s Dave Janssen and Hugo ter Steege and the French club La Rochelle Boucaniers’ Paul Bodin, who played with the Falcons in France, made a deep roster.
“When you have great leadership, it usually works through the rest of the operation,” Jan Maarten Kops said. “Barcelona has that, certainly, and I was very happy to hear the news the Falcons staff is returning and for Mike and coaches Cummings and Hoyer and their families and of course, CBLE.”
It’s not the first time Graham, Cummings and Hoyer teamed up for championship baseball. Before they targeted the CBLE, they smack downed AAU Baseball’s Mid-Atlantic Wood Bat League and Maryland and Potomac Valley Districts in Maryland, Washington DC and Northern Virginia and the MLB Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy centered DC Metro League.
In 7 years coaching the AAU’s Maryland RBI advanced skills development team—along with colleagues Jerry Gamblin and Ray Albaugh—they have won 226 games together, a record three consecutive Maryland AAU State Championships (2012, ’13, ’14) and earned a Maryland AAU record-setting number of five consecutive AAU National Championships invitation-only or automatic bids, including one appearance (’13).
“As a coaching staff, Chris, Jim and I are grateful to lead the Sant Boi Barcelona Falcons in international summer collegiate baseball,” Graham said. “We’re looking forward to another championship-caliber year. Job one is acquiring players. We have holes that need to be filled and we are actively recruiting talent for all positions.
“Playing in Spain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands—with the pro operation and coaching we bring—we have a lot to offer prospects. It’s a big life skills benefit because most guys don’t ever get the cultural value and experience traveling and chance to see how they fare playing baseball against guys from all over the world.
“This is an opinion of someone who’s been in the sport for over 33 years,” Graham said. “Above all we want to fill our roster full of guys that love baseball, and that’s the one thing I want to hear from any player who may be interested in playing with the Sant Boi Barcelona Falcons in the CBLE.”