The Strike Out : Could you introduce yourself to our french readers?
Alper Bozkurt : My name is Alper Bozkurt, I am 37 years old and the director of the MLB Academy in Paderborn, Germany. I manage the U21 team of the « Untouchables » and I am in charge of the recruitment nationally for the academy program. I also manage the U18 and U16 teams at the all state level for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. I am a consultant for the Cincinnati Reds responsible for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
TSO : What can you say about the academy program in Paderborn ? Do other programs like this one exist in Germany ?
A.B : Similar programs to ours exist in Regensburg, Mainz and Heidenheim. We distinguish ourselves through our facilities, staff and philosophy. In Paderborn, we have a very unique indoor facilty, the Ahorn-Sportpark. It includes 3 batting cages, a full size infield, two weight rooms, a 200m round track and a 100m straight track. The indoor facility is within walking distance of our minor league standard baseball field and includes a boarding house for the players we have recruited from outside Paderborn. Our baseball staff includes seven coaches and trainers responsible for teams during game days and
- strength and conditioning
Four of our coaches including myself hold a masters degree in sports science.
We believe that all education happens as a whole. You cannot be late in school and be on time for practice, i. e.. we also believe that playing professional baseball is not the ultimate goal for our young athletes. We want them to get a high school degree, learn a craft, play in the Bundesliga, their respective national teams and go to a college in the US if possible. It is important for our players to understand that only very few players will have a professional career, and that playing in the minor leagues is a grind not everyone is suited for.
TSO : Is your program MLB sanctioned ?
A.B : Yes, our program is MLB sanctioned. We send in test battery results based on Baseball and athletic ability to the MLB twice a year. Also, we communicate with MLB Staff constantly, looking for solutions to make european Baseball better. We are also in constant exchange with the MLB scouting bureau and scouts of the MLB organizations, especially when they show interest in one of our players.
TSO : What is the goal of your « sportinternat » ?
A.B : Our goal is to provide a surrounding where talented kids can evolve into superior student athletes. We want them to play at the highest possible level of their respective ability. Many clubs do not have the infrastructure and/or staff that we can provide. Naturally, competitive players are looking for challenges that we can accommodate in Paderborn. That´s why we recruit nationwide.
TSO : Have you ever sent players to Minors League thanks to this program ?
A.B : Our main objective is not to send players into professional Baseball. Only few players are fit for professional Baseball in the US. Most players benefit more from going to a US college after graduating from high school. We want to make sure that they play to their projected ability. We have sent two players to college in the past 5 years with the assistance of an organization called Athletes USA, and one player signed a professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 2014. He currently plays in Arizona, USA.
TSO : What type of players is this program dedicated to ? What is the weekly program for a young player in your internship?
A.B : We recruit the players from age 15 to join our program. Usually they stay for four years. Players that are between the age of 15 and 21 have the right to train with the academy program since the Untouchables baseball club guarantees that. Therefore, we have currently 14 kids that were recruited and are not from Paderborn, originally. Additional 11 players are also part of the program but local talent. Players train 2-3 times per day from Monday to Friday after school. Usual training times are 17:00-20:00 due to school not finishing before 15:30. Most kids have additional tutoring. We play scrimmage games twice per week because we believe that playing the game will make these kids much better than just hitting batting practice or taking ground and fly balls. The life style is very hard. The kids all get up around 7:00am, go to school and to practice, and are back home around 20.30. There is very little time for leisure activities if you want to become a top athlete.
TSO : Bundelisga seems to be a tough championship where 5 or 6 teams are able to win the title every year, is the level getting better year after year ?
A.B : The level of play fluctuates almost every year. Generally speaking the south is historically a bit stronger than the north due to American occupancy after WW II. Many army facilities included Baseball fields and stadiums, and the general public was more exposed to Americans and their life style in south Germany. The north developed slower. Currently though, the north is much better balanced than in the past years, having 5 to 6 very competitive teams as you already indicated. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season develops. We headed into new waters in Paderborn 2 years ago, deciding that we would give the young players a chance to compete and not add foreign help. Last week for instance, at the end of game two against Solingen (No. 1 in the north Bundesliga ranking), seven of nine players on the field were Germans aged 16 to 21 years old! The team won both games that day. It´s great feeling knowing that we developed these players that are able to compete against college players and former pros.
TSO : Paderborn had glory days between 2001 and 2005 with five championship victories in a row, why is it harder for you since then ?
A.B : Once we decided not hire foreign help anymore but rather play the German kids and seasoned players, we knew we could not expect the same results. However we made the playoffs in 2015, our first season with this philosophy. The development of some German teams disturbs me. The teams consist of EU foreigners and US or Latin foreigners, hardly any Germans in some teams. It will make developing national team players harder than ever before, if you ask me. It is much easier to buy a shortstop than to develop one. Paderborn was pretty much the same in the years that you mention above. The team with the best foreign players usually do well in the league and the playoffs. For us, those are short term goals that don’t match well with our philosophy, now.
TSO : The Champions Cup is entirely dominated by the Dutch and Italian teams, how could you explain that ?
A.B : The Netherlands and Italy have a greater Baseball culture and history than Germany. Also, our state funding systems are very different. We are far behind as far as I am concerned, not only in number of players but especially in funding camps etc.
TSO : As you said, Paderborn only has German players in its roster. Is there a tendency in Bundesliga to promote more and more German baseball players ?
A.B : We started playing Germans only in 2015 with good success. It will take some time until we become a serious contender for a German title again. Due to new rules in the Bundesliga, many teams will have to follow our lead even if they don’t want to. Apparently, there will be more restrictions in 2017 for foreign players. German Baseball needs both, foreigners and domestic talent. Our level of play has increased tremendously once we changed foreign pitching restrictions from only 3 Innings per game to a complete game 2. Hitters see better pitching this way. As all extremes, none of them are perfect. Right now, the league is providing Paderborn with opposing foreign pitching. Naturally, our players profit from that and are getting better. We hope to produce national team players this way.
TSO : Isn’t it too hard for Paderborn to exist in its own city because of the good performance of the football team. Is there a room for baseball in Paderborn ?
A.B : We cooperate with the soccer team on many levels. You cannot try to compete with the number one sport, that would be stupid if you ask me. But the seasons overlay only for a short period so you don’t really share spectators. If the weather is nice we average around 500 spectators for our games. We would have more if we had lights and stopped playing double headers. That’s what they have in the south for a few years now. I was in Mainz watching a Saturday night game, 1.200 spectators, the stadium was packed with a great atmosphere for spectators and players alike.
TSO : You also are a follower of African Baseball, what does it look like ?
A.B : As far as consulting for the Reds is concerned, Africa could become the new Dominican Republic. Lots of undeveloped talent, hardly any infrastructure or coaching expertise. There is a good chance more players will sign from the black continent. Currently, Gift Ngope is playing in the minor leagues with the Pirates. He could become the first African born player to play in the Major Leagues.
TSO : What do you think about French Baseball ?
A.B : Coaching with the german U18 team in 2015 and watching the french play as a scout, I have to say I am very impressed by the high energy, hustle and understanding of the game at a high level. Like most countries including Germany, the French don’t always get the best athletes to play Baseball. There seems to be a great culture around the POLE programs. With international success, there will be more players available for sure.
The Strike Out France thanks Alper Bozkurt for answering our questions.