You may have seen his name or picture recently on baseball-related social medias. This young player, only 17, has just signed a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs. As the first Bulgarian to get a contract from a MLB franchise, Ioannis Alexandrov shares his dreams and hope with The Strike Out.
TSO : Ioannis, can you tell us a bit about you and your homeland, Bulgaria?
Ioannis : It’s hard to talk about myself, but let me introduce myself. My name is Ioannis Assenov Alexandrov, I am Yo for the family and Yokoma for the friends. My name is of Greek origin, it is unusual, just like me, and I like it,.
I am 17 years old as I was born on July 29, 2004 in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria. But I grew up and studied in Italy. I am currently in Miami, Florida.
I come from a large family of athletes. My parents Asen and Svetlana are national champions of Bulgaria in athletics. My sister Elena also followed their example and at only 14 managed to become a national champion in athletics. Of course to be different and distinguish myself from them, I became interested in baseball at a very early age, only at the age of 7.
TSO : What brought you to baseball ?
Ioannis : The story of how I started playing baseball started in Italy. I was 7 years old and I was riding a bike on the streets. I was near a school and suddenly a ball flew. The coach shouted : “Hey boy, can you throw the ball back”. When I sent it back, the coach was amazed at my strength and immediately called me, told me about baseball and it grabbed me, like love at first sight. The next day I was training and have been until today. I started as a catcher and remain a catcher today.
TSO : Do you know how and when did baseball appear in Bulgaria ?
Ioannis : Bulgaria first saw a baseball glove in 1913 so in 2003 the Bulgarian Baseball Federation officially celebrated the 90th anniversary of the sport on its soils and also its 15th anniversary. There was a demonstration game in which local of R’n’B stars took part.
So, the history of baseball in Bulgaria dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Baseball was first played at the current “Language High School” in Lovech, founded in the late 19th century as the “American Girls’ College”. Balls and bats appeared there for the first time and a simplified version of the game was played. With the transformation of the college into a normal school, after the war, the game gradually disappeared.
The #Cubs have signed Yoanis Aleksandrov. He is officially the first Bulgarian baseball player to sign with a club from the United States.
The 17-year-old catcher and outfielder of the champion “Sofia Blues” signed a 6-year contract. pic.twitter.com/T7nC7fnsdo
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) March 29, 2022
At the beginning of the 80’s, Cuban and Nicaraguan workers and also foreign students breathed new life into baseball in Bulgaria. They brought equipment and play baseball in the parks of some of the major towns. It gradually attracted the attention of Bulgarian youth, which led to the formation of the first Bulgarian baseball club : « Academics » Sofia.
Baseball has been played unofficially in Bulgaria since 1983. It appeared in Sofia in 1987 thanks to the enthusiasm of 16 boys, most of them students at the by then “Higher Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering VI Lenin” (now the Technical University). Their trainings and games were held on the football field in front of the sports complex which is now the Baseball stadium.
TSO : What about the Bulgarian federation?
Ioannis : The Bulgarian Baseball Federation was established in 1988 and gradually more teams appeared in other cities. In 1992, 11 national teams and one composed of foreigners took part in the national championship.
The Bulgarian Baseball Federation has been a member of the World and European Federations since 1989. Bulgaria was the 67th country to make efforts to develop baseball and now there are 111 countries which are members of the World Federation (IBAF) based in Lausanne.
Every year the Baseball Charitable Foundation organizes national championships in all age groups: children 9-12, juniors 13-15, juniors 16-18, and seniors ; also tournaments for different cups named “Sofia”, “Bulgaria”, “Jika” (with the help of Japanese volunteers) ; and last but not least there is a national school championship.
Bulgarian teams participate in many international events.
And while in America parents pay hundreds of dollars for their children to learn the ins and outs of baseball, here in Bulgaria it’s free!
TSO : A few words about your previous club : the Sofia Blues.
Ioannis : Thanks to Emil Nasapov and enthusiastic young people the first children’s and youth bulgarian baseball team was created in Sofia at the end of the 80’s. They created the first official club called « Sofia Blues ».
In the first quarter of a century of its existence, the Blues men’s team won all the trophies at the national level : the championship title (2013), the Cup of Bulgaria (2014) and the Cup of Sofia (2007, 2010, 2011, 2014). Players from the club are traditionally members of the national teams in all age groups.
The success of the team is possible thanks to the great attention and care that the club has always paid for the development of children’s and youth sports and the numerous activities it has in this direction.
TSO : So, you just signed with the Chicago Cubs. Were you a big fan of MLB and what did you know about the franchise ?
Ioannis : I’m not just a fan of MLB, baseball is my life. I play to feel alive. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
In Bulgaria, we watch MLB games thanks to MLB.tv and like every baseball player in my country who watches the games we also read stories about every Major League club.
TSO : How did you end up signing with the Cubs ? Did you travel to the US for tournaments ?
Ioannis : I first went to America in November 2021 when I was invited to take part in the Perfect Game. Then I also took part in the International Perfect Game. I trained hard at the Carlos Castillo Academy and thanks to the good training and talent I have, I was noticed by many scouts.
TSO : Did you come to the US by yourself or do you have family members with you?
Ioannis : When I first came to America, I was with my sister Eleni, she is my biggest fan, and I am grateful for the support.
TSO : What will be challenging living in the US? The food, the culture… ?
Ioannis : I don’t think there is a challenge, I am quite adaptable. I think I will miss the food the most, referring to Italian cuisine. My sister is a professional chef and I can say that I have not tried tastier food than hers.
TSO : Is it a dream come true or not yet?
Ioannis : I can say that I have realized my dream to be the first Bulgarian to enter the professional baseball league. But the next dream is Major League!
TSO : Do you see yourself as a role model for young baseball players back home ?
Ioannis : The feeling is hard to describe with words. This is not my dream to be a role model. What I hope for Bulgarian fans of this sport is that everyone is rejoicing as much as I do. I hope to become a support for children in Bulgaria, be able to inspire them. There are lots of talented players in Bulgaria and I hope to see more of them in the professional league in the future. There are no impossible things, as long as you have the courage to do them!
TSO : Last question for you Ioannis, who is your favourite MLB player?
Ioannis : Yadier Molina and Mike Trout !
The Strike Out would like to thank Ioannis for his time and kindness. We will follow his progress and hope to see him in the Major League roster on the future.
You can follow Ioanis on Instagram : @yokoma_23