A Czech-born player appeared in an official MLB game for the very first time on Sunday, when Baltimore Orioles catcher Martin Červenka was subbed in as a defensive replacement in an early-season spring training game in Sarasota.
While Czech-born athletes in American sports are no uncommon sight – Jaromír Jágr has led a wealth of Czech greats in the NHL since the 1990s, while Tomáš Satoranský recorded a triple-double for the NBA’s Washington Wizards last month – a Czech in the MLB is a truly rare sight.
Červenka is the first player from the Czech Republic to play in the Major League Baseball, but even beyond that there have been precious few players from the former Czechoslovakia to make an appearance.
Carl Linhart, who received two at bats in 1952, is the only other player born in what is now the Czech Republic to have played in modern-era MLB, while Elmer Valo, from what is now Slovakia, played for 20 seasons from the 1940s to 1961.
That makes Červenka not only the first player from the Czech Republic to play at the highest level of professional baseball in the USA, but the first player from the Czech lands to play in the MLB in over 60 years.
Born in Prague in 1992, Červenka has been playing baseball professionally in the US since 2011 after signing with the Cleveland Indians as a 16-year-old in 2009.
With the AA Bowie Baysox last year, Červenka hit a career-high 15 home runs with 60 RBIs and a .258 batting average in 337 at bats.
In spring training, Červenka is fighting for a bench role on the Orioles, along with a spot on the team’s 40-man roster of players eligible to be added to the big league roster.
Behind the plate in the ninth inning on Sunday, Červenka caught three straight strikeouts of Toronto Blue Jay hitters to secure a 9-8 victory for Baltimore.
His chances of making the Orioles out of spring training may not be good – Baltimore has three other catchers (Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns, and Carlos Perez) ahead of him on the depth chart. But given the sport’s frequent injuries – especially at the catcher position – it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Červenka make the big leagues at some point during the 2018 season.
Červenka in the Arizona Fall League late last year: