The Dream Begins
Birth of a Team
THE DREAM BEGINS
Baseball in Greece owes it’s birth and persistent existence to the International Olympic Committee’s 1997 decision to award the hosting of the 2004 Olympic Games to the city of Athens, Greece.
As the organizing nation, Greece had the opportunity to field representative teams for all the team sports included in the then Olympics program such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, field hockey, and baseball.
The International Olympic committee stipulates how many teams will participate in each team sport competition and the corresponding sport’s federation determines which countries will participate.
For baseball, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) had no intention of inviting a team from Greece. Their argument was logical and simple: in 1997 Greece had no baseball whatsoever and there was no practical hope that the country could ever build a team that could possibly compete at the Olympic level within seven years.
However, they were wrong.
How Greece accomplished what seemed impractical, if not impossible, is a story worth telling. It is worth the effort to tell because it is a story that reflects the true nature of Greeks whose modern descendants continue to embrace the traditional ideals, morals, and values of their ancient ancestors and are worthy heirs to the legacy and glory of that great people we today refer to as “The Ancient Greeks”.
The following is a general chronology of the events and facts that summarize the Greek Baseball Adventure:
1997 Athens was selected to host the 2004 Olympic Games. The Hellenic Amateur Baseball Federation "HABF" was created.
2000 Panos Mitsiopoulos, President of HABF, has his first meeting with MLB International in New York, coordinated by John Bissylas, a player and high-school coach in Toronto, Canada with Greek heritage.
HABF organizes the first Greek Baseball Championship which includes 6 teams. Many of the players were Greek Americans and Greek Canadians but mostly were local Greek athletes with little exposure to the sport but full of heart and excitement of trying something new.
2001 During the 2001 Greek Baseball Championship, the President of the “International Baseball Federation”, the late Aldo Notari, visited Greece in order to get a first hand opinion as to the caliber of the Greek player pool in Greece. He easily and quickly recognized that the level of play among the local Greek players was noticeably inferior to that of other countries and that it would be realistically impossible for Greece to field a team that could stand on the same field with any of the other Olympic teams. Such a Greek team would make a complete mockery of the sport, of Greece, and of the Olympic Games.
2001 Panos Mitsiopoulos, the President of the HABF, approached the United States Ambassador to Greece, Nicholas Burns for help. Ambassador Burns was an avid baseball fan and had earlier shown sincere interest in helping the Greek baseball effort. He contacted Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes for any help that he could bring to bear on the project by rallying support among the diaspora Greeks of America.
As luck would have it, Senator Sarbanes was a personal friend of the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, Peter Angelos, and he immediately alerted Mr. Angelos about the problem being faced by the Greek baseball effort.
Peter Angelos, being very proud of his Greek heritage, immediately accepted the challenge and embarked on a long and costly personal journey (having donated and spent over $1 million of his own personal resources) whose destination was the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.