Baseball Germany: A fan of the Cincinnati Reds

It's been a week of some remarkable sport. First, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund marched triumphantly to the Champions League final. Then NBA player Jason Collins became the first active professional athlete to out himself as gay. In the baseball community in Germany the attention was riveted on a completely different story.

It goes by the name Donald Lutz, and the 24-year-old made sporting history when he became the first German ever to be called up to "The Show" - the Major Leagues of baseball.

The historic occasion came when he got a phone call to join the Cincinnati Reds team for a three-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. And in the first game - April 29 - he got called in as a pinch-hitter, batting for another player. For the record books, the first German broke his bat as he hit a weak grounder to the infield and was thrown out. 

But no matter. Back in Germany, baseball clubs' websites and bloggers and commentators were in raptures. For a few days, everyone involved in German baseball became a fan of Cincinnati. And, the story caught the attention of the mainstream media - the German Press Agency dpa, a handful of newspapers, and even the soccer magazine Kicker reported about Lutz's debut. In Munich, the Tageszeitung ran a dpa photo of Lutz. Two days later, on May 1st, Lutz was even a starter in the Cincinnati team in St. Louis, and played the entire game. In four at-bats he did not manage a hit, but no matter - again, the bloggers and baseball websites were celebrating the occasion.

What made the Lutz story all the more compelling for some was the fact that at his call up - which is only likely to last for a 15-day period while two established Major Leaguers for Cincy are out of action due to injuries - he was only playing at Double-A level in the Cincinnati "farm system" of minor league clubs. Normally, a player must first advance to the Triple-A level before getting a shot at the big leagues, but in Lutz's case, being a power hitter (something Cincinnati have been lacking in the new season), he was given the nod.

Lutz has in fact been playing in the Cincy farm system for six years now, and for the past two spring-training seasons, 2012 and this year, he was even invited to play with the Major League club. On both occasions he impressed the Cincinnati coaches with his hitting and talent - but was assigned back to the minor leagues anyway to develop his skills further.

No matter how the Donald Lutz story plays out in the short term - he'll most likely be sent back down to the Minor Leagues again after the regular players have recovered from their injuries - German baseball is convinced he is the start of things to come regarding Germans playing in the Major Leagues. The wait has been a fairly long once since 2000, when a youngster named Mitch Franke from Strausberg in Eastern Germany became the first German to be signed by a Major League club, in that case the Milwaukee Brewers. Franke spent three years in the US, never rising above the "rookie league" level before returning to Germany.

Since then, there have been over a dozen German ballplayers to have signed contracts with Major League clubs, and they spent a number of years in the lower Minor Leagues but failed to do well enough to get called up to the majors. However, at the moment there is one German, Kai Gronauer from the Solingen Alligators, who has risen to the Triple-A level in the New York Mets farm system. Besides keeping an eye on Gronauer, baseball fans in Germany are also watching how young Max Kepler is faring in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. The Berliner made headlines back in 2009 when his signature with the Twins earned him a cool $800,000. Not bad for a 16-year-old. Now 20, Kepler is reportedly playing at the Single-A level in the Twins' farm system.

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