Andrija Tomic has been playing baseball for ten years. Just like his average American counterpart, the 20-year old Croatian catcher can’t imagine life without baseball.
The national team player is also a member of the European International League Baseball (EIB) Championship team the Nada Split. As their top local slugger, Tomic hit .375 this season. Over 80 at bats, and 97 plate appearances in 19 games, Andrija struck out just four times all season.
He finished the season in the top 10 batters for the league, coming in at #7. He placed 4th overall for hits with 30, tops in runs scored with 36, 4th in RBIs with 21, leading the chart with 9 doubles, 2nd in triples, and 3rd for homeruns, with 3 of each. He, along with his American teammate Andrew Jones, followed one another through most of the league leader boards and even tied for 1st with 54 total bases apiece. Tomic also made the top 4 in stolen bases taking 14 of the 15 he attempted. He had 12 walks and 5 HBP on the season for a .485 OBP. On the field Andrija had a .961 fielding percentage with 105 putouts, 18 assists and 5 errors.
Tomic has been with the Split for so long now he couldn't remember if it had been 6 or 7 years. He is now the championship team's steady catcher. This season marked their third straight title in the EIB A-Pool.
We sat down with the catcher to discuss all things relating to his life and, as it turns out, that meant all things baseball. Even when talking about the future, we were hard-pressed to get the mind of this kinesiology major to focus on anything else. Seeing Andrija wants to use his degree to work toward a career in coaching, once he retires from baseball that is, that’s probably a good thing.
How did you start playing the sport?
My brother was playing baseball before me and I was watching games. I saw a Japanese guy that played for us. He was hitting homeruns and I kind of liked it so I got involved then.
Have you always been a catcher?
No. At first I was shortstop. Then I was kind of a utility player. Lately, I’m catching.
Do you like the position?
I really like the catching position best.
You are involved in every play and you’re calling pitches. I kind of like it.
What drew you to baseball more than another more popular sport in Croatia?
It’s a great feeling to hit the ball hard and that’s what baseball is about so I like it because of this.
What is it about hitting that excites you?
Everything. I’m not really a power guy but I like to go full speed through the ball with everything so I really like it. You can’t describe it to someone without them playing.
What does it give you that other sports might not?
That feeling that you can control the game as a catcher. I don’t know how to describe it, especially in English, but you are calling the game. You are in charge of everything. It’s all because of you. So that’s really different than the other sports.
What’s a favorite experience that you’ve only had because of baseball?
I guess my time in the Major League Baseball Academy. It was a great thing to be with those coaches. It was great to learn about pitching and hitting and everything like that.
And, because of baseball, you are able to see many countries. You are always on the road, and that’s a great thing also.
Which academy did you participate in?
In Terrenia, Italy in the MLB Academy. The year after that I was in Hoofddorp, in the Netherlands.
Of all the countries you’ve had the chance to travel to through baseball, is there one that stands out?
The Netherlands. Definitely. For sure. They have really nice facilities and they have fans in the stands.
Are there words for what baseball gives you in your life?
Basically it’s a huge part of my life so I can’t really see myself without baseball.
What is it about this sport?
I love the game of baseball the most, basically, so it’s the most important thing to me.
How do you like the balance between team and individual elements of the game?
I think that baseball is also kind of an individual sport. When you are standing in the batter’s box you are alone. There is the pitcher and there is you. This part of the game is very individual and I really like it but, as a team, team defense and team running is really important and, without this, you can’t get the runs. That’s the team part of it that’s really important. Small ball and running is all about team effort basically.
What do you think your biggest strength is as a player?
As a player, I think my hitting. Lately my arms have strengthened through training so I like to help at the plate.
As a teammate what do you think is your biggest strength?
As a teammate I’m always thinking about how to get on base, how to score so I can do positive things to help.
Is there a lesson that you’ve learned that’s stuck with you more than anything else in baseball?
One coach in the Netherlands told me once that, when you are hitting in a cage, if you did something wrong you don’t have to be all upset about it but just to think about the next swing. To improve you have to approach each ball with purpose. That’s the point of hitting I think.
How do you think that affected your ability on the field?
Pretty epic because sometimes you get upset things are not going your way but if you think focus your energy on positive things and make quick adjustments it will help you to improve your game.
Besides the MLB camps, have you had many opportunities to play against players from other countries?
Definitely. Every national team selection. I’ve been with juniors, U23 and even seniors A pool. Those programs are great. You are playing against really good guys and good competition.
What competitions have you played in the international tournaments?
European Championship as a senior and a U23 player. Seniors during last year’s European Championship in Hoofddorp. That was the toughest competition I have ever played for sure.
Because of the professional pitchers we faced from Spain. They are much better than here. All the best basically. There were some guys from the minor leagues and it was a good thing to play alongside them.
Going from your league to these international competitions what’s the hardest adjustment to make as a player?
Definitely seeing the ball because the pitching is so much better on the international stage than in the domestic league.
On the international stage they are throwing 85+ while in domestic league it’s something like 80. It’s a big difference.
How does that affect your batting average in the international competitions?
It does affect it but I try to adjust it into a positive. I think I am doing a very good job of it and I’m happy because of it.
Do you have pitching machines at home that allow you to gear up for that kind of speed?
Does your national team get to practice or train together often?
That’s a huge problem with our team because the federation doesn’t have any money. We are only preparing for tournaments maybe a week before. That is the only time we are all together as a team.
When you are all still strangers how do you create a team atmosphere?
We are not really strangers because we are playing against each other in our domestic championships for 10 years so we know each other.
Is it fun to get the chance to play together a few times a year?
Yes because we all know each other so well it is pretty cool. I really like it.
How many cities or villages in Croatia are represented in the national team?
Maybe 3-4 cities, because we only have like 3-4 serious teams, so all the players are coming from there.
You are about to graduate. Do you want to stay in Croatia for work?
I’m not thinking about that now because, actually, I want to go play baseball somewhere. When I get my kinesiology degree I’m kind of free to go explore.
Where would you like to play?
Next season, in Europe somewhere. I don’t know, Germany or the Czech Republic. But, in general, I would like to go to the States and play some college ball.
Do you want to study more or get the experience in baseball?
Actually I’m not thinking about the education at all anymore, because I’ll get a degree now. I just want to play baseball.
If you could create your dream situation to stay in baseball what would it be?
Signing with a pro organization.
Any particular organization?
Barring an MLB contract, any specific club in Europe you’d like to be playing for next summer?
No particular city or team it’s just having the opportunity.
Is there anything we haven’t talked about yet that you think it would be interesting for people to learn?
I think it’s really funny that we are such a good club and we don’t have a field so I think that’s really interesting.
In our hometown, it is really difficult. We have the worst facilities. We are the oldest club in our country but we are the only ones that don’t have a field. We are basically playing on a rugby field and that’s so bad. It’s a very bad situation.
We have a problem because we are in the center of the city. They are actually trying to move us, but they can’t really find a place to put us, and that’s a huge problem for us.
Do you get to practice?
Yeah, we are practicing a lot, like every day, but we need to make sure we have a schedule. We only have the field for a few hours and we don’t have a pitching mound on the field.
So what do you do when you host games?
We don’t have a mound so before the game we need to kind of put it together. We have to come four hours before the game just to make the field ready in time and then we have to take it down afterwards. (That's Love!)
What does the EIB provide players in your area, in terms of opportunity to play the game?
Because our national leagues are not really big, interleague gives us the opportunity to play some quality games every weekend so it’s really good actually.
Your team had two Americans and a Canadian this season. How did that work out for the team?
They are top players and giving us good results, but also they are coaching us. We are getting better with them so it’s a really huge thing for us in every way.
Anything you want the world to know?
Work hard, enjoy playing ball and follow your dreams.