Maldonado will get a chance to do something many Americans don’t get to do — represent the Red, White and Blue on the international stage.
Maldonado was invited to play for the United States as part of the Prague Baseball/Softball Week Tournament from June 23 to July 2.
Maldonado played summer ball for the Nevada Bullets, a scout team sponsored by Sparks Sertoma. His regional scout, Tony LaMonica of the Global Scouting Bureau, helped him earn this opportunity. Originally, LaMonica wanted Maldonado to play baseball professionally in Europe, but there were no takers. Then out of the blue last month, Maldonado received an invite from John Dobkowski, president of The International Game, the company that puts on this tour.
Initially, Maldonado was in shock. When it became evident this was for real, Maldonado was more than excited.
“Honestly, when I first got the message, I thought it was a joke,” he said. “I called Tony LaMonica to see if this was a go, and he said it was the real deal. I get to go over there and play in a tournament against the top European teams. On their Web site, it’s pretty cool because ESPN rated it the number seven baseball experience in the world. That makes me happy to hear. It kind of gave me goose bumps.”
The trip costs $3200 and includes a round-trip international flight from New York City, his hotel stay, breakfasts and seven team dinners, as well as sight-seeing experiences in Munich, Regensburg and Prague.
Maldonado has never traveled outside of the country, so this experience goes way beyond the baseball field for him.
“I’m actually looking forward to seeing all the cultural history that is there and just get to soak in everything that I can,” Maldonado said. “I told my dad this is a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go to Europe and at least sightsee. To play baseball and represent the U.S. in something as big as this, it’s a pretty cool experience. Right now, it’s kind of a surreal feeling that I’m actually going to go over there and play.”
The past two years were productive for Maldonado at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. The designated hitter/catcher received first-team all-Golden Valley Conference honors after he batted .328 and led the team with three home runs and 27 RBI in his final campaign with the Knights.
Maldonado completed his Associate’s degree in general education at Shasta and was on schedule to continue his baseball career at New Mexico Highlands on a full scholarship with two of his teammates from Shasta.
However, Maldonado’s father needed open-heart surgery. That postponed his decision to head to New Mexico Highlands. Maldonado is still in communication with the New Mexico Highlands coach and he could possibly take that scholarship offer in the future.
It’s not the first time Maldonado’s baseball career was put on hold. He was academically ineligibly his sophomore year at Reed, and then exploded in his junior and senior campaigns. He had a .520 batting average and .929 slugging percentage with nine homers and 49 RBI in his final season at the east Sparks school.
Maldonado planned to play college ball at Western Nevada College, but that didn’t work out. After taking a year off from baseball, he said he was fortunate to have the opportunity to play for Shasta.
He isn’t sure what the future holds for him, but he hopes it includes a professional baseball career. This trip, which includes one warm-up game in Munich and six guaranteed games in Prague, could be a stepping stone for his goals.
“If you talk to anyone, their hopes and dreams are to become a professional baseball player. I would love to do that,” Maldonado said. “There’s also a chance that when I go over there and play in the exhibition games and practices, it will be like a tryout for me. I know the German team and the Czechoslovakian league have been in contact with Tony and were excited to know I was going over there, and it could turn into a tryout for them to see me play.
“If it turns out I do sign with a team over there to play baseball, that would be awesome. Not many people get to go over to Europe and play professional baseball. Not only play baseball, but to teach the Western style of baseball because their style of baseball is just a little behind the American style of baseball. That’s why they bring American guys over to help.”