The February “Feature Star of the Month” is Jakub “Kuba” Ondracek, from Czech Republic, currently in his first year at Cochise College in Arizona. In his first 11 games to begin the season, Kuba is batting .316 and is first on the team in stolen bases (6-7), third in RBI’s (6), fourth in Runs Scored (7), and has a .409 OBP. He has also committed zero errors while anchoring 2B for the Apaches. On Feb 20th (which was also his 20th birthday), Kuba paced the Cochise offense by going 3-4 with 2 RBI, a double and a SB in a 11-5 win vs. El Paso CC.
Kuba started playing baseball at the age of 5 in Brno, the 2nd biggest city in the Czech Republic, a country known more for it’s ice hockey culture. Kuba spent his entire life playing for the Hrosi Brno baseball club (“Hippos” in Czech language) and also comes from a prominent Czech baseball family. His older brother Michal has been a member of the Czech National Team for many years and plays for one of the top European clubs, Draci Brno. Kuba has followed in brother’s foot-steps, becoming one of the top young Czech baseball players.
Since 2007, Kuba has been a member of the Czech Youth National teams every year (Under-12, U-15, U-18, and now U-21) and has helped the Czech Youth National Team program place in the top-3 in 10 different European Championship competitions. Kuba has also represented his country against the best national teams across the globe in the U-18 and the U-21 World Championships held in Taiwan and South Korea. In 2012 and 2013 Kuba was recognized as one of the top Under-18 players in Europe, attending the prestigious MLB European Elite Academy.
In 2014, Kuba traveled to Washington DC to attend the BBI College Showcase for top international prospects hoping to play college baseball, and with his performance he earned a scholarship to Cochise College.
We had a chance to chat with Kuba about his first year of playing baseball and attending college in America.
Boomer Baseball International (BBI): Kuba, congratulations on being named the February Feature International Star! Can you first tell us what a typical day at Cochise College is like for you?
Jakub Ondracek (Kuba): Thank you very much! A typical day starts with the classes in the morning. Usually we are done by noon and than we spend the whole afternoon on the field, usually from 1 to 5. After that we have dinner and we lift in the gym from 7 to 8. This is how the most days look like.
BBI: How many times do you practice or have games during the week?
Kuba: Before the season started, we had practices 6 days in a week. Right now, with all the games going on, we basically practice 4-5 times a week with 2 game days (Tuesday and Saturday). Probably the biggest difference from other baseball programs back in Europe, that I have experienced, is that we lift every day after practice. It helps us to get stronger but it also helps a lot to prevent injuries.
BBI: That’s a lot different than Europe, for sure! So how many hours a day are you spending on baseball related activities?
Kuba: In the Fall we had morning run (about 1 hour of athletic training), afternoon practice (usually 3 to 4 hours) and than weight room activities (1 hour). That is 5-6 hours in total. During the Spring it is the same schedule except for the morning run but we usually spend more time on the field because of the games.
BBI: And has this increased training and games made you a better player?
Kuba: The most significant thing is that I feel much more consistent. The everyday routine gives me a lot of confidence on the field. Having a full batting practice after every single practice is also something I haven’t experienced before.
BBI: How would you compare the baseball competition in U.S. college vs. Europe?
Kuba: The biggest difference I see is in the energy of players. Every single player here works 100% no matter if it is a practice or game. All players are focused on baseball only. Nothing is more important here. Back in Europe it is much more complicated. The leagues (overwhelming majority) are not professional and players have to face distractions in [the] form of their job to earn a living or family reasons.
BBI: What’s the biggest cultural difference between living in Czech Republic and Arizona?
Kuba: I am very close to Mexican border, so it is not only American culture but also Mexican culture that plays a huge role here. However, I was very surprised how similar the Mexican culture is to the Czech culture. Especially the food! I like it a lot.
BBI: What’s the hardest adjustment about living in America?
Kuba: The hardest thing for me is to be really far from all those people back home. My family, my friends. Only after such experience like that you really realize how important all those people really are.
BBI: What’s the coolest thing about being in America?
Kuba: It is the significance of sport here. If I had to mention one thing that I like the most about America, it would probably be how people perceive and respect sport in general. Especially the college sport. It is an unbelievable experience to be a part of it.
BBI: What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you or you have seen since coming to the U.S.?
Kuba: The funniest thing for me is how everyone talks about food all the time. It looks like number one priority in people’s lives here.
BBI: Are your teammates really curious about the Czech Republic? Are you teaching them how to speak your language? Can they pronounce your name or do they have a nickname for you?
Kuba: That is very funny point. For everyone here I am “Kuba.” Nobody calls me in a different way. Kuba from Czech. In the beginning everyone was really curious about people in Czech Republic playing baseball. Now they know that soccer or hockey are not the only sports we do. We have a really good group and my teammates are great people. We have a lot of fun together on and off the field as well.
BBI: You participated in 2014 BBI Showcase in Washington DC… What was your experience like with the International Stars and would you recommend it for other European players?
Kuba: That’s how everything started. Without BBI Showcase I don’t think I would be where I am right now. Everything was so personal and the process of negotiations with schools were very intensive. I can’t express in the words how grateful I’m to the BBI. I would highly recommend it to all players interested in college baseball.
BBI: We hear you’re a big music fan – do you have any recommendations for us on what we should be listening to right now?
Kuba: Definitely stay tuned for Flume and his new upcoming album Skin! I can’t wait to hear that. Czech rap label BIGGBOSS is also very close to my heart and I would recommend it to all rap fans. Also follow Rai Knight and T.S.P. on Soundcloud for some quality Detroit music!
BBI: We would like to thank Jakub for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about his experiences and we also want to thank Grandpa Jaro for being the #1 Czech Baseball Fan! Stay tuned to Boomer Baseball International for the March Feature International Star next month.