Team Norway baseball team delivers the win
Best performance ever in European qualifiers
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Steffen Torgersen had another story to share from the European Baseball Championship Qualifiers tournament in Serbia.
“The announcer for most games was the previous Serbia coach,” said Torgersen via Zoom from Shoreline, Wash. “He interviewed me during the championship game. He pulled up a photo on his phone from 2016 in Slovenia, when Serbia beat us 21-3. We beat them 7-2 this year. It was fun to reminisce. It shows how far we’ve come.”
Team Norway’s 3-1 record—its best ever—tied with Slovakia and Hungary for first in their group. The head-to-head tiebreaker still left the teams even, “resorting to a formula called Total Quality Balance or ‘TQB,’ which essentially measures how badly you got beat or you beat the other teams you were tied with,” said coach Andy Johnson, a Minneapolis native. “Our loss to Slovakia in Game 1 (17-4) cost us the chance to play in the group final.”
“It’s hard to point to a single factor for the success,” said Torgersen. “The national team initiative was brought up again about 10 years ago, and the fruits of the labor are coming to the team now. We have a few national team academies in Norway. We’re trying to develop young players in Norway, get them into the game early, and really grow their skills. We had a lot of new members on the team.”
Torgersen has a special role. Born and raised in America, he’s played baseball his whole life, including four years at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.J., as a shortstop and third baseman, graduating in 2018 with an economics degree. His father’s Norwegian culture also played an important role. During Steffen’s freshman year at Dartmouth, his father saw an item about the Norwegian national baseball team being reorganized.
“We reached out to Andy about how to join,” said Torgersen. “They didn’t know about me. I see myself as a role model. I played in one of the highest levels in college baseball. I can inspire younger players to see they can play at the next level.”
Torgersen does have the challenge of not being able to practice often with the team and getting to know his teammates.
“We have hit a sweet spot with Steffen as our offensive anchor, and with a few of our younger players maturing, we have a window here where we have enough talent that we could establish a winning tradition,” said Johnson by email. “We need to continue adding two-three young players each year or two. They need to continue to strive to be better than the guys they are playing with.
“Having Steffen is fun for a lot of reasons. First, he is incredibly humble and selfless. He has seemingly found a way to fit in, even though he knows virtually none of the guys on a personal level. He’s a quiet leader. You can see a competitive personality on the field. Off the field, he is well spoken, calm, and always says and does the right thing. He’s been a great role model for our guys.”
Game 1 was July 12. Slovakia blew the game open with four runs in the sixth and five in the eighth. For Slovakia, first baseman Michal Puškár had 7 RBIs, 4 hits, including a double and home run; third baseman Matej Škerlec and catcher Mário Gottchall’s 4 runs, 3 hits, 4 RBIs, a double and home run. Norway was led by rightfielder/pitcher/leftfielder Gunnar Henriksen with a solo homer and Torgersen and Tye Brødsjø with RBI doubles.
Norway rebounded with a 14-6 win over Poland on July 13 with a 17-hit attack. A seven-run eighth was highlighted by a bases-loaded double by Henriksen and two-run double by third-baseman Charles Conrad. Henriksen had 5 RBIs, Conrad 4 hits, 3 RBIs, Torgersen 3 hits and 3 runs. As designated hitter/leftfielder, Johnson had 3 hits, including a home run, 3 runs, and 2 RBIs. Emil Fjellvang tossed six innings allowing three hits, three runs, two earned, walked four and struck out six.
“Andy’s been around baseball a long time,” said Torgersen. “It was a big help to have another bat in the lineup. As long as you’re competitive and bring some value to the team, you’re going to be a part of it.”
“I can still hit a little bit at this level,” said Johnson. “One of our more experienced players was gone for Games 2 and 3 for a wedding and we really wanted to leave with a couple of wins in the tournament. To supplement our offense, I put myself in there after consultation with our assistant coaches.”
Game 3 on July 14 was a thriller with Hungary. The teams entered the 10th tied at 7. Each team started the 10th with automatic runners on first and second. Hungary scored three runs in the top of 10th on a bases-loaded walk, a bases-loaded hit by pitch and RBI single for a 10-7 lead. Norway scored four runs in the bottom of the 10th on three bases-loaded walks, bases-loaded hit batter for a literal walk-off victory.
“That was exciting,” said Torgersen, who had 2 hits, 4 runs, 5 RBIs, 2 home runs and pitched 6.1 innings of relief and struck out 13. “That was one of the biggest wins in Norway baseball history. It’s the first walk-off win. It was really exciting to see some of these newer players perform under the heightened pressure of an extra inning game.”
Hungary went on to win the group.
In the finale, Serbia took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third. An RBI groundout in the fifth by Henriksen plated Lars Liguori to even the score 2-2. Torgersen put Norway ahead 3-2 in the seventh with a solo homer to right. Norway added four runs in the eighth when Ligouri and Henriksen walked with the bases loaded and centerfielder Mads Eldevik hit a two-run double scoring Torgersen and Liguori. Liguori pitched nine innings, allowing four hits, two runs, one earned, walked one and fanned 15.
“Lars is a really good pitcher,” said Torgersen, who hit .538 in the tournament. “He’s pitched in some independent leagues, especially the Frontier League in the States. He plays in the top league in Italy right now. That experience was beneficial.”
The future of Norwegian baseball?
“Our goal is to win one of these qualifiers and be competing for a spot in the April playoff,” said Torgersen. “We’re always looking to develop players in country and out. We’re also looking for some experience as a college and/or high school player from the States, who happens to have a (Norwegian) passport. We have a couple young Norwegians who are in some baseball academies in Europe. We have the brothers, Brødsjø. Aidan is playing in college in the States right now. Just getting this extra experience is going to be huge for our national team.”
“This momentum also gives us a good reason to invest in the team by trying to build a more competitive schedule and finding the funding to execute that schedule,” said Johnson. “Sweden has always been the baseball country leading the Nordic countries. Finland is making a push to be more competitive. We could work together by competing among ourselves to get good quality work in preparation for the meaningful EU tournaments we play every other year. My goal is to help reignite more competition in our region, including getting more games on our home soil, so our compatriots can see what a fantastic baseball product we can offer. We hope this, in turn, can spark sponsorship and public support.
“On our bus to and from the field in Serbia, almost all the players were tuning in to the highlights from Major League Baseball games,” said Torgersen. “They all have their favorite teams and follow them pretty religiously. It’s fun to watch. From so far away, they know more about the teams than I do.”
All photos by Anders Brødsjø
This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.