Tempe Man hired to coach national team
By Richard Obert
It's only natural that Randy Barber became an economics and social studies teacher. He grew up in Alaska, lives in Tempe, spent summers in Russia and, in a couple months, will be moving to the Czech Republic.
The climates, political and geographic, have been ever-changing in the 44-year-old's life. He draws on those experiences when he is in the Corona del Sol High classroom.
"For a long time, not a day went by when I didn't talk about Russia and the economics to my students," Barber said.
He'll have much to discuss when he returns from Brno in the Czech Republic, where, starting in January, he'll spend 18 months directing the junior national baseball team and teaching conversational English at a Brno university.
The Grand Prix circuit runs through Brno, a city of about 350,000. But Barber would like to spread baseball through the fast lane.
"This is a big step," said Barber, who leaves Jan/ 18. "It's quite an opportunity, one I couldn't pass up."
Barber first got involved in international baseball in 1991, when Davini took Barber and a high school team to Russia to help introduce the game to youths.
Barber, who has worked in the Tempe Union High School District for 14 years, said that he developed contacts through Major League Baseball International while returning to Russia in '92,'93. Last summer, Barber joined the Desert Vista High Coach Stan Luketich in the Czech Republic to work with kids for a few weeks.
"We went all around the country," Barber said. "I worked with the Czech coaches and helped coach the national team in the summer. Through that contact, they offered me a coaching job in the top league there."
Soccer is bigger than baseball, but the sport is enthusiastically embraced, Barber said. He has discovered a couple of athletes who he thinks could be pro prospects in America.
"Physically, they're gifted," Barber said. "We had a kid who was 21 and stood 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. He was a first baseman and pitcher. This kid can play. He pitched a complete game and hit two home runs in one game.
"An American college coach over there said, if he spoke English, he'd offer him a scholarship right now. But he doesn't speak a word of English."
Barber said the culture is a shock, but the athletes have the work ethic that he wishes he'd see in more American youths.
"Their mental approach is a little different," Barber said of the Czechs. "It's real hard nosed.
"Some of them feel they have to hate me to play for me. That's not the way I coach here. I like making them believe in themselves."
The key, Barber said, is getting them to believe that they can play with the Dutch and the Italians, considered to be at a higher competitive plane than the rest of the European countries when it comes to hardball.
"We have to get them to think that they can beat them every time they step on to the field," Barber said.
Barber said that most of the players he'll be working with on the national level have been playing for about six years. barber said that in August he'll take his junior national team to the European Championships.
It could take a while before fans grasp it like soccer and hockey. Those sports are so much a part of the culture. Kids grow up with them.
Barber said it would help if some of the land could be turned in nicely manicured baseball fields. Many of the fields on which they play are dirt lots, Barber said.
"The Czech Republic is different from Russia, in that the economy is more Western," he said. "It's healthier. The biggest issue is the fields. Land was controlled by the state until 1989. It's an ongoing situation to redo the fields But they're working on it."