John Miller, who is playing and coaching for the Brussels Kangaroos in the Belgian 2nd Division and is a reporter for a big American newspaper, is now also the Little League Commissioner for Belgium. He is also back chronicling the 2010 season in his “Old World Pastime” column on Mister-Baseball.com for a third straight year.
You can’t argue with a good challenge. From the kid who struck out Babe Ruth in The Natural to the catcher who staked a claim that he could catch a ball off the top of the Washington Monument, baseball has always been a great game for wagers.
Introducing the McLennan twin brothers, two all-American Californians who have lived in or near Brussels for years. They are your classic late-30s good-guy, golf-playing, football-watching expats.
Jon put in a few seasons for the Kangaroos. Jeff not. But both have talked their way through all the bars and all the beers of Belgium, advancing the following claim, that Belgian baseball is an entertaining, yet easily conquerable mite, and that, if they so wanted, they could slap it down and be called daddy. Jeff, in particular, likes to brag about his glory days raking it in a men’s league in Ohio. (Or maybe it’s West Virginia.)
I have expressed skepticism at this claim in at least three languages, roared with laughter and dared them to put money where mouth lie. For years, I listened and listened and listened, but could never get the big Macs to come out to the field for a demonstration. It took an impromptu birthday party last Monday night for an agreement to be sealed.
The Kangaroos, as my loyal readers know, are poorly endowed in left-field real estate. Knocking a baseball over the fence doesn’t always strike one as impossible.
Especially Team McLennan after a few Belgian beers and Jagermeisters. “I can easily hit a homerun at your field, what is it, like 250 out there?” said Jeff. “Me, too,” said Jon.
Bring it on, I said. The fence is 25 feet high and it’s about 270 feet to one narrow section of the field. Everywhere else is farther, up to 360 in the right-center field power alley. And hitting a baseball is, well, the hardest thing in sports.
And so we agreed that this Saturday, Sept. 18, before our final game of the year, Jon and Jeff will each get 30 batting practice swings. I will pitch. As in the All-Star homerun derby, they won’t have to swing at every pitch.
“You can even use an aluminum bat,” I said.
“That’s too easy, I’ll give you the chance to double or nothing with another 30 swings with a wooden bat,” said John.
“You can swing a metal bat,” I said.
One homerun in their 60 swings and I owe the brothers 20 euros. Zero and they owe me.
Nothing more fun than a baseball challenge.