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Oct '11 24

Old World Pastime – About a Happy Baseball Goodbye



John Miller, a Belgian-American journalist, and a player/coach for the Brussels Kangaroos, is in his fourth year of writing Old World Pastime, a take on baseball as lived in 21th century Europe.

This column has platformed a spirited debate about how to fix an overwhelmingly long six-month all-weekend amateur adult baseball league with a high burnout rate and not a single team able to boast anything near full attendance at games or practices.

In my space and in the comments section below, we have heard the arguments between those suggesting some changes and those who like things the way they are.

I don’t know what will happen if the Belgian baseball federation adopts a doubleheader format.

I do know what will happen if nothing changes: The league will keep playing six months a year with a high burnout rate that filters out good, stable guys with balanced lives. There will continue to be zero teams in the entire country where all players attend every practice and every game.

Why it is desirable to keep a schedule so long and loaded that it does not allow full attendance and commitment — in a team sport where commitment is the path to excellence — I have no idea. This, my friends, is not baseball.

But I am not going to win this argument – and I pity the poor souls who will have to try at a chaotic trilingual committee meeting — so goodbye to all that.

Let’s spin backwards, to the rosy shades of my childhood. It is the mid-1990s. I am a teenager, crazy about baseball and books and girls. For hours, I stand in the middle of Rue Luther and throw my baseball against the corner of our home

The four-storey house on a quiet street near the European Commission in Brussels is packed. There are six kids and two parents. Then there is my mother’s habit of welcoming in random people, especially mothers with children. She serves them tea, lets their kids play with hers. Some moms come around regularly only for weeks. Some for years.

Fast forward to Friday night. It is my last Kangaroos’s general assembly. And it is a good one. Jimmy, Sharmila, Pascale and the gang have ordered three kinds of pasta and hired a decent DJ. They make eloquent speeches. Nobody is tense. Yes, there is a future for baseball in Brussels.

I am saying my goodbyes. I shake hands with Nicolas, a young Belgo-African men’s softball player in his early 20s. (The Kangaroos’s men’s softball team, by the way, just finished 18-3 and won its third straight championship.)

Nico is an bright, eloquent guy who wants to be a diplomat, and we’ve been friends for a few years, ever since he showed up out of nowhere and declared his intention to learn baseball from scratch.

I said something like, “uh, ok, good luck, kid.”

I didn’t know who I was dealing with. Nico had already taught himself Japanese. As a teenager.

For a spring and summer, Nico descended on Kangaroo Field every day. He’d place the batting tee in front of the cage and take his careful practice swings. He took thousands of fly balls. Before long, he was starring on our reserves team.

It was impressive. I declared him the best 21-year-old true rookie in the world.

Then Nico decided he was going to teach himself how to pitch. “Like Tim Lincecum,” he told me. Uh, right.

Well, Nico is not pitching for the Giants. But he tried, and I say bravo.

On Friday night, he says to say hey to my brothers, Moe and Jacob.

“Uh, ok, but how do you know Jacob and Moe?” I ask. “A party or something.”

“No, actually, John, we used to be neighbors, my mom told me recently.”

“What’s you mom’s name?”

“Mediatrice.”

Is strikes me like a bolt. I know that name well. She had been like a sister to my mom, constantly over for chat and tea. This kid spent a couple years hanging around my house. It is like discovering a long lost cousin.

Only a couple more columns to go! What should I write about? Tell me at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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