by Ty Eriksen
With five games left, the last three against the fourth place Konica Minolta Pioneers, the Almere Magpies are watching their hopes of staying in the top league crumble.
It hasn’t been too positive a year for the Magpies, dating back to the relegation series last fall against RCH, when they nearly had to forfeit their opportunity to play in the series because of grave concern they were financially unfit to field a team in the Hoofdklasse. The Dutch Baseball governing body, however, permitted them to play, and the Almere side pulled off a stunning victory in the relegation series, winning the deciding game five in dramatic fashion. With their foreign starter Justin Prinstein coming on in long relief, they kept their opponent by and large off the scoreboard while managing a comeback 5-4 victory.
Fast forward to Spring 2010, the successful club still largely intact and looking to continue their success after the promotion. Returning and headlining the small pitching staff again was Justin Prinstein, who had gone 7-0 with an ERA of 2.30 in the First Division the previous year. Additionally, Australian National Team selection Mitch Graham, a former Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer, was brought in to anchor the infield at shortstop.
Reason to hope quickly turned into reason to worry, as the team lost out on significant sponsorship opportunities, and found themselves in the red in the standings as well. A five game losing streak to start the season was painful, with the close losses a byproduct of unearned runs. The frustration off the field was building too, as less than ideal living conditions and late payments caused shortstop Graham to rebook his flight for the beginning of May. The offense became even more hopeless after the Aussie boarded his flight, with the Magpies scoring two or fewer runs in nine of the next eleven games, including being shut out multiple times.
In June, Almere Manager Marco Wels made a serious blunder, breaking a new rule which was implemented before the start of the 2010 season, which states that only one of three foreign players can be used as a starting pitcher during a three-game series against the same team, and whom may not return as a reliever in the same series. When pulling Prinstein in a close game early in the weekend, Wels said he did so with the intent of saving his import for later in the series. When Prinstein was summoned from the bullpen later in the series, Wels cost his team two points in the standings (the Hoofdklasse uses a scoring system similar to football/soccer).
Currently sitting in last place with a demotion looming, the front office has seemingly given up and begun to strip away the positives. Despite squabbles with the club over their inability to honor his contract, Prinstein remained with his teammates and the club he helped carry to one of the top leagues in European baseball. He posted a disappointing yet respectable line pitching for the team offering the worst run support in the league; despite a 3.53 ERA over 43.1 innings as a starter, Prinstein carries a 0-7 record, allowing 17 ER and 27 K’s to 19 BB, his lone win of the season coming in relief. As was the problem for the entire staff all season, nearly one third of his runs allowed were unearned (13 of 45).
Regardless of the positives Prinstein brought to the club over the past two seasons, he will be let go by the club before the schedule is finished. The front office of the Magpies, in nothing less than a demonstration of their consistency, has failed to settle their debts in more ways than one and will release the pitcher from Detroit before the season resumes following the European Championships in Germany. The rightly had been in conflict with the club about the contract for nearly the entire season, and couldn’t persuade the club to honor the contract through the remaining two weekends. Although the pitcher will likely remain in Europe on scouting detail for the Houston Astros, the Magpies feel content to sever their ties with the pitcher and see where they land.
With one less arm at the top of their arsenal, and Mariners prospect Scott Ronnenbergh already pitching in the Arizona League, Almere will turn to starters Sten van den Bedem (1-10, 6.05) and Dennis Burgersdijk (1-4, 4.14 ERA), as well as to top hitters Giovanni Samboe (.263, 1 HR, 14 RBI) and Ferd van Stekelenburg (.243, 2, 8) to try to keep the Magpies in the Hoofdklasse.