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Sep '09 28

Champion Ships – a Baseball-Blog by John Miller



Old World Pastime

John Miller, player/coach of the Brussels Kangaroos and a reporter for a major American newspaper, is back chronicling his team’s 2009 season in his weekly column that will appear every Monday on mister-baseball.com.

On an Indian summer Sunday in continental Europe, while the Yankees prepared to clinch a pennant in rainy New York, Team USA beat Cuba 10-5 to win the Baseball World Cup.

I took a fancy to these Americans when I saw their first game, a thrilling 13-9 loss to Venezuela in Regensburg two weeks ago. They had led 7-1 in that contest, and choked. It was the kind of game that punches a team in the face and tells them to take nothing for granted. After that, they won 14 games in a row.

This USA, as has become the practice, was a mix of buzz prospects like Pedro Alvarez, a Pirates thirdbaseman, and Jason Castro, a catcher for the Astros, and minor-league veterans like Jason Childers and Jon Weber. We admire the former for their long fast-twitch muscles, but we, even more, we respect the latter for their heart and stubborn dedication to their dream.

It was the second straight American triumph. Before that, the Cubans had won nine straight times, going back to 1984. (Pop trivia: Which are the two European countries to finish in the top 4 in the World Cup? Italy in 1998, and, get this, England in 1936.)

Meanwhile, as the land of Prosciutto and Parmigiano minted a world champ, this beer country of mine anointed the finalists for its championship series. It will be the Hoboken Pioneers and the Merksem Greys, after the Greys swept the Brasschaat Braves.

It does seem like the right matchup. They are the clubs here with the most core domestic players, able to win without import players.

There were more complaints than before this year about the absurd length of our season. It took two weeks to pick a world champion. It’ll take over six months to pick the best in the kingdom of Belgium.

The old planners are in love with stuffing baseball into every warm weekend, in the name of development, a season that mirrors the bigs and maximum bar revenue.

The truth: Amateur can’t play Saturday and Sunday afternoon for six months. You get tired, you get sloppy, you skip practice, you fight with your wife, the baseball gets worse, guys quit. Is that worth selling more Stella?

I can’t think of another amateur season in the world that is so long. I asked a college coach if he could stomach dealing with his guys for six months.

“F— no.”

But here we are. The Kangaroos got swept by the young and promising Mortsel Stars. With three wins in the second round, we should be seventh, but a few forfeits by the Borgerhout Squirrels, for fielding an unlicensed player – it’s complicated, don’t ask — puts us in last place, and the second division for 2010.

It’s not a bad outcome in the long term. We no longer have enough local players to field a competitive team in first division. We made it through this year with out-of-towners, and that’s not sustainable. So it’s back to the leisurely Saturday-only pace of the second league, while we organize enough youth baseball to keep the game alive in the capital of the old world.

I expect an email at oldworldpastime@gmail.com from Josh Chetwynd about the 1938 baseball World Cup. England. Really?

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