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Mar '09 23

A Dutch Spring – Old World Pastime is back for 2009

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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.

As Hemingway wrote in his novel “A Moveable Feast”, spring in northwestern Europe is a fragile, shivering maybe. The nights of rain and four o’clock dusk and munching on fries and mayonnaise to stay warm make one forget about our sunny, grassy game.

So it was for months and months and months until a few weeks ago when I stayed up in my kitchen watching the Dutch beat the Dominicans for the second time. Miracle on grass.

I’ve played and coached in Europe for 16 years. Team Belgium, unlike the Netherlands or Italy, doesn’t belong in Puerto Rico or Tokyo. (Yes, some of that has to do with colonizing the Congo, instead of islands orbiting around Florida, and with not emigrating millions from Sicily in 1890. But whatever.)

But baseball and its lovers find each other, and I have just enough second degree connections to the Dutch team to feel like I know the guys, and there they were, in San Juan, steel in their eyes and grit in their hearts, facing down 100 million dollars worth of prize arms and legs, and not giving an inch.

A couple years ago, I wrote a story on the Dutch team for my newspaper. I drove up to Rotterdam on a rainy Tuesday night to watch a practice. There was nobody else in the stadium. Lefty Diegomar Markwell was throwing a bullpen down the right field line. The pops seemed to echo all over town.

I chatted with Sidney de Jong’s dad. His son, the catcher, loved baseball, he said, but knew it would never be his profession. I thought of that when Sydney crushed a leadoff double in the 11th off Carlos Marmol, a major leaguer with a 2.68 ERA.  The Dominican pitcher looked like a man seeing his noose.

That night in Rotterdam, it turned out, was Diegomar’s birthday, so after practice he handed out cake and whiskey. I chatted with him, de Jong and Michael Duursma, the second baseman.

Duursma, I think, is typical of European national team players. He works a day job. He’s not going to the show. But there he was there in my kitchen, switching places every half-inning at second with Robinson Cano (Total major league earnings: $3.8 million).

This proud bunch played rope-a-dope with Pedro Martinez, Miguel Tejada and David Ortiz all night. The mighty Dominicans pounded long balls into the wind.

The Dutch kept throwing strikes and catching the balls. Sure, they struggled with the sticks. Ubaldo Jimenez — 12 wins in the bigs last year – struck out 10. In FOUR innings. After him, Pedro. But they hung in there until the 11th, when Yurrendell de Caster knocked the game winner up the line.

After the game, Netherlands head coach, Rod Delmonico wept and talked about how his player never “felt sorry for themselves.”

Opening Day – April 18 in this country — must begin full of hope. And so I salute the Dutch national team, heroes to us all.

And this writer? He will suit up for the Brussels Kangaroos — a 23rd season behind the plate. He hopes to hit better this year and throw out a runner or two. Mercifully, he will no longer coach the men’s team. He will try to attract more kids to the game via a new venture that you will hear plenty about.

But for now, Huup Holland!

I decided to do this column again because I so much enjoyed hearing from baseball people around the world. You are the game. Stay in touch please at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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