John Miller, head coach of the Brussels Kangaroos and a reporter for a major American newspaper, is chronicling his team’s 2008 season in a column that will appear every Monday on mister-baseball.com. It is the first of several Mister-Baseball Blogs this year.
The final act of my 2009 Belgian baseball odyssey was a swear-to-God perfect day. (Why do my game descriptions start with the weather? Maybe because the success of baseball, like farming, is tied to sun and water at the right times. Also, as a catcher, I squat on the ground for half the game, so the dirt, crusty or muddy, matters to me.)
It was 70F (21C) and sunny, crisp and clean, like fall baseball is meant to be. We could have been in Florida or southern California in January, but then it would have just been day 19 of a three-month stretch of perfect weather. In Brussels, it was paradise.
We started weak, making errors and swinging through a teenager’s fastball and sliders. I wasn’t surprised. The ten men on the field (including the DH) hadn’t worked out together since early May. I had seen only three at practice in the preceding month. If the Baseball Gods wanted to give this game to the team that prepared better, we would not win.
The team playing us for the last 2009 division 1 spot, the Deurne Spartans, poneyed up an impressive roster of home-grown talent. The club takes the youth game seriously, and deserves tons of credit for that.
The good news was that Cedric, our oversized 16-year-old righthander, came ready to play. He pitched through painful tendinitis in his right knee, throwing three pitches for strikes. He got his curveball over several times on 3-2 counts, and flipped a devious sidearm changeup out of his twirling 220-pound frame.
Cedric has a habit, when his touch is on, of spinning his body around as he releases the ball. The stylish follow-through gives the impression of a professional in full mastery, even though he’s just a big Belgian who’s only played for three years.
The Spartans scored single runs in the first and third, and we continued to have trouble at the plate. I wasn’t frustrated. Over the past six months, I have come to accept the pick-up nature of our club and team. I couldn’t reasonably expect more.
Unless we get a lot more guys to play baseball in Brussels, and then wait until enough grow into committed 20-something players, we will always have a team that cares more about having fun playing games on weekends than working hard to improve at practice. The good part of accepting this is that baseball can be fun, and worth playing, in these conditions.
You just can’t hope for a national champion.
What you can wish for, though, is plenty of days like Saturday. In the fifth, we broke through. Nathan (a wickedly talented hitter and an engineering student who legitimately never has time to practice) hit a one-out homer, Remi (a job, studies and his other sport, gymnastics, keep him off the ballfield) beat out a groundball. Mike tripled. We got a bunch more hits, and scored six in the inning.
We quickly nailed down the 11-2 win, with Cedric going the distance in a parade of quick outs. We had finished the playoff round 10-5 (making us 12-17 overall), securing second place and a spot in first division in 2009.
There would be time later to talk about next year. Manu, Jean-Mi, Mike and I celebrated with some Belgian beers.
“I don’t know if I’ll play next year,” said Manu, our early-30ish club president. “Not sure my shoulder can take it.”
“Come on,” said Jean-Mi. “You don’t mean that.”
Manu looked at his beer. “Yeah, maybe you’re right,” he said.
It is the hardest game to walk away from.