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Apr '09 06

Working on a Dream – 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.

I enjoyed my sun-splash weekend like many Europeans. Well, like many humans. I lazed around with my wife. I drank scotch and fed my mother-in-law.

There were offerings to the Baseball Gods, even though the Kangaroos were gameless. On Saturday, I lifted weights and iced my shoulder, trying (please, God!) to repair a pain that stabs every time I throw.

“You shouldn’t throw anymore,” my wife said.

“Nah, I’ll just pop a few pain-killers before infield-outfield.”

“Are you crazy?” she said.

How to explain?

On Sunday, I tossed kiddie BP to my nine-year-old brother-in-law, and gave a private catching lesson.

As I was contemplating the lightness of these private prayers, news flashed on the Blackberry from friends playing 90 minutes north.

The Namur Angels, who I would seed third or fourth in Belgium, played top Dutch teams in Rotterdam this weekend, including, on Sunday, Rotterdam Neptunus, which Mister-Baseball ranked eighth in Europe last year. (The top Belgian club, Merksem, was 25th.) Chris Dassy, the Angels’s coach and my pal, invited our best young pitcher, Cedric De Smedt, to throw three innings.

He got knocked around. “It’s a different baseball world up here,” Cedric wrote me in a text message after the game. “There are guys from the Classic and former major leaguers.”

It’s true. Neptunus leadoff hitter Gene Kingsale played 211 games in the bigs. In 1996, he was the youngest player in the show. He forced Namur starter Harold Gerard to throw a dozen pitches in his first at-bat.

Harold played for us last year, but defected, along with two other young players, to Namur, 40 minutes south of Brussels. It was a blow to the Kangaroos, and, obviously, my pride. How many cold April mornings and long summer afternoons on the road coaching those kids, only to lose them to our hated rivals?

Good baseball demands ruthless self-improvement, a perpetual testing of oneself against fiercer foes. Here I tip my hat to Chris and his loyal band of young, professional coaches. They work very hard, and run a better program than us.

This weekend, they lost all three games of their Dutch adventure by a combined 36-1. “I don’t care, I want people to know we aim to play the best and to be the best,” Chris told me on the phone, the intensity of his baseball-crazy voice rising. “I want every talented baseball player in Belgium to know that Namur is the place to play serious baseball.”

There’s not a lot of ball in Belgium’s south. More young and talented Kangaroos will be likely heading south. How annoying.

A selfish thought. Chris’s crew is right to push the pedal, to run themselves up against failure, to build a program, and to work hard to get better. The Gods are pleased.

This year, I’d like to write more about what’s going on in other parts of European baseball, outside Belgium. Write to me about an inspiring coach or program in your neck of the woods. I will discuss it in the column. The address is oldworldpastime@gmail.com.

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