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Oct '11 31

Old World Pastime – Au Revoir

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John Miller, a Belgian-American journalist, and a player/coach for the Brussels Kangaroos, is in his fourth year of writing Old World Pastime, a take on baseball as lived in 21th century Europe.

Four seasons and a century of columns after beginning this project with a description of a rain March tie with the Merksem Greys (http://www.mister-baseball.com/old-world-pastime-playing-and-coaching-in-europe/), I close with a missive from my new home, Pittsburgh, in Western Pennsylvania.

So, you gonna play some ball out there? is a question I get a lot.

Well, it would not surprise me, but if I do, I don’t think it will be worth writing about. It won’t be a story.

Playing, coaching and organizing baseball in Europe – what most of you do, and what I did – is a story because it’s different and unique, and a narrative of struggle and sometimes triumph in the context of that charming, tasty-beer old world. And I came to know it and live it so deeply that I had to tell.

Good writing, you see, is not as much about command of the language as you think. And it’s not about you.

It’s just about having a good story.

About having a club of friends you grew up with who are nuts, just completely utterly bonkers nuts, about baseball. And they’re called, uh, the Kangaroos. And in only a few years, they climb from fourth division to first — just a bunch of ballplayers on their own, without a rich owner or patron. They win championships, send Little League teams to the World Series, and produce young talent worthy of the MLB academy in Italy.

About a cluster of scrappy, baseball-crazy communities around the port of Antwerp who have run a league in Belgium since the 1930s. (By the way, my friend Matt Brown has the answer to Belgian baseball burnout: Play Saturdays and, between late May, when the days grow long, and late August, on Thursday evenings. Done.)

About a continental subculture, and its members emailing pictures of their field. (http://www.mister-baseball.com/myfieldofdreams-photo-project-thessaloniki-greece/)

About a couple of guys named Philipp and Arndt turning text, data and pix every day into this truly wonderful website.

About, to your north, a Dutch kid named Robert Einhoorn who grew up to play for the Yankees, and then led his country to a world championship. One kid he inspires, a pitcher named Rik VandenHurk, organizes a tour of Major Leaguers. (http://www.mister-baseball.com/world-pastime-big-leagues-antwerp/) Attending this year: Prince Fielder. (http://www.europeanbigleaguetour.com/)

And, how about to your south, a Walloon electrical supplies salesman named Chris Dassy who stays up winter nights pouring over U.S. college scouting reports and who, one spring and summer, woke up every Sunday at 7.30 a.m. to coach other people’s kids to a Belgian national cadet championship.

I could go on and on with stories.

I will close with a great one: Ruth Hoffman, a friend whose twin boys Richard and Carl played on the 2006 Brussels team we took to the under-17 World Series in Maine, read the New York Times’s account of why Uganda’s Little League team couldn’t go to the World Series, even after beating Saudi Arabia. (http://www.mister-baseball.com/world-pastime-ugandan-diamonds-african-baseball-tale/)

Ruth, who works in development and business consulting, was so touched – when she lived in Brussels, we had had an “unforgettable” summer run with her boys, winning the European Championships in Poland — she decided to organize a trip to Africa by the Canadian Little League champions, who are from Vancouver, where she now lives.

Working the phones and her computer for weeks, she made it happen. The Canadian team will play in Uganda, January 15 to 21, in the “Pearl of Africa Series.”

You can donate money for the project here: http://righttoplay.akaraisin.com/youthbaseball

And it was written up in the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/sports/baseball/fund-raising-effort-to-send-canadian-team-to-face-uganda-youth-team.html

In an email, Ruth tells how it was “so random” that she even read the story. “I only buy the Times once in a blue moon.”

She quotes Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

For you and me, one big something is baseball. And if you’re not afraid of new adventures, to try to scale new heights, because the first step toward success is trying, without fear of failure – because, hey, it’s baseball, and you will fail, eh, Rangers? — the game will reward you. Not always in the way you first dreamed of, but somehow. I have always found this to be true.

That was my final column, but you can still connect to my dots at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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