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Aug '11 15

Old World Pastime – Belgian Baseball on the Other Side of Earth



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.

Our season has started again, and, although we were swept this weekend by the Antwerp Eagles, it was nice to get out there again. I do love to play. Still.

Our field is not ready yet, and doesn’t figure to be set until October. It has been a headache for Jimmy, the club president, to figure out where we might play and practice for the rest of the season.

Baseball does not happen on its own.

During the Belgian Little League championships in early July, a once-sparkling Belgian infielder named Frank van Drogenbroeck approached me. Frank was the best hitter in the league back when the Kangaroos first broke into first division in 2000.

Swinging a 28-33 with a wide barrel, he was as close to indestructible as any hitter I’ve ever caught against. There were weekends where I’m sure he went 12 for 13 off us.

The Belgian federation has equipped itself with a nifty stats tool, http://www.frbbs.be/statistique.php, where you’ll learn that Frank hit, yes, .554 over a full season in 2000.

Anyway, Frank, who is now 47, thanked me for my work in setting up the Little League tournament and handed me a worn-out program. It was from a trip that his under-13 team took to South Africa in 1975.

The program listed two games, Vaal Province vs. Belgium on Dec. 21, and South Africa vs. Belgium on Dec. 27. A message from Theuns Botha, the chairman of Vaal Province’s Little League, mentions that “South Africans have been Little League visitors to Belgium several times and many Vaal Province players have been included in these touring teams and have always spoken enthusiastically about the wonderful hospitality received in Belgium.”

There is a list of the kids, including Frank, on the Belgian team, along with their birthdays. For the South African team, there are no birthdays, only names and pictures.

They are, of course, all white kids, many with Afrikaaner names like van Wyngaard, Botha and Els.

This was apartheid South Africa, a place that had few friends in the world. It was an awful, fascist political regime, which imprisoned and tortured blacks who tried to organize politically against it.

The Dutch-speaking (and baseball-playing) people of the lowlands shared a similar language, and some culture, with the Afrikaners. So it made sense to stay in touch and organize things like baseball games. But our story here has nothing to do with politics.

This story is about baseball, and a grown man who now has fond memories thanks to a few coaches who thought it’d be neat to take a baseball team to the other side of the world.

Any good stories about taking a team of kids a long way? Tell to oldworldpastime@gmail.com




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