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Oct '11 14

Old World Pastime – Let’s Play Two, On One day

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.

Shame on the Merksem Greys.

Belgium’s most populous club, which nurtures and drives baseball through rainy spring and raring summers, is stepping up to the plate for the wrong reason.

This winter, as in winters before, the men and women who run hardball in this country are having a simple debate, centred around the following question: Should Belgium’s top league organize games every Saturday and Sunday for six months, or just on Saturdays?

Across Europe, the answer is obvious to better, more competitive leagues. They’ve long ago set up games only on one day, giving the amateurs who work during the week and play on weekends a much-needed day off.

It lets them coach. It keeps good men in the game.

But that’s not the case in Belgium, where playing the top level of baseball demands giving up Saturdays from noon to 8pm and Sundays from noon to 8pm, every weekend between April and September.

I repeat: No amateur league in the world has as crazy a schedule. Not in America, not in Europe, not in bat-shit insane communist dictatorial North Korea. (OK, I don’t know about North Korea, but can it be worse than Belgium? I raise my eyebrows.)

Think about that. Who can rationally make 16 hours available when a balanced, happy life means making time to work, love and rest?

The answer: Kids, and then older guys who then are likely to lose their life balance, and risk becoming unhappy and thus inferior ballplayers. Faced with this choice, reasonable guys in their late 20s tend to quit. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

So you end up with a depleted league of kids and frustrated weekend warriors.

Who does this benefit? The biggest clubs, like Merksem, who can produce a steady stream of kids. Now, all the more power to them for developing players.

But their game now, as outlined in a recent letter sent around the league, is extremely selfish. The Greys are doing their best to derail a carefully conceived plan orchestrated by the Belgian federation board, after sounding out all the country’s best and brightest, to play two first division games, a doubleheader, on one day of the weekend, with no games on the other day, when players would be free to rest – or coach.

Never mind that this could keep thousands more ballplayers playing, coaching and umpiring the pastime. The

Greys don’t like it because it upsets their business model, which depends on guys quitting to make room for their younger players, and their concession stands selling beer on two days instead of one every weekend. So they will continue to support a policy that burns out people.

The rest of the league is taking notice. “They’re just playing for themselves,” one first division coach told me. “They don’t want the rest of the clubs in the league to develop.”

The Greys are wrong — but can Belgian baseball do the right thing?

What do you think? Fire away at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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