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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


  1. Comment by RoeBEL53
    October 14, 2011 | 11:00 pm

    Only -thinking- about playing 2 games on one day is for the imbeciles, writing about it means one is ready for therapy.
    The Greys are wrong? Wrong question. Which team has own developed youngsters in its 1st team today still playing pretty nice baseball? Which team delivers most of the players to the National Teams?
    So, it is clear you do not need to change any competition structure for achieving this. You just have to give the players a chance and keep developing bottoms up!
    It is time that the Belgian Federation starts learning from the good things and stops dreaming and inventing things without proven basis. Which country above Belgium’s ranking is playing double headers in Europe with proven development results upon which a so called careful conceived plan maybe based on. That is the question to ask when changing something. Facts speak indeed.
    The Greys really have to think this through indeed. Why spending time in a league governed by a Federation which shows literally no support for development by keeping allowing teams to upgrade with foreign players.
    Why would The Netherlands be in the WC final today … probably not by playing double headers! Stop dreaming, be real.

  2. Comment by rikr
    October 15, 2011 | 1:58 am

    My comment is very simple. Players with a family are quitting baseball in their mid twenties. As a former Belgian National team coach I can tell you that you need to fall back on younger players. “Older” players with a lot of baseball experience are hard to find these days and are on the edge of extermination. The biggest problem is that the older players completely step away from the baseball world. Almost nobody feels the need to be a coach nor an umpire. This is a loss of experience that we feel on the baseball fields every day.
    I know there are pro’s and contra’s and everybody has his own truth. I think the biggest problem is the fact that we are not able to step away from our own small club world and see the bigger picture which is, make baseball a bigger sport here in Belgium. If we continue working like we do today our beloved sport is doomed. We need to keep our baseball players the stay longer in competition.
    Playing on one weekend day can help here, on the other hand the clubs must also survive.
    It is sad that we here in Belgium must rely the consumption of beer to play baseball.
    I’m sure that the last word is not said on this matter.

  3. Comment by pitdb
    October 15, 2011 | 10:02 am

    I think it’s not a good idea to play doubleheaders in 1st division. Not on saturday, not on sunday. Ok, there’s “love of the game”, but to be for more then 6 or even 8 hours on a field, as player, coach or supporter, is over the top. Specially with our beautifull sunny summers. And the idea of playing 7 inns is also ridiculous. Baseball is supposed to last at least for 9 innings. I’m sure that not only Greys don’t like this plan. It would be a bad thing for Belgian baseball, and I’m sure that a lot of peaople will stop playing because of the DH’s. Like Rik said it’s true that the most of the clubs only can survive thanks to the selling of food and drinks. S

  4. Comment by pitdb
    October 15, 2011 | 10:07 am

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to play doubleheaders in 1st division on one day. Not on saturday, not on sunday. Ok, there’s “love of the game”, but to be for more then 8 hours on a field, as player, coach or supporter, is over the top. Specially with our beautiful sunny summers. And the idea of playing 7 inns is also ridiculous. Baseball is supposed to last at least for 9 innings. I’m sure that not only Greys don’t like this plan. It would be a bad thing for Belgian baseball, and I’m sure that a lot of people will stop playing because of the DH’s. Like Rik said it’s true that the most of the clubs only can survive thanks to the selling of food and drinks. Sad but true!
    I’m not a coach, not a player, not a member even of a club ( my son plays with Spartans ), but I do love the game and hope they decide to keep playing on saturday ànd sunday! Maybe they can try to begin games a few hours earlier? So you don’t have to play until 7 pm?

  5. Comment by RoeBEL53
    October 15, 2011 | 10:31 am

    One seemingly assumes one MUST play 2 days or games in a weekend. What does any player withhold to agree with his club/coach to only play once in a weekend and go shopping or go to the coast the other day (… and give playing chance to a younger player!). Correct. Nothing. The players are not part of any problem and for sure are not the problem. In all cases, it comes down to the club/coach & development policy over a longer period of time.
    But as commented it is insane to structurally play 2 baseball games on one day for many reasons. Any such plan cannot be based on facts and incorporated any of the outlined development needs. But as written, let’s not think or write about that anymore.
    I like the beer note. Not the sadness of course. But you are right, baseball, but obviously any sport drives on beer consumption, in enterprise terms: revenue/income. It pays the infrastructure and materials of the clubs, the umpires, coaches … the national teams, yes even the federation in the end. Those costs are going up year-on-year and obviously the income should rise to break even.
    And where does that come from … the sponsors but not the least the FANS indeed. So assuming that the serious conceived plan has been based on reality: HOW MANY EXTRA SPONSORS AND FANS WILL BE ATTRACTED TO THE GAME OF BASEBALL in a double-header scenario on one day? Or simplier, how much more beer will be consumed?
    Look around the other sports where one has changed competition structures … the reason: money, only money. How do you get 2 times drunk in a day?

  6. Comment by CD47
    October 15, 2011 | 3:14 pm

    I think it’s a pretty sad comment. Being involved with kids, i like when these kids (and my own kids too obviously) are not too much in touch with drunk persons.
    I would not let my kids play a sport where the club has such a policy.
    I think that the beer and smoking after the game thing isn’t very good either to bring sponsors and grow the base of players we have. But I might be old-fashioned I guess.
    Also,is youth baseball so lame that you think nobody would come and watch these games if they are played at a decent time of the day instead of in sunrise and cold?

  7. Comment by Marver14
    October 15, 2011 | 5:32 pm

    It’s always easy to give such a comment when you’re “on the sideline”. If you would have any feeling with the actual live in the Belgium clubs you would understand that money is a great issue here. ALL the clubs, and NOT ONLY Greys, have the same problem. As long as we don’t have the possibilities and the funds of the “great baseball countries” we are very happy the way it is.
    What you are trying to do now is very low, as we say here these are “kicks under the belt” . It would be much better to give some objective and positive respons or comment when you want to help Belgium Baseball and Softball

  8. Comment by Bart1977
    October 15, 2011 | 8:16 pm

    The league here in the UK seems to work pretty well by playing double headers on sunday.

  9. Comment by Bart1977
    October 15, 2011 | 11:58 pm

    Let me put some more meat on that argument.
    The top tier league (National Baseball League) here in the UK runs from mid April to the start of September, followed by two weekends of post season. Teams play 7 inning double headers on sunday. Unfortunately sponsoring and concession stand sales are non existent, most teams are glad they have a diamond let alone a structure where they can shelter for rain.
    This years results of this way of organisation, winning the European cup qualifier and an invitation to the qualifier of the World Baseball Classics.

  10. Comment by Bully
    October 16, 2011 | 9:18 pm

    The problem in belgium is that there is no infrastructure, no good will of politics. No sponsoring, no money to pay the coaches, players. There is not enough development in the youth for about 70 % off the clubs in belgium.
    The little money there is goes to umpires and administration. We need to support the academy in flanders and wallonie. So we can have better results in tournaments. But then we need the support off the clubs. And that is a big issue.

  11. Comment by Marver14
    October 18, 2011 | 7:09 pm

    With astonishment and abomination I read the article of our good friend John Miller on the Mister Baseball website. How much more can somebody discredit a club, witnessing from the sidelines, without knowing what this whole double-header debate is about. Did he attend any of the meetings and the discussions on this subject? I guess not because otherwise he should have known that 6 of the 8 first division teams (75%) are against the implementation of the double-headers. Where did he then get all the information and the Greys letter from? Most probably from one of the 2 teams that still strongly believe in this new approach of playing baseball in Belgium (my guess is that he got it from the first division coach who told him that Greys were playing for themselves and don’t want the rest of the clubs in the league to develop, right?). Talking about receiving excessive subjective information! By the way, the position of Greys was taken after an intensive technical meeting with members of the coaching staff, players and the board. I must assume that the other 5 clubs did their homework as well and did not just take notice of the standpoint of Royal Greys. This would mean too much honor for us. I hope that the other clubs will also react on the article and come up with their standpoint. An official statement from Royal Greys will follow soonest but I could not resist giving already my personal comments on this matter. In my opinion it would have been better if John Miller had written an article with the pros and cons in order to start the discussion again rather than to tackle a club in such a negative way in front of the whole of Europe. As a journalist, he should know that frustration, envy, revenge and anger towards somebody is not the best foundation to write an article. I can only end with the words that started the article: Shame on … John Miller.
    Peter Verheyleweghen
    Royal Greys

  12. Comment by CD47
    October 19, 2011 | 3:46 pm

    Wrong guess. Nice try though.

  13. Comment by Peter V
    October 19, 2011 | 6:50 pm

    I was not particularly pointing at you. Just wondering who has sent the Greys letter to John Miller and who the first division coach is who told bad about Greys? They might be two different persons – would you admit being one of them?

  14. Comment by Peter V
    October 19, 2011 | 8:30 pm

    I now know who has sent the letter to John Miller. Leaves us with the coach…

  15. Comment by Marver14
    October 20, 2011 | 5:20 pm

    With perplexity, Royal Greys has read the article “Let’s Play two on one day” by John Miller. Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing and has to be respected. But when people use this “freedom” to offend and brutally attack one particular club an answer and explanation of our point of view is necessary.
    We don’t want to open or continue the debate over the doubleheaders here. We want to debate within the Belgian Federation. We put all our arguments, after a long deliberation in the club, on paper and send them to all the clubs and the federation. Our only concern was to get to an open discussion about this matter, based on these arguments. Five or six clubs (on a total of eight!!), playing in first division baseball 2012 agreed with most of the arguments. So it’s completely wrong to claim that Royal Greys is standing alone here. Are those other clubs “wrong” as well ? Be fair and honest and “attack” them as well.
    In 2010 when Royal Greys was willing to help John Miller with his showpiece, Little League Baseball, with according to him “a perfect organization of the finals” he praised the youth working as well as the total concept of the club. Now he is really very offensive and throwing mud for reasons we don’t know (envy, frustration …… ?????) we really don’t understand. As a club that’s really concerned about baseball and softball we wanted to put this straight . The discussion about the doubleheaders will be held were it needs to be held.

    For Royal Greys BSC
    Roger Sellicaerts

  16. Comment by homerun13
    October 21, 2011 | 11:39 am

    just as a reply to the first post:

    “Which country above Belgium’s ranking is playing double headers in Europe with proven development results upon which a so called careful conceived plan maybe based on.”

    as an answer, germany plays double headers.

    i play in switzerland and i play for over 25 years. we play double headers (first game 9 innings, has to be pitched by swiss pitcher, second game 7 innings, can be pitched by whoever) on either saturday or sunday.

    i’m 35 years old and play for the national team in switzerland.

    if we played the same modus as in belgium, i would stop playing baseball, because it would be too time consuming.

  17. Comment by Peter V
    October 21, 2011 | 11:03 pm

    A reply to homerun 13.

    We know in Germany they play double-headers but this is due to the long travel distances between clubs. This has nothing to do with developing/improving their level. Which other top baseball countries play DH? And what about Switserland – do you have long distances between clubs and is this the main reason why you play DH?

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