John Miller, who is playing and coaching for the Brussels Kangaroos in the Belgian 2nd Division and is a reporter for a big American newspaper, is now also the Little League Commissioner for Belgium. He is also back chronicling the 2010 season in his “Old World Pastime” column on Mister-Baseball.com for a third straight year.
In 2001, a tall, pleasant man walked up to the first practice of our Little League season. I was coaching my brother Moe’s team. “I think I’ve been a bad American dad,” the man said, grinning at his companion, an 11-year-old boy with bleached blond hair. “I mean, I haven’t taught my son baseball. But now we are going to play baseball, huh, Vincent?”
That started, for me and the Brussels Kangaroos, an intense friendship with Peter King. He was a professional translator and intellectual, an American living with Levke, his wife, and their two kids, in Brussels, who, at our sides, fell in love with baseball. So much so that when he passed away after a long illness in 2004, he asked that money be given in his name to the Brussels Kangaroos. Astonishingly, friends and family donated some 3,000 euros. For years afterwards, we debated the best way to spend that money.
I’ve lain awake more than a few nights wondering what the most appropriate allocation of those funds might be. What would Peter have wanted?
Something durable. Not just a bunch of baseballs to be lost or knocked over fences during homerun derby. Something communal. Peter loved to sit on the grass with other parents and watch his kids Vincent and Esther play. Something baseball. In those years, my phone would often ring at 10 o’clock in the evening. “Hey guy, it’s Peter, now I wanted to ask you, this infield fly rule, is it really necessary? I’ve been thinking about this.” We’d hang up the phone 45 minutes later. With baseball, he often seemed like a kid with a new toy. He even became a coach.
Last year, the International School of Brussels, where I once worked, decided to replace its baseball scoreboard. They were chucking the old one. I got wind of this and called the athletic director. Could we have the throwaway? Pouring concrete and mounting the scoreboard on iron pillars would be a great project for the Peter King fund. What could be more durable, communal and baseball that a scoreboard? The Kangaroos don’t have one. I hired a truck, got a half-dozen volunteers and we hauled the ton-heavy board over to Kangaroo Field. I called a sports equipment company to come write up an estimate. They wanted 7,000 euros to put up the board. So that wouldn’t work. We propped the scoreboard against an equipment container. It’s still there.
I’ve always loved music at ballparks. There’s nothing more fun than warming up before a big game with a good soundtrack floating across the field. This year, browsing at a thrift shop that sells sound equipment, I had an idea. Why not buy a portable sound system? It’ll last, every baseball and softball player, coach and parent can enjoy it, and it’ll add significantly to creating a ballpark atmosphere in our little corner of Brussels. I shopped around online and found a nifty piece of equipment, a portable wireless battery-powered machine that can project sound 350 feet away. (Against my journalistic principles, I won’t name the brand here, so as not to distract from the point of this story.) It cost a little under 1,000 euros.
We still have a couple thousand euros left to spend, and we haven’t given up hope of getting that scoreboard up, but we’re happy that, more than six years after Peter’s friends and family acted so generously in his name and in recognition of his love of baseball, we finally made their gift count.
Thank you: From now on, you’ll hear loud, clear music bursting off our diamond during batting and infield practice, between innings and at post-game BBQs. This morning, a ray of bright heat lifted rain water mistily off our field. Kids and coaches gathered for Kangaroos summer baseball camp. I rolled out our special sound machine and cued up the Beatles. “Here comes the sun…”
If you had such a fund for your European club baseball team, what would you spend it on? I’m curious, and reachable at email@example.com