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Mar '11 28

Old World Pastime – What’s in a Name?

Old World Pastime Comments Off on Old World Pastime – What’s in a Name?

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.

One thing that makes this column so rewarding is the feedback I get from readers. They write questions and comments, and share their own stories of baseball devotion. I don’t always have smart answers or replies, but it’s fun to try.

Why, a reader, and many others wonder, is a baseball team from Brussels called the Kangaroos?

It is, I will confess, high time to address that point.

Right, so let’s plant ourselves in 1987 Brussels. World War Two ended only 42 years ago. Reagan is president. Madonna is young. Spain and Portugal have just joined the EU. There is no internet.

From these cobblestones, America is distant, and alluring, visible only in film, song and the pages of the International Herald Tribune. A fruit plucked from this sexy tree appears sweet indeed.

And thus does a student from the University of Brussels return from a visit to Brown University in Rhode Island with tales of the crack of the bat. He spreads the word, and soon are Brussels students playing catch on their campus lawn.

This game, it turns out, is too much fun not to take more, shall we say, seriously, and a club is born.

Come the naming: Kangaroos. Why?

Here, as elsewhere, history has more than one tale to tell.

The club’s founder was named Karim, and he wanted a K on the hats.

One member owned an anatomically-picturesque photograph of a male Kangaroo, and all were swayed by his, um, size.

The Walabi amusement park south of Brussels, a staple of any Belgian childhood, has a Kangaroo figure as its mascot.

The first gloves ordered were made of Kangaroo leather. Those, dear reader, are the stories I have heard. I do not know which one is true, though I have a favorite guess.

Whatever the reason, the club took off and, in 1993, would welcome a nutty 16-year-old American kid growing up in Belgium. Kangaroos has always sounded perfectly logical to me.

Readers often want to share their own stories and ask questions about developing baseball in their region. There is, I think, only one true answer, and it is reflected in the story of the Kangaroos baptism: individual passion.

On Tuesday evening, I attended a short performance of the Trey McIntyre project, an elite touring US dance company that, oddly, had set up in Boise, Idaho, and was bringing dance to that rural, western place. “How did you get people in Idaho to love dance so much?” I asked. “Sounds kinda like teaching baseball to Belgians.”

The answer? “It comes down to each dancer communicating their passion when they’re out in the community. They become ambassadors for the company. And it makes people buy into them, and the project.”

Let’s dance!

What’s your favorite origin story about the Kangaroos? I’m at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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