Thursday, March 22, 2007

first few days in the foreign flemish land

monday: after getting a grand tour of antwerp (pop. roughly 300,000 and about 30 min drive from brussels) and hoboken (suburb of 40,000 6 min from downtown antwerp) erwin who is my general manager and also owns the sweet pad i call home for the next 6 months took me back to my digs where i tried to stay up as long as possible when he went to work. i unfortunately succumbed to the 6 am eastern standard time at around noon belgium time after basically going (all night/morning) without sleep. upon waking at 5, erwin returned along with my manager mark (who is a huge cubs fan) and mark's 8 year old daughter lauren, we chatted about expectations for the upcoming year and what they expect from me on the field and off. i have some big shoes to fill, the club just missed winning the championship last year to the antwerp greys who lost a number of key players from last year's team while the pioneers (us) are returning almost every starter and have added a number of quality players including a new pitching ace from the states (i wonder who that could be?). they're obviously looking to parlay last year's success into a championship and the player that led them there last year, leon boyd, a canadian who pitched college ball at augusta state in georgia a really good D2 school, dominated the league last year and was touching 90-93 by the end of the year that ended with him getting signed by the best club in all of europe in the famous dutch premeir league (rotterdam neptunes - comparable to Double A ball in the u.s.) and also getting a gig with the Dutch national team (his mom happens to be 100% dutch) where he'll play alongside sidney ponson, andrew jones, and a few other big leaguers in the upcoming world baseball classic. after the meeting erwin took me to downtown and i got my first taste of belgian delicacy (pitas and beer - may i add, amazing meal) right across from the MAJESTIC royal art museum ( ) after which he took me for a little walk around the city square, the cathedral built in 1100 and to the red light district - nothing i had ever seen before in detroit, everything is so much older, compact, and seemingly for me, someone who has never been anywhere outside of the u.s. or canada, so different.

still haven't adjusted to the time....going to sleep at 4 am and sleeping until 2 pm, after some breakfast and emails, the starting shortstop dennis and starting secondbaseman alain picked me up for the gym. at first glance these guys, dressed in standard european garb did not look to athletic to me or at least how baseball players in the states dressed, tight and well-kept clothing, scarf??? once we got to the gym though and hit the weights (downtown in antwerp) i saw they were pretty good athletes, from what i hear dennis is the 2nd best SS in the country he's 6 foot 3, about 190 and throws 92 across the infield, he's almost 22 and it's a big year for him if he plays well he has a legit chance of being signed into the dutch major league/premeir league. he had an offer to play college ball in texas at a d2 school but it's very expensive for foreigners and they couldn't give him enough scholarship money... so he goes to school here and plays pro, not a bad deal. after the gym erwin cooked up some steaks and mashed potatoes (just like my favorite meal back home in michigan) and we went to the club presidents house, conveniently named mark as well, where i filled out my paperwork with the belgian baseball federation, had a duvel (one of the best belgian beers in the world) and sat and watched tv while erwin, patsie (club treasurer), and mark (the president) chatted in flemish... what's odd for me is that while most students in college study abroad in countries they can usually speak the language of, or at least stay in student quarters where they at least have other english speakers, i'm living and interacting with exclusively all flemish (a dutch dialect unique to belgium) speakers and it's really interesting that i have no idea what they're talking about. sitting across from me was a beautiful 5 foot 11 belgian gal who i guess is going to be playing softball for the pioneers organization (they have the first division team, the minor league team and then younger clubs all the way down to peanuts - 8 yr olds for baseball) and have a similar setup for softball, all one organization. it's the big difference on how teams are run in the u.s. and europe (very much like the basketball and soccer clubs organizations in europe). we chatted for an hour or so in english and then dropped her off in downtown antwerp where many of the students lived.

wed: another low key day, still waiting on my cell phone, first month salary, and for the rain to stop. it's been tough to get outside to throw because it's about 5 degrees celcius (something like low 40's high 30's) and constant rain, hail, just not fun weather. when it let up around 5 or so i took a walk around hoboken the place is gorgeous - the architecture, how the homes are built, just very different from what i'm used to, the bakery and butcher, right around the corner.
dennis picked me up in the late evening and we went to lift and had a good time. his english is exceptional because for the past 3 years, the american player has stayed with his family so he's gotten a lot of practice, although his "riding" as he called it, is still quite deficient. i told him i'll make an effort to start learning dutch, we'll see how that goes. it does help that the tv has no sports channel except for the cricket i watched at 1 am and everything is either in french, dutch, flemish, or german or if it's english their are accompanying dutch subtitles so i'm bound to pick up something. my metabolism, which is quite fast already, has been going at an alarming rate and not adjusted to the time. i had another steak after the gym at 9 pm followed by a huge bowl of pasta at 1130 and then 4 fresh baked belgian buns at 1 am.

thurs: sleeping patterns are getting better only 3 am to 1 pm today. going to walk around for a few hours then first spring training practice - pretty excited but also anxious since i haven''t thrown since john birk my personal catcher at gw caught my bullpen last week before i left where i was at 65-70 pitches. now i'm guessing i'll be a little rusty and áll eyes will be on me to see how the "new american" can throw... i need to get to about 45-50 pitches because sunday is our first spring training game and they'll probably want me to throw 3-4 innings.

1 comment:

gina said...

sounds amazing!!! very interesting :) Tell us more about where you are living! :D