Tuesday, March 27, 2007

yesterday baseball, today baseball, tomorrow baseball

aside from the beer, chocolate, beautiful women, historic city, friendly organization, euros, and delicacy - there is one thing that is far and above my favorite about being here: my personal "to-do list." i wake up in the morning and the only responsibility i have, the only thing i am expected to do, or want to do all day is something baseball related (workout, lifting, throwing, running, hitting). this is what i mean when i say i've been dreaming of this my whole life, simply not having school work, a job, class, other American lifestyle obligations that would interfere or take time away from baseball. it's pretty amazing - like yesterday, for example, i woke up around noon, ate breakfast, went over to the field with dennis around 2 and threw and hit for about 4 hours. i didn't have to worry about going anywhere or doing anything else...just, when we got too tired to hit anymore, we stopped. after, mark de wolf, not the coach, but the team president, made some dinner and i was welcome to join him and his family. erwin, the general manager, took me grocery shopping, and then dennis and i hit up the gym for about 2 hours, until 11 PM when they closed the place down.

sunday we had our second spring training game against the antwerp eagles and it was finally beautiful out - about 55 and sunny. at the DH spot i went 1-4, but reached base 3 times and scored once. i hit the ball pretty solid every time up and was good enough at bat for the manager to pencil me at DH for our next spring training game this saturday in holland.
that evening i went with dave to the train station and then we walked around downtown antwerp, afterwards i went out to a jazz club for a few beers with sofie, a girl on the softball club for the pioneers organization, who lives downtown in the city.

saturday night after the game in which i pitched we had a fundraiser at the clubhouse, called the playback revue. a bunch of people rehearse acts and lip synch to funny songs or famous songs and they dress up and do skits, similar things that i've seen before, but the place was packed over a hundred people, and patsy the club treasurer, who was the MC of the evening was talking before the show (of course in flemish) and all the sudden i hear my name and ''American pitcher'' in the same sentence - that i could decipher meant they were talking about me. i was pushed towards the stage and got up and was handed the microphone and even though nobody understood me i tried to do a little comedy (i don't think they expected me to actually go up there in front of all those people)... of course people thought i was the funny american who couldnt understand the language so guys were buying me the belgian beer on tap in the clubhouse all night and then giving me lines in flemish to go say to the women that of course i didn't understand and of course were not very appropriate. i had a blast though - everyone involved in the organization was there and people from all over town, it has a real community feel and everyone just had a blast drinking, conversating, and then dancing after the show.
david left for italy this morning but one of these days i'll get him to send me some pictures from that evening and maybe if i figure out how to add things to this blog page - i'll post some pictures. but the key is actually getting david to send me pictures, like my sister, he has pictures still from my birthday on feb. 4th that he's yet to send. not that hard folks, plug the camera in - upload pictures, open up gmail, click attach, then click send. maybe because the only thing i have to do all day is play baseball i can find the time for these mundane tasks that take up to 5 minutes of your time....i guess.

Saturday's game review from head coach Mark Roef in Dutch

have fun....

Zaterdag was het veld van Greys onbespeelbaar en werd er overeengekomen om de wedstrijd op Antwerp te spelen. Rookie Dean Mathys begon op de heuvel voor ons en kende een aarzelende start. Toen ook nog onze defensie begon te blunderen, duurde het niet lang of er stond op het einde van de eerste inning een 6-0 achterstand op het bord. Vanaf dan liep het veel vlotter en konden we in de achtste inning zelfs nog teruglopen tot 8-5, onder meer door goed slagwerk en defensief uitstekend spel, maar zeker ook door de goede pitching van Justin Prinstein en Nikki Sels .Jurgen pitchtte de laatste inning ook behoorlijk maar werd in de steek gelaten door onze velders die enkele errors maakten. Eindstand : 11-5.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

justin still has bad jet lag and david does not

A blistering cold day in Antwerp with temperatures hovering at 8 degrees (that's celcius) not sure what the translation is, but grey skys and wait where are the palm trees?? I thought this was spring training. Nevertheless, I made my first appearance against the rival Antwerp Greys, who beat us, Hoboken Pioneers in the Belgium cup last year. I was supposed to start tomorrow's game because they would prefer not to show "the american pitcher" in a game that doesn't count, however, due to some tight arms and other arrangements I came in relief in the 3rd inning, pitched the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings after a young kid from the junior team started the game and gave up about 6 runs to a pretty good offense.

my line: 3 2/3 innings pitched, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 hit, 0 earned runs, 0 runs

despite my first time pitching to hitters and on a mound since last august, everything felt pretty good i tried to not to throw too many sliders or two seam fastballs. just straight 4 seam fastballs and change-ups, got the pitch count in almost 4 innings only around 40 which is not a lot, so it was good and that's why i pitched longer than the two innings they were originally going to throw me. dave, who is making a stopover in belgium between his visit to paris, amsterdam, london, budapest, prague, and madrid, videotaped the game so i might have some clips available i can put up here in the next day or so.

their initial thoughts are probably that i'm crazy since it was freezing cold yet i decided to go without sleeves, this is an old habit of mine, dating back to albion, 1. to represent my michigan high school baseball roots where it's actually snowing the first half of our season so 40 degrees and windy aint nothing to us and 2. i hate sleeves restricting my arm, i don't know it just doesn't feel natural, so once i got the blood going in the first inning i threw i just kept things moving fast and put on a jacket in the dugouts and everything went smooth.

the other team had two of the top pitchers in belgium and they showed it, shutting down our offense for most of the game, being that it's the first game i am not too worried, we look like a very solid team up the middle and in the outfield. our left fielder phillip has a lot of pop in his bat, the catcher sammy has an absolute cannon for an arm and called a real good game, and our defense up the middle is very solid with the two dennis'seses (dennis at short and at 2b not sure how to write it though, maybe dennis' or dennises?)

now i'm exhausted and wish i could go to sleep since i am still suffering from this bad jet lag as indicated in my post title. my mistake was taking a nap the first day for five hours and now i'm paying for it since i woke up at 11 am today (5 am u.s. time that i still seem to be functioning on) and tonightm to make matters worse, we move the clock forwards an hour for summer - (didn't i just do that in america last week)...so in about an hour we are off to the hoboken pioneers clubhouse where we went for the first time last night, full bar with amazing belgium beer on tap (in my contract, i get that for free - seriously no joke the highlight of some american's year here), food, tables, it's a big place - and the organization, as mentioned before, which has teams in all age groups, and also softball teams for the ladies puts on a show the first weekend of spring training, where people get up to perform lip synching and dress up in hilarious costumes (we'll see about that...) for a big fundraiser. so that's what we are doing tonight, after which, dave and i will probably go with dennis the shortstop and a few others downtown to a bar or club to get a little taste of the antwerp nightlife.

yesterday after waking late, as usual, i hit up the gym with dennis for a light workout, we picked up david from the tram, ate baquette's at his place, and then the whole team went to play paintball about 30 min away. it was my first time, and it was quite a blast, although, it made it a lot tougher when guys were yelling all over the place in a language i could not understand.

tomorrow we play the eagles and i'll take it easy on the arm and get some DH at bats. i'm here to pitch, obviously, but after taking some cuts in the cages and after all my off-season work they think i may be able to help out with the bat a little bit.

some funny tidbits from my first day of baseball in a foreign land:
*when they cheer it's both in english and flemish, and they don't do it consciencesly, some lines just happen to be english and others they still will say in flemish...when i tried to do some typical american baseball chants and chatter, as we call it, ( when u say things really fast ) they looked at me like i was crazy.
*our DH was smoking cigarettes in between innings...
*pre-game drinking of coke?
*the umpires clearly think they are in a soccer match, because they think they make the game run, much worse than the u.s.
*after the game when teams usually will shake hands, they give high-fives as they run through the line
*the team did a post-game jog
*just because there is an american on the team that doesnt mean the postgame speech is translated for my benefit, i had to pull aside the assistant coach to ask what was said^
*we had more fans at a freezing cold, non-meaningless, spring training game in beligum then at a division 1, nice sunday afternoon game at george washington ---- go figure.
*i learned to say i want to play baseball in flemish - ik weil gang baseball spelen


Thursday, March 22, 2007

bullpen v. 1.0

currently it's 1:50 am and possibly the worst thing about being here and still on EST is the unavailability of my favorite sporting event - March Madness is on right now and no TV carries it in the area I would have to go to a sports bar at 2AM here to watch it...so instead beautiful belgian women are on the tv pitching a game, kind of similar to a lottery where only men call in to guess some answer *this is all i'm picking up because it's all in flemish/dutch or some other european hybrid language, and none of them are getting it right...the winner gets 500 euros but each call for a person is 1 euro so they let 1,000 people call a game before they pick someone to guess and they get it wrong and then they start all over again...i really have no idea what's going on except this woman is talking for about an hour straight, before this a movie was on, and before that the news, and last night this same channel showed cricket, i don't know what to expect next - the brady bunch?

now to the good stuff...
my general manager erwin finally bought me my cell phone today the number is 0499228899 - remember 6 hour difference

got paid today and grocery allowance so that's always fun

took a walk to the downtown hoboken to visit the butcher/bakery today to pick up some food and two women were speaking in flemish to me so i said hello, can i have... and before i could finish they said "something something frances??" so of course i said "no, but english" then the two women went scurrying into the back before ''Yo" (i think that's a nickname) emerged to help me...he asked me amongst other things if i was here for business i said yes and then he said what kind, so i replied "baseball'' ''futbol???" he responds... no like the pioneers baseball catch and throw - ''oh yes oh yes, u r the good american player, no?'' - apparently the butcher two blocks away knows me, he showed me what each euro was and told me they just like to put spices on the chicken, no marinade. can't wait to go back for some fresh bakery products!

finally the important stuff - first spring training practice was tonight - still indoors, because of the cold and the rain.
i got warmed up but could only stretch out to about 60 feet before throwing my first pen, and then about 25 min into practice when i got on the mound, most of the players kind of stopped and then a bunch of fans who were watching on the side all came real close to watch me throw.
arm was a little rusty since i havent been able to throw in 4 days being here but once i got loose and was able to break off some sliders and change-ups i heard some ooohs and aahhs kind of funny. my control was a little irratic and def didnt cut any fastball loose but it felt good to be on the bump again.

tomorrow is lifting and long toss and then saturday i'll get some at bats against the team that won the championship last year, the hated greys of antwerp and sunday i make my first spring training start again in antwerp but against the eagles. i threw about 65 pitches today in the pen, so i expect ill go about 4 innings or so in the game.

david f. one of best friends from gwu makes a visit tomorrow and is staying the weekend, it will be nice to have a visitor. still missing pictures from my visit to new york from my sister, rachel sara prinstein, if you know her, tell her to send ém to me...

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 ( http://www.kmska.be/Home_NL.aspx ) 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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

debacle + a european keyboard

i was actually at the airport on time actually before on time and remember rule no.1 i am always late: i was flying us airways but after standing in line for 30 min to get my boarding pass they tell me im actually flying united: another 45 min wait ensues and when i get to the front they tell me my baggqge is 77 lbs zhich requires q 375 dollqr chqrge????????? (6 baseball bats will do it to you) not the same policy as Us airways who said up to 100 lbs for free: it ends up being 470 or another but since i cleqned out my Account this Weekend i didnt hqve thqt type of moolah on me so i had to write them a check with an account of A bqlqnce of - 1.05 (do you mind if i use q in place of a becquse they qre flipped here on the keyboqrd qnd its reqlly slowing me down) moral of the story is when i got to brussels this morning circa 6AM guess whqt wqsnt there? yep: they left the bqg i pqid qll thqt for in DC: so i hqvent slept yet becquse i couldnt sleep on the plqne becquse the womqn in front of me had q 4 hour loud qs hell conversqtion in dutch/flemish with someone across the qisle (aisle on q euro keyboqrd) plus the new bond wqs on so i hqd to wqtch it twice qnd so im wondering if its my lqck of sleep or is there reqlly q condiment of something similqr to mayo thqt hqs q picture of french fries being dipped in them on the lqbel: eew: