July 18, 2013
Section: MA Sports, Page 1: Baseball
Old Ballgame in the Old World
Littleton-based Wolfpac plays in the Netherlands
Author: Stephen Tobey Section: firstname.lastname@example.org
Baseball gave Steve Donovan a chance to see different parts of the world and this summer some of the players he coaches had that opportunity. Earlier this month, 13 members of the Littleton-based AAU baseball team the New England Wolfpac that Donovan coaches, traveled to the Netherlands to play some games against select teams, as well as the country’s under-18 national team. “It was my opportunity to see the world,” said Donovan, who played in the Netherlands for five years and also played in Italy and Australia. “I’m hoping to bring one of their teams over here.” The Wolfpac stayed in Haarlem, a suburb of Amsterdam. The host team was a club known as Kinheim, a team that Donovan played with in the late 70’s after graduating from Springfield College. “When I was with Kinheim, I also coached little kids,” Donovan said. “One of them was a boy who was 11 at the time, named Jorgen Balk. In 1986, when they came here, he was 17. Now he’s an adult and he was my contact for the trip.” Donovan is currently the JV coach at Westford Academy. He has also been the head coach at Acton-Boxborough and Littleton High School and has coached at Merrimack College.
The players stayed with host families, played games and ran a clinic for younger players. As is the case with most European countries, soccer is by far the most popular sport, but in the Netherlands, there are many people who are knowledgeable and passionate about baseball. “Baseball is pretty competitive there,” said the Wolfpac’s Nate Brinkerhoff, who will be a junior at Westford Academy this fall. “It’s pretty popular. A lot of people go to the games.” Said the Wolfpac’s Ryan Donovan, who will be a junior at Acton-Boxborough, “The people who play take it seriously.” Over the years, the level of play has also improved. “It has naturally grown,” Steve Donovan said. “The talent is better now because of the way it’s set up with the select teams. More of them are getting drafted [by Major League Baseball]. It’s really well-organized. They do serious training and have winter workouts.”
While the Wolfpac was in the Netherlands, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bruce Hurst was in the country, representing Major League Baseball. They held tryouts and signed two players. There were a few differences in the way the game is played in the Netherlands as opposed to the United States. “One time there was a first-and-third situation,” Ryan said. “In America, you can’t fake a pickoff to third, then throw to first. That’s a balk. There, they haven’t changed the rule yet.” The equipment is also different. “We have the nice two-piece bats,” Ryan said. “Theirs are just one piece of metal. When they played us, they used wood bats. There is also a different attitude toward umpires. “They don’t blame the umpires for bad calls,” Brinkerhoff said. “They just deal with it. They don’t get upset.” The fields were well-maintained, albeit a bit rough. Brinkerhoff had some scrapes on his left arm from sliding on one of the fields. The outfield dimensions didn’t vary as they do in the U.S, They’re all 100 meters down the lines and 122 meters to center.
The sportsmanship the host teams showed was also memorable. “Every single member of the other teams came up and introduced themselves to us,” Ryan said. Away from the field, everyone had plenty of time to see the sights and get used to the culture, in which bicycles are the at the top of the food chain transportation-wise. “When we were driving, we had to look out for bicycles,” Steve Donovan said. The food was a little different. “McDonald’s was better,” Ryan said. “The rolls were real rolls. It was more expensive and the portions were smaller.” The Dunes and the Tilted Houses were among the sights they saw.
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