Normally this blog is about the players or about organizations in baseball and how they are performing. But, like in real life, there is hardly or close to no attention to the people who make it possible for others to play.
This article is about the unsung heroes of Dutch baseball; those people who operate behind the scenes, mostly as volunteers. We are talking about people like groundskeepers, equipment managers, spokespersons and those who run the bar and the kitchen in the clubhouse. These people are worth their weight in gold for Dutch baseball clubs.
I started my quest for the unsung heroes of Dutch baseball in April 2016 in Utrecht, with the baseball club Pickles UVV. UVV stands for Utrechtse Voetbalvereniging (Utrecht Soccer Club). This dates back to the time that many Dutch soccer clubs had baseball branches. Here are two guys, Frans and René, who are maintaining the playing surfaces of the baseball and softball fields of UVV. Frans is retired and UVV is the love of his life. René is unemployed and is doing this as a volunteer. Even though the grass is always mowed by the sports department of the city of Utrecht, there is plenty that needs to be done before teams can play their games. Drawing the foul lines for example. Most of us may think that it is an easy job and that it is done in the blink of an eye. Wrong. I have followed these two guys for a day and I saw that drawing a foul line isn’t as easy as you may think it is. First of all it is tough to get the rope, that you follow with the chalk cart, completely straight. Even when it is completely straight, it isn’t easy to follow it in a straight line. It takes a lot of practice. One foul line from home plate to the outfield fence takes about fifteen minutes to draw. Next to the two foul lines, they have to draw the batter’s box. Of course, they have a frame that they use to draw those lines, but it also takes another additional five minutes to have a batter’s box drawn.
Next to drawing the lines and the batter’s box, a grounds crew also needs to level the playing surface of the infield. The dirt needs to be swept and leveled so no bad hops will occur at the start of a game. With the modern techniques, that is much easier as they use a mini tractor. But this one is really needed because the metal nets that they use to sweep the dirt are very heavy. The same procedure is followed for the warning track.
In total it takes the two men approximately two hours to prepare the playing surface before a game can be played. The same procedure is needed for the softball field and the little league field. Because of the smaller surface of those fields, it isn’t as much time-
consuming but still it has to be done. Imagine that they are doing this every day of the weekend and once every other week on Thursdays as well.
If is has been a rainy day, it will cost them even more time to prepare the field. Sometimes they need to get rid of the puddles, an even more time-consuming job.
To make clear how good Frans actually is, he has received an offer to become groundskeeper of a collegiate league team in Arizona. He declined the offer for private reasons.
Next to being a groundsman, René is also arranging the playing schedule of all the teams of UVV, except for the flagship team that plays in the Hoofdklasse. When a season is played during a sunny and dry year, not a lot needs to be done when the schedule is accepted by all the other clubs. But as soon as games are rained out, René needs to reschedule them. And with the climate in the Netherlands where it can rain for weeks, it is a hell of a job at times, especially for a club with more than 400 members.
The next stop was Rotterdam, home of Curacao Neptunus, multiple Dutch champion and 2015 European champion. I had a chat through Facebook messenger with Ton, the equipment manager and also groundskeeper of the main playing field. During road games, Ton is taking care of the uniforms and balls of the team. He makes sure that those things will be on the bus in time. After the game, he will do the same and make sure that the uniforms are cleaned. Next to this Ton takes care of the main playing field at the stadium of Curacao Neptunus. Ton makes sure that the infield, the warning track and the mound are in a superb condition. The part about UVV shows how much time it takes to prepare a field before the game.
As a little thank you for what Ton is doing for the club, he is allowed to accompany the club on their European Cup trips abroad as well. Sure he still takes care of the uniforms and makes sure that they are cleaned after the game, but still he can come with the team as an appreciated part of it. Ton must take some days off from work to be able to make those trips to other European countries. Especially when Neptunus plays night games and he will clean the uniforms right after the game, it will be in the middle of the night before Ton can hit the hay.
Paul is a volunteer for De Glaskoning Twins from Oosterhout. Last year the club from Oosterhout returned to the Hoofdklasse after an absence of more than ten years.
Paul is what the Dutch call a centipede or what the English call a Jack-of-all-trades. He used to be a member of the baseball technical commission of the club. Next to that role, he helps the club with their Facebook page and the website. He also tries to attract sponsors for the club and is part of the team that organizes Sunday baseball, special themed days during Sunday home games. The last one of the 2016 season, Japan Day, was a blast. Paul is the trainer of the Southwest Hurricanes, the Little League team of the area where Oosterhout is located. And on top all of this, Paul is also co-organizer of the Battle of the Castle tournament. This is an annual youth baseball tournament that lasts for a week.
As a member of the baseball technical commission, Paul’s job is to recruit new kids. Paul organizes tryouts and open training sessions. He tries to succeed in this by cooperating with a foundation that tries to spur kids to exercise more. With this foundation, they try to guide kids to the Glaskoning Twins to introduce them to the game of baseball.
As the organizer of those open training sessions, Paul decided to spend less time to his work, as he is the partial owner of a company. Being an entrepreneur has some big advantages for the work that he does to attract sponsors. As an entrepreneur, he knows the ropes and knows what an entrepreneur wants. Of course, it is important that a club can offer something in return and does not only beg for money. In Paul’s case, he organizes baseball themed days for companies that jump in as a sponsor of the club.
The Sunday Baseball promotions are a brand new idea. First, it was a kind of tryout with a rather small group that helped to organize those special themed days. Those days were such a success that the board of the club allowed the organizers to do much more with Japan Day than the previous themed days. The intention of those themed days is to attract as many people as possible to the ballpark with Minor League like family entertainment.
The more people the better as it means a lot of concession sales. The more concession sales, the more money that will flow into the cash register of the club, which is necessary to play hoofdklasse baseball.
Another volunteer in the organization of Curacao Neptunus is Michel, the club’s spokesman. Michel became the spokesman of Curacao Neptunus in 2015. After the previous spokesman hung up his spikes, Michel applied for the (voluntary) job and had several talks with the board of Curacao Neptunus about their and his expectations. Michel stated that the job lived up to his expectations quite well so far. Of course, he faces some surprises at times but most of them are pleasant surprises. On the question about what his expectations were, Michel answered: “To be able to present the club and the sport of baseball in a positive way. Another expectation was that dealing with this job was a good experience for a rookie like Michel as he learned a lot, even though Michel had a little bit of experience as he had the same job with the overgangsklasse team Storks from the Hague.
During home games of Curacao Neptunus, you can see Michel walk around a lot. When you see this, you cannot make up what the job really comprehends. If you see Michel walk around like that, it means that something has to be arranged or taken care of. You can think of lineups that have to be brought to the available press or to accompany journalists and TV crews to the places which are reserved for them and to connect them with players and coaches. It may be clear that during home games, his presence is very important.
Another task is to keep the Facebook page and the website of Curacao Neptunus up-to-date. And if there is important news to announce, Michel will write and distribute the press release as well.
The fact that Michel cannot tell how much time it does cost him to fulfill this job, may indicate that it is rather time-consuming. Of course, it will cost him a lot of time during the season and especially during home games. Because he is also a host to the press, he does not have time to watch a home game. During road games, he has more time to watch Curacao Neptunus play.
The next volunteer is Wim. Wim is dealing with the team management of De Glaskoning Twins. Last year someone else did this but manager Kevin Roovers asked Wim to join. Wim has helped organize Japan Day and also due to his good connections in Japan, this day was a big success.
The job of a team manager has a big variety of tasks. In fact, a team manager arranges everything around and for the flagship team. Since Wim is new on the job, he has to learn how things work. Of course, Wim has spent time on the job outside game time as the season has not started yet. But the job contains approaching players, arranging the uniforms, communication between the baseball technical commission and the coaching staff of the flagship team, arranging equipment, arranging practice or exhibition games. So there is a lot to do. When the season has started, you can expect that a lot more has to be done.
Unfortunately, I did not manage to ask questions to persons who work in the clubhouses of Dutch baseball clubs, persons that run the kitchen and the bar. They are very important as well as the sale of food and beverages is a major source of income for Dutch sports clubs.
One thing is sure, without these volunteers, Dutch baseball clubs would not exist. Even though baseball in the Dutch hoofdklasse is played at a very high level, it is still an amateur sport over here. As written in the introduction, these volunteers are worth their weight in gold.
I’d like to thank all persons in this article for their time to answer my questions. Without them, I would not have been able to write this article.