Teenager chasing his (baseball) dreams

This is a story about a kid who hasn’t even reached the age of seventeen, but who made his debut in the Dutch hoofdklasse the other day. This kid, a son of a former teammate of mine, debuted with Hoofddorp Pioniers against Curaçao Neptunus the other day. 

Of course, this kid has a name. Luuk ter Beek. His parents played softball and baseball. So it may not be a coincidence Luuk can be found on the diamond.
Luuk started playing baseball at the age of six with the Vennep Flyers. At the age of seven, Luuk won his first championship. With the Vennep Flyers, Luuk’s dad carefully monitored and developed his throwing skills. After several championships with Vennep Flyers, Luuk moved to Hoofddorp Pioniers at the age of twelve and won a championship as well. In that season, it became clear how talented he really was as he gave up only one hit in sixteen games. As a result of his talent, he was invited to play for the Rabbits baseball academy in Haarlem, near his hometown. With the Rabbits, Luuk was lucky to have former MLB pitching coach Bernie Beckman as his mentor. Beckman helped Luuk to develop as a pitcher and they celebrated several consecutive national championships with the Rabbits as well. Rather soon after he joined the Rabbits, he was invited to the MLB Europe baseball camps too.  At the age of thirteen, so in the same season he joined the Rabbits, Luuk joined the Dutch U15 team and won the European Championship as well as he made an appearance in the final too.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, baseball and outdoorLuuk set two goals for 2017. His first goal was to debut in the Dutch hoofdklasse and his second was to join the Dutch AAA team (16 – 18 years old) on their journey to Canada to play at the World Cup. It is still a question mark if he will make the cut, but at least he is still on the preliminary roster of that team.

When he played with the Rabbits baseball academy, he was hard to hit. At one point in his young career, at one of those MLB Europe baseball camps, he was hit hard all of a sudden and even had to give up a home run. He was riddled and rather fed up. One of the coaches, Barry Larkin, talked to him and asked him who he thought was the best pitcher in the majors at the time. His answer was Clayton Kershaw. “Okay”, said Larkin. “How many home runs do you think he is giving up on a yearly basis?  15-20”, Larkin said. “So it is not strange that you are giving up a home run. You are facing the best of the best of European baseball.” That made Luuk realize no pitcher is unhittable.

This year, a selection of the Dutch baseball academies, participated in the European Pony/Colt league Championship. Luuk and his team won the European Pony League championship so he and his team will head to the United States to participate in the Pony League World Series in August in Lafayette Indiana.

Of course, more young kids have debuted in the Dutch hoofklasse before. But since Luuk is the son of a former teammate of mine, it is something extra special. Luuk is a very polite young man, raised well by his parents. He always says Sir and Ma’am to adults, something that is not very common in the Netherlands nowadays, but it is something I can appreciate.

With sixteen years, six months and thirteen days he is not the youngest player who debuted in the Dutch hoofdklasse. Several others debuted at the age of 15 and even one, Cor Wilders, debuted at the age of fourteen in 1929, but still, it is an awesome achievement to debut at such a young age.

Luuk debuted on Thursday, July 20th, in an 8-2 loss vs Curaçao Neptunus. Luuk pitched the final frame in relief and pitched perfect, striking out one. He needed fourteen pitches of which eight were called for a strike. According to Luuk, he was only nervous when he walked to the mound. But as soon as he set foot on the mound he did not feel a thing. Apparently, he has ice water running through his veins.

Luuk masters a fastball of 84-85 mph. You may say that it is not fast, but he is only sixteen. It only can improve. He also masters a curve (77 mph), a knuckle ball (72-73 mph) and a circle change (75 mph). How cool is that? A 16-year old kid mastering a knuckle ball, a pitch that is hardly used nowadays.

Luuk is very focused on the goals he set for himself. Luuk has done a lot to get this far but he omitted a lot as well. In the past years, Luuk did not go to parties, did not drink alcohol, did not smoke. Luuk is watching his diet, so no fat snacks or milkshakes. He makes sure he is having a good night’s sleep. Playing soccer with his friends is another important thing. In this way, his body doesn’t get used to the main movements of baseball.
Perhaps Luuk’s willingness to strive for the best and always wanting to learn is the most important thing. He is always working hard at every training session. He is doing extra exercises in the gym and taking care of his arm to avoid injuries and to keep his arm healthy. When it comes to baseball Luuk wants to make the most of it.

So what’s the next goal?  “The first one is to make the Dutch AAA team to play in the World Championship in Canada.” After that? “First a successful year at the CTO in Amsterdam (CTO / HPT is a combination of top sport high-performance training and school, where the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation joined a program for the most promising talents to prepare them for a life in top sport). Here I can become a better pitcher and get my high school diploma within one year. Then the next step is going to America; join a big name college somehow. Perhaps another goal is to dominate the Dutch hoofdklasse.” Luuk wonders if he can reach that goal, “but as long as I do my utmost best”, Luuk said, “I can get as close as possible.”

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