Published on November 26, 2012 | by Randy Brenzen

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MLB pros visit London

Pittsburgh Pirate’s Dutch pitcher Rick VandenHurk,Last weekend, the London Soccerdome played host to the first set of UK-based European Big League Tour clinics for baseball and softball players aged 16 and under.

The clinics, which began in 2010 thanks to the hard work of Pittsburgh Pirate’s Dutch pitcher Rick VandenHurk, have already helped more than 2,400 players in four European countries to increase their skills and love for the game.

It helps that VandenHurk is joined by fellow Major League baseball players each year to instruct the seminars.  Players such as Detroit’s Prince Fielder and Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins have headlined in years past.  This year’s tour is led by Chris Dickerson (New York Yankees), Roger Bernadina (Washington Nationals), Jeremy Guthrie (free agent who most recently played with the Kansas City Royals) and, of course, VandenHurk.

The pitcher, who made his MLB debut in 2007, said one reason he started the European Big League Tour was to promote the sport of baseball throughout Europe.  “I made my Major League debut and I was surprised by the amount of other players who came to me and said ‘Hey, you’re from Europe?  They have baseball there, are you kidding me?  I didn’t know they played baseball.’ So I was thinking why don’t I try having baseball come to Europe.

“When I was a kid growing up I didn’t have an opportunity to watch any baseball games or meet baseball players.  That’s the same for many kids in Europe.”  Now, thanks to VandenHurk, young baseball players around Europe have the chance that he missed out on when growing up.  They have the opportunity to meet and learn from Major League baseball players.  That has also enabled VandenHurk and company to promote the game of baseball throughout the continent.

Don’t be fooled, however, VandenHurk strongly believes that the most important reason for this tour is to help improve the abilities of the young players who take part in the clinics.  “When they can learn something from us and they can see that we are willing to do this to help them out, I think that’s good for them.

“Most of the kids have played baseball.  There have been cases when kids walk in and think: ‘Hey, let me try this day out and see how it is.’  We try to work on that as well because we want to promote it to kids who haven’t played baseball yet.”

VandenHurk grew up in Europe, spending much of his youth in his native Netherlands before moving to America as a 16-year-old to pursue his big league dreams. Jeremy Guthrie, on the other hand, is a bit different.

Guthrie grew up in America and went through all his schooling in the US, attending Brigham Young University before transferring to Stanford where he was the ace of their pitching staff throughout their incredible run to the College World Series final.

So why did this All-American American decide to take time out of his life to participate in the EBLT?  “I lived in Spain from 1998-2000.  That was my first time leaving the United States.  I was very excited to do that and from that time forward I’ve enjoyed travelling,” said Guthrie.  “When Rick and I were team mates with the Baltimore Orioles, he talked about this tour that he and his family were organising.  I said I’d love to come and as many times as you would have me come.

“This is my second opportunity to be a part of this tour. I was part of the inaugural one in 2010 and through connections from that time I’ve been able to do some clinics in Spain in the past two years as well.  I love kids, talking about baseball and talking about life.”

Chris Dickerson of the New York Yankees is also a full-fledged American citizen with no connection to Europe, yet he has also travelled more than 4,000 miles to take part in the clinics held both here and in the Netherlands.

“Working with kids is one of my biggest things.  I’m always one of the first to volunteer as far as getting out and working with kids.  I think it’s really important for guys like us to come down.  I mean just like if we were kids and we had big leaguers come down, the look on their faces is completely different.  It’s an energised feeling, a feeling that the kids have a purpose and are really excited that you have a genuine concern for their wellbeing and them being the best baseball player and person as possible.  To come here and give that back is great.” Chris Dickerson

It really is good to see Major League players, not necessarily even European-born players, take an interest in the children/youth playing the game here in the UK and the rest of Europe.  It shows how the game is evolving into a truly international sport, slowly working its way into the sporting life of Europe.

When MLB veterans such as Guthrie take part in these clinics it proves that players, regardless of how much money they make, still care about the game at a grassroots level.  Guthrie sums it up saying: “I see myself doing this sort of stuff until the day that I die.”

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