11/10/2010 3:34 PM ET
Rick VandenHurk leads Major Leaguers promoting baseball in Europe
“The European Big League Tour” Making Stops in the Netherlands and Belgium
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Rick VandenHurk is leading a group of Major League Baseball players on a tour of his native Netherlands and Belgium. Players joining VandenHurk include John Baker (Florida Marlins), Jeremy Guthrie (Baltimore Orioles), Greg Halman (Seattle Mariners) and Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles). In addition, former Major Leaguer Brady Anderson is serving as an instructor.
The group is hosting four baseball clinics which are free and open to children ages 6-15. The clinics are taking place in Eindhoven, Haarlem and Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Antwerp, Belgium. The tour also includes a dinner and auction in Amsterdam to benefit the Dutch organization KinderenKankervrij, a children’s cancer charity. All aspects of the tour have been organized and operated by VandenHurk and his father.
"Major League Baseball’s growth internationally has been tremendous, and we are delighted that Rick VandenHurk and the players joining him will be showcasing our sport to the people of the Netherlands and Belgium,” said Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. “The support that our players and clubs provide is critical to the success of developing interest and participation in the game both throughout Europe and around the world.”
The European Big League Tour is being supported in part by a grant from the Industry Growth Fund, which was established by the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League clubs in 1997 to promote the growth of baseball throughout the world.
“I commend Rick VandenHurk for embarking on this mission to share his passion and enthusiasm for the game of baseball,” stated MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner. “Given the impressive team that Rick has assembled, I'm certain the European Big League Tour will be a great opportunity for sports fans of all ages in the Netherlands and Belgium to learn more about our great game."
Baseball has a long history in Europe dating back to the 1800s and has enjoyed periods of great popularity throughout the past century. There is a strong fan base and a historical precedence for success. In recent years, the National Federations, with the support of Major League Baseball International, have made a concerted effort to improve both the quality and quantity of baseball being played across the continent. Participation numbers have more than doubled in the past 10 years alone, and there are thriving leagues for players of all ages and abilities, from youth T-ball through to national leagues. The Netherlands is also improving at the highest international levels -- in 2009, their World Baseball Classic team twice-defeated the much-favored Dominican Republic team to advance to Round Two of the tournament.
The Major League Baseball International European Academy, based in Tirrenia, Italy, has been host to many players from the Netherlands and Belgium in the six years since its inception -- 12 players from the Netherlands and one player from Belgium have signed professional contracts due to their time spent with the academy. Designed to provide promising junior players with both the environment and the instruction to improve their skills in preparation for the rigors of professional baseball, the MLBI European Academy has seen more than 40 players sign professional contracts with MLB organizations since 2005.