Friday, April 27, 2007

that time of the year

taking a break from life in belgium for a brief moment i am trying to cope with not being able to watch the pistons during the playoffs, the red wings during the playoffs, and ridiculous coverage how the lions will once again screw up a #2 pick in the nfl draft. luckily, i can watch the tigers anytime but the games don't usually start until 1 am my time and it's only april as well.
so since i have the medium i'd like to share a few thoughts on detroit sports:

the firing of rick carslile from indiana made me think back to our first run to the conference finals in 2003 when prince and okur were rookies. i had been a huge prince fan in college mainly because of the name but i thought he would be an amazing pick for detroit in the draft but i didn't think he would last that far - he did and dumars made probably the best pick of his career (if he doesn't block that shot against miller in '04 we might not win the game, the series or the championship) anyways, prince was burried behind cliff robinson all year until dumars put some pressure on rick and finally prince burst onto the scene down 3-1 against the magic and checked mcgrady and was a force inside. he is probably the most underrated and underappreciated player in this league, mainly due to the pistons success i feel confident saying that and finally he got some recognition last night as the pistons went up 3-0 in this espn article...

if and when we get by orlando, i think the winner of the bulls vs. heat series in the semi's is going to be tough. kinda odd that the pistons have to go through either one of the two toughest teams in the 2nd round when the cavs, raptors, and nets have not offered any real competition to the pistons all year nor do they appear to have the depth and matchup problems that shaq and wade or deng and the perimeter shooting bulls can do. one of these days i got to watch a game.

is it just me or has the strike and lack of promotion kind of stymied interest in the NHL right now. with shanny, mccarty, yzerman gone it's kind of a different look team, obviously and being away from detroit the past 3 years coupled with the hockey strike in between - i dont know these players like i used to be able to name the entire 96 wings team back in the day. the sharks clearly have superior offensive power and i'm no expert but this series might come to goaltending (duh) maybe one of these days i can catch a game, although i'm not losing sleep over would be nice to see the wings make the conference finals in the first time in a looooong time.

not worried about sheffield's average, rodney's e.r.a, zumaya's control, guillen's defense
am worried about monroe's average (he's a summer hitter and i hope they don't give up on him or play with his confidence before he gets to his peak usually around may), casey's inability to hit, pudge's body and lack of a suitable backup catcher (vance wilson on the dl), verlander and a possible sophomore slump and arm fatigue (although looks fine right now), lefty specialist in the bullpen, and most importantly todd jones inability to get punchouts in the 9th, and ability to be the weakest link on this solid team in one of the most important rolls because he has the ability to always let the other team back in. when will leyland wise up and make zumaya the closer?

jay prinstein's rules to draft:
1. never ever ever draft a wide receiver in the first round (what round was rice taken? exactly, they're a dime a dozen)
2. always trade down if you can and get more picks, especially when you suck like the lions
3. DBTH - don't believe the hype

with those guidelines in place and the draft less than 24 hours away i will take my crack at lions GM because as most people claim, anyone can do a better job than millen.

i think the lack of quality quarterbacks or should i say franchise quarterbacks are causing russell and quinn to be overhyped. russell had a good year and a great bowl game - he's like leftwhich but maybe lacking the heart and determination that leftwhich shows (by the way - i think he would be a great pick for the lions, leftwhich that is, if they can get him from the jags who seem to be burnt out of him, because he can take hits and our line always has and always will suck). quinn, meanwhile, has the rick mirer - notre dame itis going on in which i never saw him win or play a really great game in college and being from where he is from causes his stock to increase? meanwhile, not only was harrington a winner in college he had some outstanding games and victories unlike quinn. i think drafting a quarterback with the 2nd pick and taking the necessary time to develop one 2-3 years (since they didnt with harrington and they should've) will only set the organization back another 2-3 years because they still dont have the other pieces.

joe thomas: i'm still in the aaron gibson - jeff backus you must be weary of overhyped lineman in a weak lineman draft (the number 3 guy is from central michinga) you're telling me that there are no animals from tenneesse, florida state, miami, usc, etc. that can go in the first round - be weary of the OL this year then. plus you can get solid OL guys in the 2nd and 3rd rounds especially if you trade down

adrian peterson: i'm on the kevin jones bandwagon, yes he needs to stay healthy but why is he running in the 2nd to last game of the season in a blowout loss in the 4th quarter. you don't do that to your franchise running back - so not entirely his fault, and a freak injury. meanwhile, anyone who runs as fast as he does and as powerful as he does (ran over literally ran over Ray Lewis last year, never seen anything like it) is special and as long as they spell him with Bell and Duckett, i think they'll be alright there. so pass on peterson

calvin johnson: this is obviously the most intriguing scenario beacuse yes - he is a freak, yes - he is the best PLAYER in the draft, yes - he has great work ethic and character, and yes - the lions mangled 3 drafts already by taking WR with the first pick. so basically they're set up to fail here. it's a lose-lose, even if he turns out to be amazing, you lose out on an impact defense player and defense wins championships (just ask the colts who never had one until this year despite their potent offense) and multiple picks. yet, we do need a receiver. wait i have a solution - jay prinstein's rule number 1. they're a dime a dozen. reports have it that ginn beccause of worries about his foot may fall to the 2nd round. sooooo....

trade the pick. get Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville. the kid is 19 years old and already graduated from college. smart - check. he is in the julius peppers mode and got a ton of sacks in college due to freakish athleticism - check. he is 19 so he is young and healthy and will only get better (upside?) haha i hate that word - but check. addressess a huge need aka pressure on the opposing quarterback - check. and then we can maybe squeeze a low end first round pick if we get a 2nd and 3rd and package those together and take a robert mechem the incredibly fast wide reciever out of tennesee. or even better we get another defensive guy in the low first round by that type of trade like lawrence timmons "LB from FSU or david harris the LB from michigan. if we can't strike a deal like that - you get your extra 2nd round pick and 3rd round pick and that's where you pick up a dwayne jarrett or steve smith from usc or if ginn falls and drew stanton from msu who has better skills, clutch performances, and potential than i think brady quinn does at quarterback and address OL in the 2nd and third with your real picks as well. okoye and extra picks in the early rounds are sure bets to me that's how i would go.
or pick johnson trade him to TB for thomas once they feel the pressure and get their 2nd and 3rd round pick. but let's be creative here geniuses in ford's office.

we'll see what happens.

yesterday was the most intense workout day i've ever had. bike, upper lifting, lower lifting, grueling practice in 80 degree heat where i was long tossing a ton after the lifting, the dan pfau theory of breaking down your muscles and throwing exhausted so you can replicate this in later innings of games, followed by OF catching and sprinting drills, followed by more running while shagging balls in BP and continuously switching up groups at the plate, and then sprinting 10 poles, for the first time in a while i was winded at practice, sucking air big time - it feels great to work that hard though, but i'm definitely in recovery mode all day and afternoon until i throw a light pen this evening.

last night was the typical thursday night group of all the people that don't have to work on friday... joena and i. we were going to go somewhere pretty happening but went by jameson's where she knows the owner real well, first, and ended up staying there for about 5 hours all while he poured us continuous champagne. so i can't argue with that. i didn't drive home (champagne) unfortunately because i was looking forward to it like last week at 5 am, but she does have this amazing radio system that you can just simply plug your ipod right into it, i have never seen any gadget like it and i was mezmorized by it, so that made up for the last of practice on the stick shift since i was able to DJ from my ipod. oh and apparently robbie williams is a big deal here, i can't tell you any song he's ever sung but they were playing it all night long at jameson's and everyone at the bar knew the words. interesting. i will investigate.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

am i almost caught up yet???

i've been having issues with the blog page because someone or somehow the language was changed to dutch so i've been trying to figure out how to edit and post the past few days while being to lazy to figure out how to change the language - so sorry DAYLE PRINSTEIN.

let's get caught up on the 2nd start on sunday april 24.

all week people were giving me crap about the fuzziness growing on my face...apparently i haven't reached puberty yet and when you throw a no-hitter, at least i'm told, it's custom to not change anything and that includes shaving so things grew or what little i have grew for about 2 weeks and maybe that's why i can't get a date yet?

nevertheless, i wasn't able to continue my no-hit streak i went 8 innings, 3 walks, a hit batter, 6 strikeouts ( i think - i actually still haven't seen the box score, so it might be 5 or it might be 7), 2 Runs, 2 Earned Runs, and 1 hit. Yeah, so in my first 13 innings of the season i've given up only a hit - it was in the third innings, as mr. stan would have predicted in 11th grade english class while reading crime and punishment all bad things come from 3's. i walked the first two batters and after a base hit to left-center i proceeded to drill the next batter in the back with the first pitch and then gave up a fielder's choice that pushed a across the 2nd run, but we easily won the game 10-2 with great defense and great production once again from our hitters. dennis ribbens who replaced dennis de quint at shorstop in the 2nd inning due to an injury by DQ, made a play where he ranged behind 2nd base on a hard hit ball up the middle and from the grass threw out the runner at of the most incredible plays i've ever witnessed in a game i pitched.

i have to say whether it was the weather or the pressure or my practice during the week but despite the one rough inning (which, hey it's baseball those things happen) i felt pretty zoned in, i couldn't even hear ilse (who took some amazing pictures that maybe once i figure out how to get this page back to english i can figure out how to post) yelling my name... i strained my back in the 5th inning and got really tight and ended up going into the 8th and came 1 strike away from striking out the side. the first half of the game, sammy called on point - we just went after them with 2 seam fastballs on the hands but mostly stayed outside with the four seam that was moving a ton - i would start it down the middle and it would move to the corner for a strike or i would start it on the corner and it would move out of the zone for a ball and they would flair it to right or weak grounder to the right side pretty much all day. the change-up finally got going but after the 5th inning we went exclusively with the slider and fastball so sammy really did a great job of making them guess and not seeing all 3 of my pitches in one at bat, in fact, i can't recall one batter that i threw all the pitches too. because of dennis' injury the DH was lifted so i hit for myself - the bad news is i went o-3. the good news is i stayed back and the pitches and tried to let my hands do the work. liner back to the pitcher, hard groundout to 2nd that moved a runner over and a flyball to right but i felt like i got some good wood on the ball and everyday i feel more comfortable with my swing and stance.

we have now started the season 4-0 and are tied with the greys for first, it's real early though so we'll see what happens. but the boys are playing great ball behind me, and we're getting great pitching from everyone.

after the game joena, clio, nick and i tried to get some mexican but had to settle for italian, after we headed out to a cuban dance club playing salsa and merengue music - i felt right at home in adams morgan - washington dc style.

to sum up monday - wednesday =>
lots of running in hoboken. it's been beautiful out in the 20s all day and ive been doing my 45 min circuit through the town to nil's house and back to erwin's.
lots of lifting. finally figured out how to get to the gym by myself so i dont have to depend on dennis, although alain came through clutch when he dropped me off after practice on tues and when erwin picked me up tuesday night because i was waiting for the bus for about 40 min at 11 pm.
lots of going to numerous stores, including the same store 3 seperate times (confusion over when it was open) with joena, joena's mom, and joena with her mom all 3 days before i finally got an adaptor and now can charge my labtop so i can watch dvds that i brought, that won't play on erwin's system and got a headset so i can talk to important people i.e. DAYLE PRINSTEIN over skype. for free.
lots of coaching. frank, the juniors coach, is out all week so i've been running their practices and surprisingly have been able to teach and coach without too many lost in translation problems. we strictly did hitting practice and had a good time on monday. today (wednesday) we got after some defense drills i taught them courtesy of George Washington University Baseball and instituted and practiced various bunt plays and coverages, how to take proper angles to fly balls, and some base running techniques instead of just making them run for the heck of it. i think they all respected where i came from so they listened very well and tried hard in what i was teaching them. i was also able to joke with them and be on their level even as to go as far as to run with them, throw with them, and stretch with them which helps them accept me more because i'm participating in what they're doing and not asking them to do anything i wouldn't (what i hate about american coaches)...unfortunately i'm supposed to coach their game on sunday but because i'm pitching, i find it too difficult to focus all my attention on their game for a few hours before we play ours....and they have no one to coach them so tomorrow i'm going to have to figure out that situation. hmmmm.

i just got back from my 2nd whirlwind at driving stick, from erwin's to the city about 8 minutes i was doing great going from 1st to 3rd but at the red light i stalled out 3 times in a row because i was not good going from clutch and break to 1st, before i finally got it right and made a left turn before stalling out again and then having joena jump out in the middle of the street and switch with me. i have to say i was quite surprised when her and clio showed up to pick me up this evening and they immediately jumped out of the front seat and basically forced me to drive.
i was more nervous than when i pitch, no joke - true story.
so i think i'm finally caught up, although i'm still not sure how the milk can stay fresh outside of the fridge. on gan nam (it's belgianeese for nice to meet you - i'm trying hard to learn at least one phrase and word a day) although i didnt spell it right that's how it sounds.

so let me tell you what i've been up to...volume 2

Monday April 16th - my boy dave, my best friend from college, had a day to do nothing before he was due to meet his girl in the south of France, so on a whim, he says to me Sunday night, let's take a train to Brugge (in Belgium) it's supposed to be the Venice of the North.

In early afternoon we headed down to the central station in Antwerp and ended up making the 2:53 train by seconds - it was about an hour and 15 or so minutes and when we arrived we took a bus to the center square which was one of the most beautiful sites i've seen. The city literally looks like it's been stuck in the 13th century and hasn't changed a bit...3 stunning cathedrals loomed from each direction in the city. we walked around for a while and ate, noticing that every other store was a sit-down restaurant but as the evening approached, and every restaurant was open, not only were none of them filled, almost all of them were empty. we figured that the proportion of restaurants to people in the town that evening was 3:1.

we went searching for a hostel (the first time for me but dave has been doing this throughout his european excursion the past month) and the first one we came upon was only 15 euros for the night but upon entry to our room, there about 10 bunkbeds in there and already a really strange looking and smelly smelling man laying down, so we exited quickly and told the man we would be back later we weren't sure if we were going to stay the night. we came upon one that was pretty good. private room only 22 euros, included breakfast (which i stuck around for in the morning - included bread and butter and orange juice - luckily dave missed it with his 530 am train to france).

that evening as we went out, there wasn't much to do...although we saw some beautiful sites and ate amazing chocolate as we noticed the tourist season really hadn't kicked off yet on this chilly april night. we ventured into a restaurant where i attempted to use my belgianeese on the waitress (ik frogh hut an - meaning "i want you") it's a famous belgian song on the radio right now but apparently she didn't understand me (they never do) and i had to settle for the "mach ik twe pintjes astublief"(can i have two beers please) upon hearing this attempt of mine at flemish, the waitress blurted out that i should just stick to saying pintjes because i say it very adorable. i told her that's the only thing i know how to order so far so it wouldnt be a problem.

the night turned into an adventure of escalating dares for dave and i - who could take the worst looking pictures (which he still needs to send me, of course) who could make the biggest fool of himself in one of three bars that were open, who would be the person to start up conversations with random girls (i like dave's opening line to a group clearly speaking some european language - "my buddy and i have have a bet, are you guys from australia or belgium, i think u guys are from australia?" - they were from holland, close dave, so close.) he also supplimented the - do you ladies know what baseball is? my friend over here pitched a no-hitter yesterday (he really needs some new material like mine) at the local watering hole i asked a girl if she came here often, she said "actually i live next door" and it concluded with who could drink the heaviest beer - with me winning, i guess you could call it winning, although i definitely didnt feel anything after drinking this - 11%

Tues April 17 - i survived my first experience at a hostel, but on the train ride back i cant say i was so lucky. i entered the train (without a shower, there was no way i was showering at the hostel, it looked like a toliet stall and probably was used as a toilet stall and for everyone that knows me, i cant function in the morning without a shower - sort of like coffee sans the caffiine) and sat down in a seat that looked very familiar to a seat i sat on the way to brugge. about 50 min into an hour and 15 min train ride, as i was gazing beyond the pastures of greeness consuming my window view, i hand waving in front of my face sort of startled my trance-like state (i think the 11% was still kickin in my system) and a man wearing the most ridiculous hat, i almost felt bad for him (something to this effect - )

starts yelling at me in that other language, yeah...the one i DONT know. i tried to tell him that i couldnt understand him. at least 3 times, he repeated what he said. so finally i said in english i can only understand english (apparently he thought i was making this up) he points at the carpet and says can't you see you are in first class and you only have a coach ticket you have to leave now!!!! ok man, first off - on the way here, i was in "coach"i guess, i didnt realize on these trains they had first class? and it had carpeted floors, so if that's the only way you can identify first class, how am i supposed to know that? well you to need to leave now and you should know that carpet is first class. so of course not wanting to get arrested after exactly one month in the country i said, truthfully it's my first time how are you supposed to know that carpet = first class. in my country, usually marble floors = first class, and speaking of first class i dont think you should be allowed in here with that hat.
so for the last 15 min i sat in coach. next to a girl that smelled, of course.
that was brugge.

lifted after a week of nothing due to the sickness and then practice...standard tuesday. gotta love having nothing to do all day but practice baseball, write in the blog, and work on my belgianeese.

wed april 18 - back from my sickness hiatus i was able to help coach the juniors which was a blast. the kids are from 14-18, and they are pretty solid...some of these guys have potential and all they need is some good coaching, a little insightfulness, and direction and hopefully over the next 6 months i can provide that and make a difference in their games and attitudes (most take a very non-shalont approach) although i think everyday i work with them it gets a little better.

thurs april 19 - see tuesday
because i was pitching the home game on sunday, and most people go out friday and saturday nights, and because i'm pretty serious about my baseball game and don't like to indulge in any sort of drinking, debauchery, or tomfoolery to close to game-time, and because in d.c. we always partied on thursday night i thought i would test my luck with the 8.7 friends i have thus far and see if someone wanted to go out with me.
alain - work the next day
nick - listening to music i gave him last week
sofie - school the next day
sammy - had a date, dinner, or both
wendy - work the next day
erwin - out of town
dennis - with his gf
sven - had to work
dennis ribbens - had to work the next day
so i made plans with clio, but she apparently fell asleep and then was too tired to go out (and had to work the next morning) luckily i found out that joena doesn't have to work on friday and convinced her to help me explore the city which started at a new spot she took me to, that apparently is a favorite stomping grounds of her and her friends on monday nights, but apparently thursday night is the night for hardcore techno fans as we couldnt even hear ourselves think in the bar. so we ventured back to the tofleje rond (my favorite place) for a few drinks before heading to the river with a friend of hers we met up with there (tom) whose english was great because he is always visiting his cousin in the states, as we compared notes about the differences. with tom we went to a club on a boat that is on the river, it was sweet, except for the fact when you went to the bathroom the floor was uneven. more bathroom experiences to come.... we got up to VIP where i have to say it wasn't that much different from the u.s. other than all the guys looked the same, hair slicked back, unless they didnt have any it was completely shaved, and button down shirts with the first 3 buttons undone so the chest hair was in full effect, some guys had the sunglass thing on and some had them hanging on the shirt or on the top of their head, because it was pretty bright in there (not). big difference here is how they dance - joena claims that you just move your knees in belgium. in the u.s. we like to incorporate the feet and also the shoulders into the mix, so i did my thing but practiced theres a little bit (too easy) while also noticing that guys don't dance too much in belgium and guys and girls definitely don't dance together (i thought they were supposed to be more forward here?) and by no means are you supposed to make eye contact, so everyone pretty much bends there knees, looks up at the ceiling, and it's a lot of techno, house, and trance. luckily, this place played a glimpse of hip-hop for me, otherwise it was a pretty typical belgium club night. now the bathroom experience - as i walk out of the bathroom, the uneven one due to the water, a girl grabs me by the arm and yells at me in the other language (yep, that one again) and so i stare at her blankly (she probably thought i was drunk - i wasn't, sorry ladý it's called americanitis, it means i act and look drunk bc i can't understand anything including that sign in that other language you are pointing at) so in english she says to me it costs 50 eurocents to use the bathroom. that's a first. paying to use a bathroom in a club. actually not a bad idea though ... i might take it back to the states with me. upon my return visit, i had the 50 eurocents waiting for her and was like "see i got it right this time" she didnt smile back. apparently i was making no new friends that evening. moral of the story - dont drink 4 liters of water in the afternoon before you go out to a club that charges to use the bathrooms.

after the club as joena and i discussed the differences in cultures, customs, languages, oh and cars, she thought it would be a great idea for me to learn how to drive stick-shift, right then and there, on the cobblestone road leading from antwerp to hoboken at 430 am, with people driving behind me! after about 16 stall outs, 1 wrong turn, 3 niet panikerans! (dont panic in flemish) i made it back to the house only that i didnt know how to park and upon my excitement that i actually made it i decided without permission to take it on one last cruise - two problems - didnt know where i was going and the place i started to go turned into a number of dead ends that took me further and further away from where i wanted to go, so after a solid 10 min i was starting to get the hang of things, got back to the house, and then proceeded to figure out the parking thing, except while using the clutch this time to stop, as i didnt last time, couldnt do that and use the brake at the same time, and almost parked the car in the front hall of the erwin palace, which would have been a great surprise gift for him upon his return from the earthquake he experienced in mexico city. luckily i had a great coach and she wasnt agitated or worried a bit. apparently she has a lot of faith, good because she's the only one.

fri april 20 -
ive become great friends with ÿo/jo as he prefers me to call him at the bakery/butcher. and because of erwin's abscence i have basically run out of food supplies and had been going every morning to get a pastry or in belgianeese (a coffee-cuk? - forgive my spelling) unfortunately yo/jo was closed at 1245 pm, so my travels took me into the heart of hoboken the "kioskplaats" where i knew of 4 other bakery places that existed, and could not find one that was open only the one i went to thursday morning was, and bad experiences from that one (a oridinary looking coffee-cuk turned into a conglomerate of yellow pudding filled ooze that consumed the entire pastry, and seeing that they had no more of the rolls with the rainsins left that i love, i had to take one for the team and skip breakfast. luckily, joena, who apparently isnt sick of me yet, came by to take me grocery shopping which i had an interesting experience doing.
1. the milk sits on the shelf, in the warm, until you open it
2. ditto for the eggs
3. weigh all the fruit by fruit section yourself and not at the register, they even have these cool stickers with the price that you can put on it yourself
4. big fish section - bigger than the u.s. i dont like fish
5. very affordable prices
6. no aquarias (like gatorade only better) in the plastic bottles? so odd
7. they dont have marinade for chicken...interesting
8. if i think of some other interesting things - and i'm sure i will, i'll be sure to throw them in at the next post, just remember if there is a number next to oddities that have to do with grocery shopping then it stems from this post.

aside from going to get her car fixed (no it wasn't from me on thursday night) and driving around the city and enjoying the beautiful, and not typical belgium weather of 24 degrees (celcius, of course) it was a pretty relaxing day off.

i also began testing out an arm band lent to me from dennis ribbens, called phiten.
it supposedly contains titanium in the sleeve and compresses your arm (elbow for a pitcher) and because of the iron in your blood, it alledgedly causes your blood to circulate faster, thus healing your arm better. although, my father, jay prinstein, is not a believer in it, i have to say it did make the arm feel a lot better after some intesne long tossing on thursday so i threw my bullpen friday evening at 8 pm with sammy (again) and it felt great.

because i didnt have to pitch until sunday i went out with clio, sharon, jill, joena, nick, joeron (pronounced yur-roon), and met up with alain and helga later on at this place called jamesons which was a blast. a bar, with club atmosphere and club music, only more relaxed on the dress and the it was a good spot, we stayed out pretty late but had a blast, practicing my belgium dance moves and brought back some old school moves from first grade to the techno music that i'm so learning how to dance the hokey pokey (which the apparently also do differently here... they do this whole thing called... in/out in/out...real fast at the chorus part. it's a learning process. of course, i was a soot/suit, just drinking water and paying 50 eurocents to use the bathroom for the water but got to hang out with a lot of people and got to see some nightlife...unfortunately, too many people in the car on the way back meant that was i wasnt allowed to drive.

saturday april 21 game 3.
ride to brussels with the group - sammy, nick and dennis ribbens. last time we all drove to holland it was flemish the whole way, but this time they did some english and i got to participate. this point can not be understated. these guys make such big adjustments to include me and make me feel welcome, they alter their conversations and how they talk just so i can participate and understand. truly amazing. imagine if you spoke good spanish and you and your friends only speak spanish in american when an exchange student from spain came to visit. pretty much what they do for me. unbelievable.
we faced a pretty solid american pitcher who was an all american at amherst college in massachusetts last year but he left balls up in the zone all day and we pounded out 3 HR. steven our cf, phil the leftfielder, and our 17 year old phenom thomas in right field who hit his ball out after he confused the bunt sign with hit and run (so he swang at a ball above his hands and still hit it out). kenny pitched a real good game once he got some food in him (he eats between every inning i've never seen anything like it) and we walked over them 13-3. so we are 3-0 on the young season and with my taking the ball tomorrow i think there is a lot of pressure on me to replicate my performance of no hit ball last week, but with a tougher team who showed they could hit the ball pretty well on saturday if you are't sharp and hit your spots.
just relaxed with my phiten arm sleeve the rest of the day and watched mlb on tv.
go pistons. go wings.
erwin gets back to the continent tomorrow which means no more parties at his house....crap.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

recap volume 1 + no hitter in first pro start? no way...

tuesday april 10: last real day of sickness. but then my stomach attacked and had trouble being effective at round 2 of the baseball camp the pioneers put on. threw some long toss at practice and got some good at bats in. forgot what i did afterwards...i think i went to nick's place, our first baseman, who i really enjoying hanging out with - he's got a great taste in music and seems to be a burgeoning intellectual, like myself. i went over to his place and we did part 1 of a music exchange as he took 3 hours and went through my labtop sampling and taking some tunes.

wednesday april 11: felt a lot better and had a great time helping to coach the older kids (11-16) in the camp. the youngest kid is a lefty, whose name is tough and i forgot it of course, but he has the best technique and fundamentals of any ballplayer in the u.s. or wherever of someone his age, and the weirdest part - he was playing SS, i had him move to CF, and he was sick...catches everything with two hands, perfect arm action, runs hard and makes proper turns at first, just does everything perfect, i have never seen anything like it. i told his mom, that he has a lot of potential, i wouldnt be surprised to hear about him in six years.
sammy was there and i threw a 75 pitch bullpen from the mound, which was the best i felt all year. change-up i loosened the grip on and had better downward action. the slider was breaking two planes, and breaking hard, my fastball was on each corner on the knees and popping.
sammy came back after the camp and picked me up and he took me to see a sport, typical to belgium, called korfball. it's a hybrid of handball, basketball, and soccer, i guess. they use a hard soccer ball, and two basketball poles with a basket and no backboard a little higher up than an actual basketball hoop. it was played outside, 4 defenders - 4 on offense, 4 girls and 4 guys on a team. can't run with the ball, and can't shoot if a defender is guarding you. really strange game, but sammy is part of a fan club that goes nuts for the sport (the girls wear short skirts, is why i think there are a lot of guys in attendance) and it was surprisingly really entertaining. this is my introduction into belgium sport, culture, and leisure activities: korfball.

thursday april 12:
forgot what i did in the morning
practice in the evening

friday april 13: with erwin out of town for 2 weeks in mexico and canada, some of my teammates have decided to "pitch-in" and take care of the americano. alain, the often-mentioned patient hitting 2nd baseman with the best belgium name of my short stay here thus far took me to get some suppliments (belgium style, twice the price as in the u.s.) and afterwards with his darling girlfriend helga, made a great spaghetti dinner at his place. i thrw a short bullpen to sammy and then headed over to watch alain play foosball with dennis and kenny at "the place to be"cafe. alain is supposedly one of the best foosball players in the country, and i can attest to that as i, (key word )tried to play him on the foosball, i guess it's a table or in belgium we refer to it as a tofle, at his home and he soundedly whipped me like i had never been whipped in foosball before. i went with david frenkil, my best friend from the u.s. who is in town for a few days ahem with the antwerp eagles, they were taking a look at him, since the club is in desperate need of some pitching help, and david is a tall lefty.
after watching the foosball for about 3 hours we headed over to the park where wendy (who plays on a korfball club) was having a studio 54 party. alain likes to close down the places he visits, and that's all i have to say about that.

saturday april 14: opening day at the antwerp eagles field. going into the game the newspaper had us a darkhorse contender behind the Greys (last year's champion), meanwhile, the Eagles, who used to be one of the best teams in the premier league, are now fledging to stay in first division. (similar with soccer, at the end of the year, the best team in 2nd division moves up to first and the worst team moves down to 2nd) this year it looks like the eagles might be that team. we won pretty handidly 12-2. Our starting pitcher Kenny Van Den Branden is not that big of a guy but he's young and still growing, he throws pretty good heat, excellent movement, and a variety of offspeed pitches which he throws from a variety of arm hangles. I would definitely compare him to El Duque aka Orlando Hernandez. He pitched an excellent game and as i noticed has a rare superstition or habit of eating something between every inning, i'm talking not just like a candy bar but whole sandwhiches (brootjas), it''s incredible. I got two at bats, once we put the game out of reach, Mark had me pinch hit for Alain at DH, and first time up I trouble staying back on the ball and grounded out to third or short, somewhre on the left side, i don''t know, i don't watch it - i just run. Second time up though, i faced this tall american lefty pitcher who started me off with two balls before i got my fastball down the middle and laced it to deep center but right at the centerfielder. it felt nice with my new SAM Bat though.

after the game i went with nick and his friends clio and joena (pronounced u-nah) to a great italian restaurant and i had a blast. the girls were real down to earth and everyone did a great job of speaking in english and including me on the conversation. as i concluded in previous posts, the leisurely pace of how things are done in this culture, i am truly marveled by. after dinner, we sat out on the terrace of the restaurant and enjoyed the unusually nice for this time of year 70 degree weather, while they drank wine, i was a soot/suit (a loser who drinks water when he goes out with friends who are all drinking alcohol). They convinced me to go with them to the tofleje rond (the small round table) a place i visited with sammy, nick, and nick the previous week and first met the girls, when i rudely leaned my head into their conversation (of flemish) and when they looked at me funny, i told them in english that i was trying to work on my language skills and i was listening for key words like morgen (tomorrow) spelen (play) pintja (beer) and poepen (shall remain untranslated), of course, it was funny all of the sudden and not rude because i was the stupid american in the foreign country - so i'm glad they didn't hold that against me when we hung out this time. back at the tofle i continued my sootness/suitness (not sure on the spelling, did i mention dutch is impossible to speak and SPELL?) by drinking water all night and even though i wanted to get back early because i was the starting pitcher the next day, we got carried away with my transition to flemish language (helping my pronunciation, which in honor of my friend alli back home who once told someone that i told her that they spoke belgianeese in belgium *i didnt i said they speak flemish but that's another story - the girls have nicknamed my complete butchering of the language as belgianeese - it's an english, dutch, flemish, antwerpen, flanders hybrid and also with my pick-up lines like ye hip moya ojen (you have beautiful eyes) which i used on the bartender, but i dont think she bought it, oh well...

Sunday April 15 tax day in the states - 1st ever professional starting pitching game.
this is the game that i've been dreaming about since i was 7 years old, although, at that time i was thinking i'd go right from college to the chicago cubs, it looks like i might have to take a more indirect route, but i have to say, thus far, a stopover in belgium has been quite nice.
first, i have to say the adjustments i made during the week, in order to not repeat the mishap that took place spring training against PSV. working on the change-up grip, loosening up my arm on back side, my overall focus and mental projection, visualization, etc. I have to say that my manager Mark, does an excellent job of letting do my routine, I was able to get to field, listen to my music and relax and when I was ready to begin my pre-game routine I was simply allowed to just do my thing, which probably was the greatest asset to the start of the game... I went into the first pitch, focused, relaxed, excited, but calm unlike my first home start last week where i was anxious to show off for the crowd, as Helga suggested two nights before "just pitch your game i know you can be great..."i did. for five innings. no hits. zero. i walked a batter in the 4th inning on a 3-2 count with a 4 seamer right on the corner that the ump had been giving to me all day and then the next batter blooped one in right infront of our right fielder thomas who was playing shallow. the runner on first had to wait in the middle of the base path before it dropped in and thomas made a great heads up play throwing it into 2nd base for the force out, so instead of a hit it was a Fielder's Choice 9-6. We started off slow against the Eagles only leading 3-0 going into the bottom of the 3rd then exploded for 25 runs in the next two innings in crushing them 28-0. i never pitched a game like that, last no hitter was freshman year of high school in my 2nd outing i also went 4 or 5 innings of a no hitter. but this was an abringed (shortened) no hitter because of our route, the game was over after 5. sammy called a great game and it felt great to be working with him again as my battery mate since it had been almost 3 weeks since we got a whole game together. he also hit the ball well, as did most of our team including Steven our CF, who i believe his nickname is "Bear"? but i think that's what all the guys say it's always tough to translate the flemish, as we discussed last paragraph. Steven started off thes season with a solid 8-8 or something like that over the two games. not too shabby. here's what the website had to say:

Zondag was er veel volk opgedaagd om onze Amerikaanse werper, Justin Prinstein, aan het werk te zien. Slechts 59 pitches had hij nodig om een NO-HITTER te laten noteren. Reeds na 1 uur en 50 minuten ( 5 innings ) stond er een 28 - 0 eindstand te blinken op ons scorebord. Onnodig te zeggen dat onze jongens er weer stevig tegenaan gingen aan slag. Het leek met momenten wel of er maar één ploeg op het veld stond.

the celebration was pretty simple. i showed david some of antwerp... i took him to the only spots i know... a bolleke (a big round glass that is native to antwerp and contains rich and smooth and the most amazing beer in the world brewed right here in belgium) and then to the toffleje rond and then finally to fritteur no. 1. which i now can make a full order in flemish/dutch/antwerpen/flanders aka belgianeese.

Monday, April 9, 2007

game time

Saturday was my first time pitching at home for our last spring training warmup before the regular season gets under way this weekend. We hosted a pretty good club from Holland named PSV (yes the same organization for the famous dutch soccer club, sharing the same name...
A few mishaps before the game - i was supposed to be picked up by dennis, or at least i thought, but apparently it was lost in translation the night before when he asked me what time i wanted to go to the field, he was just asking what time i would be there at and not when he would pick me up. so i walked to the ballpark and was quite late which is mutually exclusive from how i was also late in getting warmed up for the game, which i wasn't (warmed up, that is...) when i went in to begin the first inning, as the team waited by the dugout for me to finish my warm-up pitches in the bullpen on the opposite end of the field.
i proceeded, as i was also pretty overly excited since there were a ton of people there (a huge group of americans from ramstein airforce base in germany came to participate in a wewekend tournament for the little kids and a lot were sticking around to watch our game) to walk 2 of the first 4 hitters before i got out of the first inning bases loaded jam unscathed. we put a run up in the bottom of the first and despite the fact that i liked our chances after throwing a scoreless second inning, i was falling behind most batters mostly due to the fact that i couldn't locate my fastball (everything was up in the zone) and to make matters worse i couldn't get my change-up over, not once time in the first 3 innings, seriously.
mechanically i know what i was doing wrong which is good so i can correct it during the week we have before the game (breaking my hands too late in my delivery causing my arm to lag behind and then cheating my arm by taking a shorter path to the release point which my elbow is down and forearm is clenched and not loose...but who cares about the technical stuff, the moral of the story was i was guiding the ball on the chaneup and my release point was terrible for the fastball).

it was a pretty good hitting club so i tried to mix up my offspeed pitches to start hitters off because they were just sitting on my fastball, but the only pitch i could get over was the slider, which i apparently, was tipping off to a few hitters possibly because i was giving the signs to the catcher instead of vice-versa. an interesting dilemma in which we were having some definite communication problems, so our manager, mark, had go by what i wanted to throw and i would relay it using a part of my body to our catcher. something i had never had to do before and definitely made things interesting and diverted much of my focus before each pitch. (side baseball note upcoming)

*usually, as a pitcher, you have an idea of what you want to do, but you want your catcher who knows the league/hitters/how they're standing in the box/what they did the last time/how the ump is calling the game, to make the suggestion and then you either agree or feel, on those rare occassions, that maybe something else might be better...

well anyways 3rd inning i got roughed up a bit for 2 runs, walks, hits, getting behind batters in the count and not being able to locate my change-up aka my best pitch did me in. overall the first three innings were crap. in the fourth inning i made some adjustments and started getting the ball down and ahead in the count, my change-up finally decided to make it over the plate (throw it, don't guide it as my personal catcher at gw john birk would say) and my slider was working pretty well, except on this particular inning PSV decided to tee off on first pitch fastballs and also on a hanging slider, which led to another 2 runs.
i exited the game with a pretty crappy 4 IP, 4 ER, 3 K, 4 BB (maybe more) 4 or 5 hits. we ended up losing 11-2. the bad news, i didnt do much this game to have our staff have much confidence in my performance heading into the season, although i feel like my first spring training outing against competition we'll be facing during the year was pretty good, the last two weren't so hot. the good news is that i was able to make adjustments in the game in the 4th inning and correct some things. my so called "worst pitch" of my big 3 happens to be working very well in the games right now so i have a lot of confidence in that, and even though i don't think how i pitched was remotely near acceptable, even on my worst day i wasn't shallaked. i simply beat myself.
regardless, i'm pretty exciting for the real games to get started and with some warm weather moving in (expected to be in the 70s instead of the dreary and windy 40s and low 50s we've been playing in)...

aside from dennis who i hang out with daily because he loves to work out and do baseball training 24/7 like i, i began hanging out more with our 1b/of nick and catcher sammy this weekend. first, after the game i blew off some steam by going out with a friend of erwin's (now a friend of mine, as i know officially can count on 4-5 people that now call or text me...i have actually have friends, so that's fun) to de vagant which is a very famous, old "typical belgian"bar down in the center of the city by the cathedral. we had gezers or jezers or some kind of liquor that is very big in belgium and something that i never heard of. good place and i'll def have to visit again.

sunday i woke up early (yes, 9 am and i am fully adjusted to this other time zone, finally!) and went with dennis to his girlfriends softball game in downtown antwerp, and i have to say 1) it was the first time i think i ever decided to go watch a softball game and 2) his girl's team could absolutely mash the ball. afterwards we went back to their clubouse where frankly i felt pretty out of place, the majority of the girls, let's say were not interested in me for a pretty basic reason, and to remind me even more that i'm not in kansas anymore, english was not spoken, at all. so i sat for a few hours trying to listen for flemish words i knew, before my hero, alain (the second baseman for those of you scoring at home) came to pick me up (i was stuck on the otherside of the city) and dropped me off at home so i was able to do some running (as i ran through hoboken) and was able to not get lost on my way to my assistant coach's - nils and helen's house for a little easter bbq with some other teammates, sven, nick, alain, dave, and erwin with all their significant others. afterwards, sammy, nick and nick's friend nick - (lost yet?) and i, all went to a small hole in the wall, just a real fun bar, right in the downtown next to the city.government hall structure thing. we were out to 4 am or so and had a great time, and met a beautiful bartender jill who i think is good friends with sammy and we'll all be chillin again sometime this week. as far as the going out goes - i know a few lines in flemish, none really appropriate but all are good ice breakers, but i find it increasinly difficult to speak with people english sometimes the louder and more alcohol people have as the night goes on (some notes to remember i guess - speak early in english, later in flemish)...

monday was a day off, national holiday in belgium and most of my teammates were out with family so i went with the next best thing to family - ilse picked me up and i got a chance to hang out with her and 7 year old, i think 7 - arthur. (see pictures above) we had a good time playing with rabbits, going shopping for gardening, jumping on the trampeline and visiting the duvel beer factory to take pictures to prove to my sister rachel sara prinstein (happy birthday by the way!) that i am actually in europe. pictures to come maybe? and maybe some from dave finally too...
did some long tossing at the field later with sammy and then spent all day tuesday at the field, from 9 am in the morning to 9 pm at night. working on the field, playing darts in the clubhouse with some of the guys, hitting for hours, throwing a very encouraging bullpen of 70 pitches or so, 30 min of running, full pratice with my favorite pitcher's covering first base defense drill and full batting practice. probably one of the best days i have had here yet. i love the baseball. 'nuff said.

where did all the toilet handles go? seriously - there are none.

a little late on the post but here's a quick update

wed: sick all day
thurs: still really sick (sinus infection, flu, cold, jet lag, allergies, combination of those? who knows) but got up and went to work the baseball camp with dennis at the field. all the belgium kiddies have 2 weeks off for easter so the club is putting on an all day baseball camp for a few days this week and next week teaching baseball to newbies and helping some young baseball veterans out. so i went to the field for the day, oh wait, i forgot to bring something, that's right...
how to speak the frickin language, yeah that would probably help. all morning as i spent blowing my nose into an entire roll of toilet paper that i brought i had 5-9 year olds as they rotated to my station of hitting of the tee and then after break for soft-toss. i had no way of telling these kids in flemish how to hit the ball.
i mean i tried sign-language: success rate = 6%,
i tried english: success rate = -0.3%,
i tried flemish: success rate = 1%
i tried demonstration: success rate = 0 %
i tried long distance translator: success rate = 15%
i tried just doing nothing: success rate 14.4 %
i actually don't know what i thinking by trying to talk to them in english because they really had no clue what i was saying and then they would ask me something or say anything and i was completely lost and then we just would stare at each other. i was lucky to have this one kid juric, who was 8 i think and said to dennis that he understood everything i said but couldnt always talk back but he would tell his partners in crime what i was saying so that helped. and he hasn't stopped following me around the ballpark since i taught him the fist explosion handshake... it's official i have one fan. that's always good.
the PM was much better, dennis and i had the flyball station for the older kids and we made it fun. i threw pop-ups as high as i could, had the kids run (lopa!) after it all over the field and we had a blast, except for the time i yelled "dika, dika!" instead of "duka, duka" at the gravitationally challenged 11 year old (overweight is the correct terminology, i guess) who was running after a fly ball.... probably so loud they heard me in downtown antwerp. of course i didnt realize that dika means fat while duka means to dive. whooops.
practice afterwards which i threw a pen, to my catcher sammy, definitely one of the best catchers i've ever had. he's got the arm strength of a joe michalski (baltimore orioles 2005) but a quicker release and transfer. plus he calls pitches like a real pro *that he is, i mean already i can say that we are almost 99 percent on the same page, and the best part, when i throw the change-up that starts up before it falls off the table (at least when i do it right) his glove doesnt flinch, he knows it will drop and just let's it get there intead of making it look like a ball or that i didnt hit my spot. can't say enough so far, in practice, but nevertheless i'm already really comfortable with him there.

a chilled out day trying to get better from the sickness that i still can't shake
did a lot of hitting with dennis at the field, swing is definitely coming along.
working on keeping the front leg stiff as i connect, as i have in the past, flexed it especially to get to low pitches instead of using my back leg. and then the main thing, trusting my hands (which have been surprisingly quick this spring for the long layoff) and staying back!!!! in the midst of this batting report, i'll toss a quick endorsement of SAM bats out there ( the best maple wood in the entire world who are outfitting me for the season and apparently the JC1 model (named after rachel prinstein's favorite joe carter) which the specially made for me in a matter of weeks in march and got them out to me literally 1 day before i left for belgium, has been a big hit with some of my teammates over here.
after hanging out at the club for a bit and watching some with dennis, we all went out with alain to my current favorite bar - la suite (definitely not the correct spelling, but def how it is pronounced) where i was "that guy" who was drinking water the whole night because of the start on saturday and whom the waitress was definitely making fun of in flemish, especially when we were all giving her orders and i said in matter of fact english, "if you have any single women back there, i'll take that, astubleif (please in flemish)" the good news was she didnt understand me, the bad news was that alain definitely translated in flemish.
maybe next time.
which brings me to my next question...
why don't the toilets have handles here? really?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

craziest story in belgium thus far

it's official - it's only been one day and i'm already going through baseball withdrawl.
i'm sick as a dog - i thought orginally a flu, now of course, turned into a full-blown sinus infection that has kept me up three nights in a row coughing and nose running and headache and with my out of date allegra not helping i must turn to my advil cold and sinus i luckily brought with me from the states and then some other things in erwin's cabinet that i can't read and hopefully won't overdose on while he is away on business in amsterdam...the only real solution is to get this disorder operated on when i get back to the states...

in the past few days i've received my first phone call from jimmy duggan (asking for pitching tips, bless his heart he deserves to have a great season at GW this year), mom, and today, yep that's right, rachel sara prinstein, the one - the only, and always too busy to make time for her brother actually sat on the phone and listened today ( i guess she had no choice being stuck on the washington to new york bus)... so shout outs to all of them for calling, and in case anyone else that reads this wants to here what it sounds like on the other end of the globe feel free to type in +32 4 99 22 88 99. looks strange, like just about everything i've seen here (fries in mayo????)

i'm having a blast with the mlb package erwin purchased the other night and i'm getting set to watch the tigers in a little while, meanwhile, it looks like the pioneers will be squaring off against one of the top dutch teams this weekend for a little home and home warm-up before the season kicks off the following weekend in antwerp, ill be throwing on saturday which means if i'm able to breathe tomorrow i'll work a baseball camp for all ages at the club from 9-5 and then throw an extended bullpen session followed by some light tossing on friday before my start on saturday.

last night quite the experience...after taking some meds that i couldnt read to feel better i left my humble adobe for the tram #2 and Ilse recommended and headed toward Plaantin station, in hopes of finding someone that a) spoke english and b) could point me in the direction of where i could go for a seder that evening since my other 3 contacts from various people...the ijc in brussels, michael wolf from back home, and Ilse friend the De Wulfs friend (yes quite a stretch but i tried) all were abroad... i was lost for a bit when i got out of the tram but found my way to the chabad house where i walked the street for about 15 min looking for signs of life, with nothing to be found, finally a man emerged from a building with his kid and i asked him if he spoke english, "a little," he replied, i continued by asking him about where i can find a seder, if the chabad was open, etc. etc. and he walked up to the door and pointed at a sign that was for april 2nd (the day before) and told me to try to come back between 8 and 9 tonight, and someone should be here...

battling my sinus infection/flu virus/something that makes you want to sleep all day and not breathe or eat, i went to practice and aside from long tossing tried to keep it low-key, i left around 720 to go find a place for the seder and see if i couldnt make the night real interesting...
i took the tram to plaantin station like earlier in the afternoon, but now with the sunset i was pretty discombobulated, wandering the streets, in a foreign country tired and sick. i walked to the chabad house again where it seemed this time lights were on and some commotion going on upstairs, so the first man that i saw i asked him if he knew if there was a seder there tonight...
in horrible english he told me to wait (yeah, i'm wondering how you can screw up "wait here"as well... but he did) he then motioned to me to follow him up the stairs where i was told to wait again. a man emerged who began to speak pretty decent english with me... we chatted for a bit, he was the son of the rabbi who everyone had told me to find (so he did exist, although not listed in information as Ilse had found out) and actually lived in new york city with his new wife. he invited me in for services and then afterwards to his family's seder.

i was able to hold my own in the services, obviously not too different from the states, but things got interesting once i started walking "home" with the rabbi and his family. he was a very nice and wise man asking me a ton of questions about my life, what i was doing in belgium, about baseball in particular, however, his english was horrible although he told me he could understand most of what i said. what became apparent once the setting moved into their residence was that everyone spoke to each other in hebrew and yiddish, with the seder conducted entirely in english, and the rabbi's other son, who was currently living in chicago with his wife from west bloomfield michigan (very very small world) translated almost everything for me. there is no way to classify this phemonenon other than simply stating from saturday to tuesday i heard nothing spoken but 3 different languages (dutch, flemish, and hebrew) and frankly i was having trouble keeping track of everything. however, it felt great to be at the seder with the whole family there were definitely over 20 people total there, including friends and little kids running around, and as noted, by the rabbi, for what the holiday is all about - for the youth, to pass on the story and make it fun for them, as well as following the commandment to observe it. what was amazing was how late the five 2-5 year old kids stayed up and participated (well past 3 AM) and how they helped lead the service in the entirely different language than i could understand. it was also nice to be there because despite the language barrier and being in a whole different country and with a group that was far more religious, the customs they took part in with so similar to everything i've done with our family in michigan that i felt right at home. except, for the fact that we never actually got to the meal part of the seder. i think we started around 10 pm but when i got up to leave at 1235 so i could make it home before the tram closed, we still hadn't eaten although i thought we were close, i was coerced, ok, definitely not but i didnt want to be rude since they were being so nice, so i decided to take them up on the offer to stay downstairs at their family friends' empty apartment who had gone abroad for the holiday. the next 3 hours were a blur as i was becoming increasingly sick, increasingly light headed from lack of food, and then somehwere in between from the wine they kept pouring. by 345 am they had just begun to start serving fish (of course to my pleasure!) and some sort of potato kugel concoction, by this time i was almost asleep at the table so i was led downstairs by a family member whose name (like everyone there) i have forgotten, and i laid down on a fold-up bed around 415, setting my alarm for 7 am so i could make it up to the baseball camp i was scheduled to help out with at the field, 40 min away in hoboken. one problem, my sinus thing had become so bad i could not breathe and therefore as i blew my nose the entire 3 hours, did not sleep a wink. i got up and slipped out (along with some food they had left for me in two huge bags, so unnecessary but also so nice) traveled back to my place in hoboken and could not breathe or even talk nor stand enough to be able to work the camp so i passed out for about 3 hours. the good news it helped me entirely get over my jet lag because tonight i'm finally going to bed at like 11 pm, the bad news is that i have practice tomorrow and i'm horribly sick still...
what i will take away from this experience:
it took a lot of guts to travel to a place (couldn't have done it without ilse's help either) that i had no idea how to get to and didnt know a single person and had to deal with two language barriers and then find someone who spoke my language to ask them if i could come to their house to eat dinner...sounds a lot weirder than it actually was, oh was that odd. nevermind.
at the services, i met two young men, probably a few years younger than me, one of whom, i had been to the luvabich center in southfield michigan (can you believe the coincidences!) and was surprised to find out that i'm from southfield michigan, but spoke english alright and his friend invited me to their house to have seder as well, but afterwards, the father who teaches in a school there or something, i was having trouble understanding, as usual, insisted on my attendance to some of their saturday morning services and other functions (not fully trying to covert me, but i got an inclination) which similarly was stated by every member of the slavatisky (sp?) household that i attended the actual seder at...they were pretty addament (sp?'s late i'm tired, so cut me some slack today) about my continued participation and baseballness in their we'll see.
they definitely treated me amazing and were beyond cordial, in fact, i must say i was the hit of the seder. the rabbi tried to tell a baseball story with a jewish/life analogy (standard) that he couldn't complete because of lack of vocabularly so it was bounced around the table a few times before i think his wife finally was able to finish it. then there was also numerous justin story times - about baseball, about my customs, about my life in american and what the heck i was doing in belgium, but mostly they were intrigued with the baseball and the baseball in belgium, which a solid 2 hours of the seder was probably spent discussing, which i did in english, and i'm sure maybe 5-6 people understood, and half of them under the age of 8. i even told how baseball and passover were always making for interesting experiences during my college career (like flying in a prop plane from pittsburgh to st. bonaventure in middle of nowhere new york during the middle of a t-storm and getting to the game 30 min prior to start after being up til 3 am at uncle sheldon's for seder and waking at 5 to get to BWI airport in DC last year)
i think the entourage was interested in coming to see a game or something. should make for an interesting summer, regardless. so there it is mom, my passover was more exciting as it actually happened, and unfortunately the orthodox don't really allow you to take pictures at the seder, but maybe i'll venture back with the camera one of these days so we can all have some visual images (rachel still doesnt even believe i'm in europe because she has no visual evidence) and hopefully i can be an example for jewish baseball players everywhere (all six of them including andrew haberern at gw) and from this experience i may be blessed with a reappearance of the 86-88 mph fastball for the first game of the season...

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ok now i really know i'm not in washington dc...

*walking home from practice i encounter strange animal walking across road to the pond on my left, wild chicken and a multi-colored rooster standing on a tree branch??? ok... it's official, this place is very different.
*also a strange occurence: in the car on friday night driving to the "dirty laundry"name of the second club alain (on the right at la suite) took us to, on the radio, i heard my favorite detroit underground hip-hop group slum village - why this is all my years at home in michigan and listening to the hip hop station for 3 years in d.c., i never heard them played on the radio - and i get all the way out to belgium and they were playing at 1130 at night, the moment i happened to jump in the car to head out to the other bar...odd.

Monday, April 2, 2007

no SUV's?

It's 1 PM here on Monday and I'm on some serious recovery mode from the weekend.
First, a few notes on European living...
*the showers don't have bathtubs in it here (erwin's place, patsy, and the hotel in holland - i will further investigate this phenomenon)
*learning the language will be harder than expected - i'm carrying around a book to write down words and sentences, however, beyond the standard dutch that's in print or you read on the website ( there are various dialects, flemish, antwerpen, etc. that are almost unrecognizable to regular dutch speakers in holland. what's even more impressive is that many of the people i meet here are at minimum tri-lingual (enlgish, dutch, flemish) and additionally most are fluent in german or french or both
*jamiroquoi is still pretty big according to some of my teammates as we listened to him on the way to the game at 10 am saturday morning...(something ball players would never do in the states)
*the pace of the european lifestyle and taking time to enjoy leisure activites (will be further discussed below)

Friday: standard lifting and hitting but no throwing because 5 days in a row = day off, found out i was being moved to the sunday game and that would also allow me to lift upper body and then take a nice toss in on saturday to get loose.
alain lambeau (probably the best belgian name i've encountered thus far), our second baseman and stud hitter (one of the most patient hitters i've seen in a long time) had been making arrangements to show me the fun side of antwerp for a few days, so around 21:00 (that's how they tell time here) he picked me up in his auto (what they call cars) that was a stick (have not seen one automatic yet, thus goes my chances of stealing a car for a little ride around the country-side this season) and we went to a bar for some pinjers (juliper on tap - probably the most amazing just regular beer i've ever tasted). what struck me about this bar, as the inside, seemed like any old modern-uppity watering hole that could fit in any urban u.s. downtown area was the atmopshere inside. i had never seen a crowd so mixed of young-hip 20 somethings, 30 year old looking like they were definitely in their 20's (like the crowd i was with) and plenty of 40 and 50 year old parents, just absolutely enjoying themselves. a chill crowd, everyone conversating in their own circles, pretty packed, and a techno, electronica, u.s. top 40, and non-pop obscure u.s. classic fusion is the only way to describe what was played. As previously mentioned, the crowd's age and mix struck me as something that i don't ever see on a friday night at 11 PM in new york, chicago, dc, detroit, etc. and had me thinking more broadly, that i have noticed that the folks in belgium really take their leisure time seriously. the pace here considerably more calm, people seem to make time in their day to eat dinner at home (the fewest amount of restaurants i've ever seen is in hoboken and parts of antwerp), people really seem to make time to just have a friendly conversation with a complete stranger too or a good friend, almost in no-rush to move around (whether it be on to the next person, on to the next club, or on to the next task). As I learned, Alain had planned to go to a few different places to show me but we ended up being at this spot for a few hours, not because it was all that special, but everyone was just conversating with no breaks and there was really no rush.

Saturday: after about 4 hours of sleep i woke up in a rush to pack for our overnight trip to holland, really not all that exciting aside from the 3 teammates that i drove with speaking the entire hour long drive in flemish so i was basically rendered useless, although on a positive note i only saw one mcdonalds off the highway for an entire hour long drive. the spring training tourney that we participated in was with three other teams all from holland's second division, good baseball but they do use aluminum bats and we stuck with our wood obviously, so it made the playing field a little unfair, however, we weren't really there to win the entire tournament, and that's why we used wood, just getting the timing down, live reads in the field, and for our pitchers to get the pitch count up a bit. we made a lot of errors in the first game before our pitcher tommy settled down and threw a gem, however, the damage was pretty much done and the bats didn't come alive until it was too late. in the second game, we won pretty handidly (not sure if that's a word, my english has gone bad in the 3 weeks that i've been here and trying to learn flemish/dutch/or whatever hybrid like antwerpen that is used). Jurgen our lefty specialist tossed a good game against the most annoying american pitcher i think i'll see over here, from claremont mckenna college a D3 school out in california. the lad was a classic annoying american baseball chatter box, who was constantly yelling from the dugout the most obvious and obnoxious standard baseball comments, every pitch, and of course louder than anyone else. i wanted to bean him, badly. back at the very nice hotel, the guys all ate at mcdonalds, which of course i could have any time in the states (but really fun for them i guess...) and i just ate at the hotel before retiring early to bed
Sunday: pitched the 1145 am game against a dutch team...because there was a game before us i poorly mismanaged my warm up time and didn't start a (flat ground) bullpen until already 1 out in the top of the 1st, i rushed through it but managed to get out there and shut the team down fairly easily in the first and second innings. in the third inning, the catcher i work very well with, sammy, was pulled because his arm was pretty sore and i was paired with thomas, a good hitting and very young (17) OF who is our emergency 3rd string catcher. he is going to be quite the ballplayer but we definitely struggled communication-wise and things were definitely lost in translation. i never really got comfortable or into a rythym after the 2nd innning, the third inning, i loaded up the bases before escaping unscratched, and because we were only playing an 80 min ball game, we went into the 4th (maybe it was the 5th) leading 4-0 (although at the time, i have to admit, i was completely, ok not completely (rosenau) but definitely unaware of the score...thomas and i had been struggling because since it had been a while since he caught he didnt really grasp the concept of adding more than one sign when runners on second base could peak in and see, and because it was only a practice game i was going to let it slide, but then the other team started motioning to their teammates what the pitches were (definitely a no-no in a meaningless game in my baseball etiquette book), so i called thomas out to talk things over, so he started doing the first sign in a series of what i thought would be five or six, but he ended up only doing 2 or 3 and making it fairly obvious that it was the first sign when he would put down (1 - for a fastball, then followed by wiggle, and 2 fingers) of course after i throw a fastball the other team would easily figure out that it was the first sign. so i called thomas back out to the mound again and told him to do more signs. before the last inning i told him give me 5 signs and it would be the third one. in retrospect, i should have, at that point, just taken control of my pitches, since i knew what i wanted to throw anyways and i would repeatedlly be shaking him off, until the batter would step out and call time because it was taking too long. i guess i really never devised a system for that, mainly because as a younger ball player i was fortunate enough to have some great catchers call great games and both of us be on the same page like austin poole in high school, and bob schmidt during the summer (who now plays at wayne st university) and at albion, in college, guys like pete grostic or matt cook or matt shook, but i've never fared well with catchers i don't agree with on pitch selection like our back-up at albion or our catcher my senior year of high school or our starter my senior year at GW mainly not because they don't know what they're doing, but as a thinking pitcher and one that relies on my ability to out-smart hitters not necessarily blow fastballs by them, i take an unorthodox approach to my game plan and this made it especially difficult for young thomas and i to be on the same page sunday. he started off the inning by giving me 5 signs, even with no runners on, i got lazy and didnt feel like calling him out there again, but when i walked the first batter on 4 straight pitches (2 of which were definitely strikes but i think the umpire blinked because thomas didnt even move his glove) thomas continued to give a series of 5 signs and then shaking him off from the change-up to the slider to the fastball took forever (usually if he gives a 4 and i shake off you go back to 1, but instead he went to 2, then to 1) so i called him out again and said only give the series when a runner reaches second. i dont recall how but that runner reached second and somewhere in between a botched double play, 2 singles, and a batter that i drilled with a 1 ball and 2 strike slider to load up the bases and gave up a few runs, thomas started giving me 6 signs instead of 5 and sometiems 4 and i kind of got lost on where the number 3 sign was falling... again, i should have at this point just told him what i was throwing, basically take command, but i continued with the step-off, the redo the sign, and the shakes, mentally draining and taking the game for my usual fast pace to a grinding halt. at pitch #85, after making the batter with 2 outs and a 1 run lead look absolutely silly with 2 knee buckling sliders to get ahead, when thomas put down a fastball, i decided, that even though i should probably throw another slider, i was too impatient to shake off and go through the whole ordeal again, so i tried to throw a high fastball by him...big mistake. tired arm, didn't get the ball high enough with 2 strikes and out of the hitting zone, the pitch was stomach high and he belted it beyond our centerfielders reach for the game winning hit. not much to say about that last inning other than i screwed up, i let the game go out of control on my part and i didnt make the proper pitch when it counted. as many pitching gurus will tell you, if you don't believe in the pitch you are about to throw 100%, if there is doubt in your mind, it won't be successful. i'm not that worried about the game, other than the loss, because i probably won't be pitching with thomas behind the dish during the regular season, the mound will certainly not be a gravel pit, and aluminum bats i will see no more...otherwise some good things to learn from the outing. prepare better pre-game with the time frame, take control of my pitches and pitch selection, don't let the umpiring defocus you (always the hardest thing to do for pitchers), and choose a pitch and stick with it and sometimes the obvious pitch will work the best (don't try to get to fancy).
the second game i played a non-action right field, no balls hit to me, batted lead off in which i opened the game by walking and scoring, and we cruised to an easy victory, i also hit the ball not hard in two ground outs to third base, finding myself lunging a lot and being out in front of these pitchers a lot this spring. (so the past few days i've been really working in the cage with dennis on staying back and also thinking opposite field and just letting my hands take over and do the work).
upon my return to the friendly confines of belgium i finally connected with ilse fimmers, who is good friends with my cousin jodie in chicago...(the long story shortened is that ilse and her family moved to highland park for a year (or maybe 2?) and upon the family's return to their native antwerp, they have kept in touch with jodie, who notified her of my arrival and she got in touch with me). erwin dropped me off downtown that evening for her husband phillip's birthday party where we ate hamburgers, drank champagne, and i met and chatted with many interesting people about my upcoming season, baseball in general, and life in belgium. i had a great time and i think a lot of people were interested in checking out some games, with the regular season beginning in less than two weeks - april 14th against the antwerp eagles.

in other exciting news, i can watch the detroit tigers try to repeat as AL Champs this year because erwin ordered package that includes every single major league baseball game in great picture quality, in real time, on the computer (if i didn't need a real excuse to keep me in this summer and not explore the city)...