This Doesn’t Make Sense
In 2007, I went to the Netherlands, and I found myself with a day to waste between trips to Schiphol airport. My wife asked me what we were going to do for 10 hours or so, and without hesitation, I said: “We’re going to Haarlem.” When she asked why, I blurted out something about a Mariners prospect who was from the town, and how he’d come back from a broken hand and was having a great year for short-season Everett, and somewhere in the middle of it, I realized how silly it sounded. “What do you expect to see there? Random baseball games breaking out in the streets?” she asked incredulously. “No, no, I don’t know. It’ll just….it’ll be fun. It’ll make sense when we get there.”
He showed up in Tacoma at a meet and greet with fans and the media in April 2010 in a suit that looked like it came from Miami Vice’s costume department. The Rainiers were unveiling a new logo, but many of the press questions focused on the team’s new uber-talented but mercurial center fielder. Alonzo Powell talked about working with Halman on his approach, how willing to listen and learn he was, and about his prodigious natural talents. In his first game at Cheney, he looked foolish against Jhoulys Chacin for a few ABs, but made a great play in the field. Then, when he made real contact (I think it may have been against his future teammate Chaz Roe) – the bat sounded unnaturally loud, like an over-the-top Hollywood special effect. In April, he looked exactly like you might expect, given his scouting report: like a collection of amazing tools that hadn’t quite coalesced into a great player. He had an up-and-down year, but he showed enough freakish ability that I knew he’d have some sort of MLB career. He wanted it so much (the contrast with the incumbent M’s LF at the time, Milton Bradley, couldn’t have been starker), he had speed, power, defense… yes, his K:BB was bad, but he’d have a week here and there where he’d hit 4-5 HRs with another 4 2Bs. The A’s drafted Michael Choice, George Springer was racking up HRs (and whiffs) in college – who cared about strikeouts? Seriously, just LOOK at this kid. It’ll make sense.
This morning, I woke up to see the photos on Geoff Baker’s blog of Halman smiling and talking with kids in the Czech Republic. All day, I’ve been thinking about what Halman meant to these kids, a guy who grew up in the baseball backwater of Europe who’d made it to the Major Leagues. I imagine he told them how hard he worked to be where he was, and about always getting advice from coaches and teammates. I like to think that he learned something about how to approach the game, and about preparation, from Ichiro – and that he passed along this wisdom to the Czech youth earlier this month. The scene seems completely surreal to me – a young Dutchman, trying to impart the synthesis of Ken Griffey Jr (thesis) and Ichiro (antithesis) to Czech teenagers. Here was a guy just like them who, having fought the curveball to a draw, got to play with his hero, and got to learn from this crazy, monomaniacal Japanese guy who seemingly never struck out. Somehow, I think it must’ve made sense.
My heart goes out to Halman’s parents. I can’t imagine anything about this situation will ever make sense to them, or to any of us. We’ll miss you, Greg.