By Shannon Drayer
Greg Halman would have been thrilled by the sight of the orange-jersey-clad team setting up shop in the visitors' clubhouse a hundred yards away from the Mariners clubhouse in spring training.
Team Netherlands is in Peoria for two days of exhibition play before heading to the WBC Semifinals at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Tonight they take on the Mariners.
Halman most likely would have been on that team. He most likely would have stopped by the Mariners clubhouse for some good-natured trash talking before the game. It would have been welcome noise.
His loss is felt in that visitors' clubhouse as he was not only the face of Dutch baseball but a close friend and mentor to many who will suit up tonight.
"The spirit is still there," said Roger Bernadina of the Nationals, who was a close friend of Halman. "We don't forget about him."
Bernadina worked out with Halman five, six times a week in the offseasons and participated in a tour to bring baseball to Europe with Halman just weeks before his death.
Dutch players like Kalian Sams, a Mariners prospect, considered the late Greg Halman a friend and mentor and the face of baseball in The Netherlands.
"I always play for him every day," said Kalian Sams (right), who not only played against Halman in the Netherlands from the time he was 9 years old but also followed him to the Mariners organization.
"Everybody kind of knew Greg Halman, all the kids looked up to him," Sams said. "He was a great example. He was a great guy to be around and everybody loved him."
At 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, the physical resemblance isn't really there but the hitting lines may look a little familiar. Last year at Double-A Sams hit .248 with 11 home runs in 282 plate appearances. He struck out 81 times. Like Halman at that point of his career, Sams possesses great power but little discipline at the plate.
"I have to be more consistent at bat. Cut down the strikeouts, putting the ball in play, pitch selection, try to put good wood on the ball," he said.
His motivation is similar to Halman's. The two shared the same dream growing up.
"A lot of kids looked up to him and started playing baseball," Sams said. "They saw him go from the Dutch Leagues to the Major Leagues, that's every kids dream, of course. Greg was kind of the main guy at that point."
And who do they look up to next?
"Hopefully its me. I am working towards it," he answered.
According to both Bernadina and Sams, baseball is growing in The Netherlands.
"They have got some talent," Bernadina said. "You can't compare it to here but they are talking to each other, working together, fighting. It's getting there."
Sams believes that their success in the WBC will only help grow the sport.
"People are going crazy back home about the games," he said. "Everybody is supporting us. It is a very nice thing to have. That's why we are doing this."
The game against The Netherlands can be heard on 710 ESPN Seattle at 7:05 tonight.