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November 21, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Greg Halman was becoming “an icon” to baseball lovers in his homeland in weeks before his death

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PHOTO CAPTION: Group of MLB players on tour in Europe less than two weeks ago includes Baltimore Orioles pitcher Rick VandenHurk (back row, third from right), Greg Halman (second from right) and former big league slugger Bobby Bonilla (far right).
Mariners outfielder Greg Halman spent the final weeks of his life giving back to young baseball players in The Netherlands, where he grew up. Halman spent the first half of this month on an MLB European Tour of the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Italy, helping run baseball clinics and speaking about big league life on a continent where baseball is really just starting to hit the bigger world stage.
Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Rick VandenHurk, a native of the Dutch city of Eindhoven, has known Halman since he was 7 years old and accompanied him on the tour. They spent day and night together, participating in the clinics during the day, then heading out to restaurants and nightspots.
“Literally, we spent 24 hours a day together,” VandenHurk said by phone from California. “I just can’t believe this is happening. I just can’t comprehend it all. I hope I never comprehend it all.”
They last saw each other on Nov. 13 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, having flown back together to The Netherlands from Italy. VandenHurk had a connecting flight to catch to his home in the U.S., while Halman was headed to the apartment in the Dutch city of Rotterdam that he shared with his younger brother, Jason, 22, who has since been arrested but not yet charged in the stabbing death.
“He’s very well known everywhere in Holland,” VandenHurk said of Halman. “He was one of the biggest names that we have in baseball.”
And Halman got the star treatment in his native country. Kids surrounded him looking for autographs and gravitated towards the personable outfielder.
“He’s very outgoing and he was great with the kids,” VandenHurk said. “You could see how much they liked being around him.”
Eelco Jansen, who coaches the Kinheim professional baseball team in the Dutch Major Leagues, had Halman as a player in 2008 and coached his brother, a catcher, right on through this past season. Jansen said in a phone interview from The Netherlands today that he spoke to Halman two weeks ago when the MLB tour came through Amsterdam.
“For me, at this point, it’s all a blur,” he said. “It’s unbelievable that this could happen.”
Jansen said the two brothers were “inseparable” and that it makes what’s happened — with Jason Halman under arrest — that much more impossible to fathom.
“They both were more than close,” Jansen said. “The slogan both of them had was “Baseball is Life”. In my opinion, it was two guys who were almost exactly the same. Gregory took care of his little brother and Jason really looked up to him.”
Jansen said he spoke by phone to Halman’s mother, Hannie, earlier today and that she’s just overwhelmed by events.
Halman’s death, he added, is a blow to all of Dutch baseball.
“He was always open to helping make people better and that was the same after he became a major leaguer,” Jansen said. “For Dutch baseball, he was an icon.”


Jansen said that when he and his coaches met up with Halman a couple of weeks ago, he was as engaging and personable as ever.
“He hadn’t changed at all,” Jansen said. “Some players, when they become better than other players around them, they start to act differently. Not Gregory. He was the same as he’s always been.”
Halman spent last off-season working out with members of the Kinheim team.
“That was very important for all of us,” Jansen said. “Just to have a player of his stature coming to work out with everybody else.”
Halman was going to do the same this winter, when the team begins off-season workouts in a few weeks.
Jansen said Halman’s brother was also immensely talented. Jason Halman had spent years playing for the Haarlem-based Kinheim team but had recently switched to a squad in Rotterdam and was planning to play there next season.
“They were both above average talents,” Jansen said. “Could Jason have gotten as far as his brother? That isn’t for me to say, but he was very talented as a player.”
Former major league slugger Bobby Bonilla, now with the MLB Players’ Association, accompanied the players on the European tour and got to know Halman as they rode buses to the various clinics each day.
“He was trying to give back,” Bonilla said. “He was doing stuff in his native country and just thrilled about it. He was very excited about the clinics he was doing over there.”
Bonilla said the work done in The Netherlands by Halman and Vandenhurk was as important to them as it was to the kids they met.
“They wanted to do this because he’d never gotten to meet any major leaguers when they were growing up,” Bonilla said.
On Halman, he added: “We talked about a lot of things. Baseball, a little bit about life. He wanted to pick my brain about hitting. I’m in shock right now, to be honest with you. I just can’t believe this happened.”

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