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Scouting Greg Halman at a game in Rotterdam, Holland was the very first assignment Twins scout Andy Johnson, then a coach in Cologne, Germany, received in 2003. Halman was just 16 years old but Johnson said the player had such a presence "that he owned that small bit of real estate in Rotterdam that day."
Johnson watched eagerly as Halman showed power, speed, a strong arm, an excellent glove, and an ability to hit a breaking ball. "I remember thinking that if this is what all prospects looked like, then this was going to be a great job," Johnson said in an email.
"After the game I wanted to be a thorough rookie scout, so I waited outside the clubhouse to talk to him. He came out and we chatted a bit by the jungle gym behind the clubhouse in Rotterdam. After having done many in-house visits since then, I now realize that this kid had a maturity and professionalism that is rare in the industry. He made me feel like a big leaguer when I talked to him, not the other way around.
"In the years that followed I kept tabs on how Greg was doing. I was proud and happy for him when I saw him on television the first time, even though he wasn't with our organization."
When he learned that the Seattle Mariners outfielder had been fatally stabbed Monday morning in Rotterdam (his brother is a suspect), Johnson said the news hurt "a great deal more than I thought possible."
He wasn't alone. Halman's death at the age of 24 was a loss for his family, his teammates and for European baseball.
|Greg Halman's athleticism was one of his many gifts.|
"I was stunned when I heard the news earlier this morning," said Daren Brown, who met Halman when the player signed with the Mariners as a teenager in 2004 and later managed him in both the majors and at Triple-A Tacoma. "It's tough for me to get a grasp on it. A kid you see walk into your clubhouse every day for two years -- it's really tough for me to understand. I guess the word is stunned and will be for some time.
"He was a very nice young man with a lot of potential. It's a shame what happened," said Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who was the pitching coach when Halman played on the Dutch team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. "He will be missed by many."
Like Blyleven, Halman was born in the Netherlands. Unlike Blyleven, he grew up there as well. When Halman told people he was from Haarlem, they assumed that, because he was black and spoke English, he was from New York. He wasn't. Halman was from Haarlem, the cozy town a short bike ride from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
While Halman's hometown is little known to Americans, it well known in international baseball as the site of the Haarlem Baseball Week, when national teams from around the globe play to sellout crowds in the game's unofficial European capital. "My mom got us that ticket you wear around your neck the whole week, like a season ticket," Halman told me this summer. "We were there every day watching Cuba and Japan and Korea. I remember watching Mark Teixeira play with the U.S. team."
Halman's father played baseball and his mother played softball, so he was exposed to the game at a young age. He said he always had good fields to play on as a kid -- "We had nice grass because it always rains over there, so it's always green" -- but that he didn't really pay attention to the field conditions. "I was just playing baseball -- I didn't look at the field. I was just happy to be at the field. You just needed a fence around the field, and the two little dugouts, and growing up that's all you cared about. Just playing ball, going out and having fun."
That still was Halman's attitude as he rose through the Seattle organization on his way to becoming just the sixth major leaguer who was born in the Netherlands since 1900.
"He always had a big smile on his face when he came into the clubhouse every day and he always made it a point to tell me 'Hi,' walking past my office."
Most everyone else who commented on Monday mentioned Halman's ever-present smile, and I vividly recall it as well. Halman was friendly and could communicate with just about anyone -- he spoke five languages, and he pretty much needed to. He played all over the world before he ever played in the United States. Touring with various Dutch teams, he played baseball in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Italy. But he always knew the country where he wanted his career to finish.
"Learning about the United States and the major leagues and the minors and seeing older guys go over there, that's the only thing I wanted to do. That was the only thing I strived for," Halman told me one evening in the Mariners dugout. "Even being from Holland. I had an idea how hard I had to work and what I had to do. And to be able to come to the U.S. and play, I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work."
After six seasons in the minors, Halman made his big league debut at the very end of the 2010 season, then hit .230 with two home runs for the Mariners this year before being sent back to Triple-A. Despite his talent, a negative was his strikeouts. He struck out 769 times in 576 minor league games, though Brown said, "He did some things this year that showed me he was making a conscious effort to put things together.
"He had a passion for the game, signing at 16 years old, getting away from home, getting to play the sport he loves. He basically grew up in our organization," Brown said. "They talk about five-tool players and he was. He could run, field, throw, hit and hit for power. He had everything, everything out there to go get. He just looked like he was close to putting everything together."
Halman told me that, "Coming from Holland, you haven't played that large amount of baseball yet before you come over here. The first couple years for me was really about adapting and getting to know baseball and getting to know myself as a player before I was even close to playing in the major leagues. The guys from Holland have to realize it's not going to come overnight."
He told me he wanted to inspire other Dutch players and grow the game in Europe. And earlier this month he was doing exactly that while with Rick VandenHurk's European Big League Tour, along with several other players such as Prince Fielder. Johnson said he met recently with several people who had seen the tour when it passed through Prague.
"Several people commented to me how impressed they were with how enthusiastic and personal Greg was with the kids," Johnson said. "He wasn't the biggest name in the lineup that day, but his presence and charisma dominated yet another piece of real estate.
"I'd imagine that Greg Halman's impact on me was far greater than my impact on him. That is what big leaguers do, they make an impact, and Greg Halman was a big leaguer."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter at jimcaple.