Elite youngsters show skills at European camp
Larkin among former MLB greats on hand to help players hone craft in the Netherlands
HOOFDDORP, Netherlands -- Within 11 years, MLB's European Elite Camp has grown into an event more and more European kids are dreaming of. Young baseball players in Europe now aim to become such a good player that they're invited to work a whole week with the best coaches in the business.
This week, 80 talented youngsters from 18 countries came together at ETO Ballpark in Hoofddorp, just outside Amsterdam. The players were trained and coached by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, as well as former Major League players like Steve Finley, Greg Swindell, Dave Bush, Garth Iorg and John McLaren.
"This is the eighth year that I've been involved in this project, and it's unbelievable how big of steps have been made," said Larkin. "My goal is not only to make better baseball players of these talents, but also better people."
In addition to teams from Holland and Italy, 40 other squads comprised of players from 15-19 years old came from France, Belarus, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, Moldova, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, China and New Zealand.
"This European project has become a great success," said Chris Park, MLB's senior vice president of growth, strategy and international. "Within 10 years, 77 players out of 14 countries have signed contracts in the United States. We're now looking how to get our Major League franchises involved in this European mission. Having exhibition games could be the next step. But it's clear that we're very positive about our strategy to start this international program with the focus on youth development."
"It's not only wonderful to work with some great talents, but also to communicate to this generation what the MLB logo stands for," Larkin said. "For example, take how to deal with failure. In normal life, if you fail 70 percent of the time, you don't have a job. That's why it's important that you learn to manage failure. A mental aspect that is connected to responsibility and discipline. Sports teach you that, and that's why so many sports people have became strong leaders."
But the main focus of the camp is for youngsters to improve their talents, so that one day, their dream of playing professional baseball comes true. Finley, who helped the D-backs to the World Series championship in 2001, said that important steps have been taken.
"There are players who were here last year, and it's very interesting to see how they improved," said Finley. "Before coming to Holland, we had a minicamp in Germany. In the city of Paderborn, we had special sessions on batting and pitching. I noticed three boys from Belarus, who don't speak English. But what talents. They lack an environment that helps them to develop their career in an efficient way. For them, this project is very, very useful.
"First, we analyze what the best qualities of each player are. Often pitchers turn out to be better batters and batters become pitchers. It's not very easy to get that right when players are 15 and 16 years old. But checking the arm speed and bat speed, you learn a lot during a period like this. It's remarkable how players can improve in just one week."
Also participating in the camp is Melissa Mayeux, a 16-year-old shortstop who was the first female added to MLB's international registration list and the first female to participate in the MLB Elite Development Program. But her ambition doesn't differ from the dream the 79 young men have in the 2015 Camp.
"One day, I want to play in the Major Leagues," Mayeux said.