Dutch baseball academies exist for about twenty years now. It all started with the Unicorns in Rotterdam, founded by Robert Eenhoorn, who had a cup of coffee in the Bigs with the Yankees. Other cities like Haarlem and Amsterdam followed. In the heydays, there were six academies, now there are only four left. What did these academies bring Dutch youth baseball?
For the last few years, the state of Dutch youth baseball raises my concern a bit. With the little league tournaments in Europe, the Dutch youth teams have been passed by other countries. The latest example is this year’s Little League tournament in the Czech Republic. The Dutch representative, Amsterdam, was beaten twice by Austria and finished third in the final standings. Don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing that other countries no longer play the second fiddle but it worries me that the Dutch youth teams have a hard time to win European tournaments lately.
What could be the reason for this demise? In my humble opinion, there are two reasons that can be named: the deteriorating number of active players, so the pool with talents is getting smaller, and the dominance of the baseball academies.
You may wonder why partially blame the academies for it. Sure they are there to improve Dutch baseball, which they do in a certain way but they take away the good players from clubs. It is even this bad that if you want to make a U15, U17 Dutch team, you need to play for the academies. If you don’t, there is a small chance you make the Dutch team. Next to this, if you want to play for the academies, one needs to play for a club from the Dutch hoofdklasse or overgangsklasse. If a talented player wants to stay with his third tier league team, there is no room for him at the academies.
Since there is no real policy when it comes to the academies and for sure there is no money and above all, there isn’t enough talent. So in a certain way it is understandable that the academies in The Hague and in Eindhoven were closed. But… as the one in Eindhoven was the only one in the Southern part of the Netherlands, you may wonder if it was a good idea to close it. Where should te talented players go? The Hague and Rotterdam are almost neighbors, so it would have been better to merge both academies. The same with Amsterdam and Haarlem. But instead, the KNBSB (Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation) opted to close the sole academy in the South. You may also wonder why there isn’t an academy in the Northeast that is supported by the KNBSB. Aren’t there any talents over there? If a talented player who lives in Assen, to name a city, the nearest academy is the Scimitars academy in Bussum, about 160 km (100 miles) away.
Besides that, the academies have been established to raise talents for the MLB. None of the players that played at the academies and went to the US to become a professional baseball player, has ever made it to the Bigs so far. The intention was to pick up the real talents to reach this goal. Nowadays, they only pick the kids that are better than their contemporaries. So taking this into consideration, the academies’ right to exist is fading away.
Perhaps the development of players should return to the clubs; those institutions where it was located originally. For a club, it is a big loss when the academies take away a few talented players. This means the teams, where these kids played will lose some strength. As a result, the level of play deteriorates.
If the clubs will become responsible for the development of players again, the bigger clubs may have an advantage over the smaller ones. Bigger clubs means bigger a bigger staff. Smaller clubs may fall behind. But it has always been like that so in my opinion, there is not much you can do about it.
Since there are four baseball academies left, they play the same opponent every four weeks. How much fun is that? If the kids would return to their clubs, they will face more opponents. In the current situation, the academies have the right of first use of a player. If a pitcher, for example, has pitched several innings for the academy and he has to play another game with his hoofdklasse or overgangsklasse club, it remains to be seen how much gas is still left in the tank.
If the development of players will be the sole responsibility of the clubs, there will always be players that will leave their third or fourth tier club to join the bigger clubs. But that has always been that way. If a player really wants to reach the top, you cannot stop him. But by joining another club, the player will be saved for Dutch club baseball instead of spending time with the academies.
As far as I am concerned, it is time to close the academies and give the sport back to those institutions that are the basis of Dutch baseball: the clubs.