"The Dutch and European baseball world has lost one of its biggest talents, a face that will never be forgotten in the heart of every baseball fan that ever got to meet him."
Those were the sentiments of Red Sox prospect Swen Huijer as he attempted to put into words the enormity of the loss the baseball world suffered Monday.
Greg Halman, a 24-year-old outfielder with the Seattle Mariners, was stabbed to death in his native Netherlands, where his younger brother Jason is in police custody as a suspect.
Huijer, a 21-year-old right-hander who pitched for short-season Lowell this summer, is, like Halman, a native of the Dutch city of Haarlem. He and Halman had crossed paths only two weeks ago, teaching young players the fundamentals of the game as part of the European Big League goodwill tour organized by fellow Netherlands native Rick VandenHurk.
"[He was] a man with lots of love for the game and someone that worked really hard to live his dream," Huijer wrote.
That dream, patrolling the outfield for the Seattle Mariners, was realized when Halman made his Major League debut on Sept. 23, 2010. The moment came with the only organization Halman had ever known, as he was signed by the Mariners in 2004 at age 16. He went on to play at every level of the Minor Leagues, making a lasting mark at each stop along the way.
On Monday and Tuesday, those who knew Halman in the Minors took the time to share their recollections. The portrait that emerged was that of a relentlessly upbeat, fiercely loyal and sometimes brash young man who had only just begun to harness his five-tool potential. Though Halman left the world well before his time, he was able to make a considerable -- and lasting -- impression.
Climbing the ladder
After making his professional debut in 2005 in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Halman spent 2006 and much of 2007 with short-season Everett in the Northwest League. AquaSox broadcaster Pat Dillon remembers him first and foremost as an "upbeat guy and very friendly. My main point of emphasis would be what a genuinely good guy he was."
But there were growing pains. Halman was still in his teens during his time in Everett, and he was rebellious by nature.
"I remember in 2007 we were playing in Boise, which is a college town and a fun place to go out on the weekends," Dillon said. "I had had a postgame meal and was walking back to the team hotel, about five minutes before the team curfew. And there comes Halman walking toward me, ready for a night on the town."
A more serious youthful indiscretion occurred in 2006. Halman's season with the AquaSox came to an end after 28 games when he broke his hand in a bench-clearing brawl.
"You can't condone stuff like that, but it helped to build up his image as a good teammate," Dillon recalled. "They saw that and knew that he would always go to the mat for them. He would stand behind anybody and would do anything to help his team succeed."
That loyalty manifested itself in other, less obvious ways.
"After a player gets released and is just sitting there at his locker, devastated, Halman would be the guy to go up to him and offer support," said Dillon.
In 2007, Halman played 52 games with Class A Wisconsin and enjoyed a breakout 67-game stint (19 home runs and 53 RBIs) the following season with Class A Advanced High Desert. His manager at both stops was Jim Horner, now an assistant coach at Texas Tech.
"[Halman] was a hard-headed kid, but around 2007 he really started to turn his life around," Horner said. "He started to figure it all out, paying attention to the rules and listening more. ... And all the stuff you'll read about him is true -- he always had a smile on his face."
For Horner, one of the most striking things about Halman was the seeming disconnect between his on- and off-field persona.
"In some ways, he was the opposite of how he looked," he said. "He was all tatted up and he really got after it on the field and played hard. ... But that was interesting because once he came through the clubhouse door he was so sweet-natured. It was like, 'Oh my gosh, who is this guy?'"
Another key aspect of Halman's personality was his facility for languages. In addition to Dutch and English, he spoke fluent Spanish. This made him a natural mediator and, somewhat ironically, a bridge between two cultures even though he was an outsider to both.
"Because he could speak Spanish he was good with the Latin players and because he could speak English he was good with the American guys," Horner said. "He knew when arguments were accelerating and things were starting to get heated. He understood both sides and could step in and cool it down."
Halman finished 2008 with Double-A West Tenn, where he also spent the 2009 season. His manager was Phil Plantier, who in 2012 will serve as the Padres hitting coach.
"He was an extremely talented athlete and, during the time we spent together, he was in the process of figuring out how to use that talent," said Plantier, struggling to find the right words. "He had a lot of charisma, too, and that alongside his talent made for a good combination. He had the potential to become a real leader."
Though Halman struggled with a low average and high strikeout rate in 2009, he opened the following year with Triple-A Tacoma. He played 112 games for the Rainiers in 2010 and 40 more this past season, with Daren Brown as his manager.
"I can still see him walking into the clubhouse and telling me, 'Hi,' with a big smile on his face. And that was an everyday occurrence, regardless of what had happened the night before," Brown said. "This was a kid who signed with [the Mariners] when he was 16, so he more or less grew up in the organization. In that time, he touched a lot of coaches and teammates."
One teammate was pitcher Forrest Snow, who played alongside Halman on the 2011 Rainiers.
"When he came back down to Tacoma [from Seattle], I didn't really know him. I had just gotten there, but he made me feel like a teammate right off the bat. It made the transition easy for me," said Snow, who debuted with the Rainiers on July 24 and spent the rest of the season there. "I remember after my last outing of the year he told me, 'Dude, I'm watching you from center field and can tell that you've got what it takes.'
"He was that kind of guy, who would go out of his way to talk 1-on-1 and let his emotions show. He was an amazing friend and a great teammate. I don't know what else to say."