Mehring Monday: Greg Halman

Greg Halman slides into second during a game against the Lansing Lugnuts in May of 2007. (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers/WM. Glasheen.)

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | November 21, 2011 10:28 AM ET

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My boss sent me a text at 7:58am this morning.  It's rarely a good thing when the boss sends you a text before business hours.

"Greg Halman killed!? His brother is the suspect."

After a moment of disbelief, I had a lot of memories rush back.  Then, I went to the internet for the story.  This Radio Netherlands report had the early details:

Dutch baseball player Gregory Halman, 24, was stabbed to death in Rotterdam on Monday morning.

Police have arrested his younger brother Jason as a suspect in the stabbing, which was reportedly prompted by an argument over loud music.

Gregory Halman began his professional career in 2005, playing with the rookie-league Arizona League Mariners. He was called up by the Seattle Mariners in September 2010.

Halman was a member of the Dutch national team when it won the European Championships in 2007 and reached the semi-finals of the World Championships that same year. He did not play for the Dutch national team that won this year's World Championships in Panama.

In the past few weeks Gregory Halman had been traveling across Europe in connection with the European Big League Tour. He was teaching clinics for young talent along with other Dutch players like Rick van den Hurk.

Geoff Baker, the Seattle Mariners beat writer for The Seattle Times, has been updating this blog post throughout Monday morning.  He has reaction from players and Mariners personnel.

Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley went to big league camp with Halman for the first time in 2010 and they teamed together in AAA that year. Halman was called up to the team later that summer, then arrived again in May of this year followed by Ackley's debut a month later.

"He was the most athletic guy on the team,'' Ackley said. "I mean, he could just hit the ball a mile in batting practice and get to balls hit all over.''

Ackley said he and Halman talked plenty in 2010 about what making it to the big leagues would be like. He'd also ask Halman about life in The Netherlands.

"I've never been, so I'd ask him about the life there, what the weather and the people were like,'' Ackley said. "He loved it and that's why he'd always go back there to live.''

Mariners manager Eric Wedge put out a written statement at 9:30 a.m. PT, stating: "I only knew Greg for a brief time, but I feel lucky that I had the chance to get to know him. He was a fine young man with a bright future. Greg had a tremendous energy about him, both on and off the field, that I loved. This is just tragic. That's all I can think, that this is so tragic and sad."

The Mariners issued a joint statement from president Chuck Armstrong, CEO Howard Lincoln and GM Jack Zduriencik just after 9 a.m. PT: "The Mariners family is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Greg Halman. Greg was a part of our organization since he was 16 and we saw him grow into a passionate young man and talented baseball player. He had an infectious smile that would greet you in the clubhouse, and he was a tremendous teammate. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Greg's family."

There was also this from Vladimir Chulp, a youth coach in the Czech republic:

"He was surprised about the level of skill of the young players here and said it was amazing to see that many kids on such a level,'' Chulp said. "He was even more surprised to see girls playing too. He did not believe that baseball was known so much outside of Holland.

"He told me that stepping up to the plate at Skydome for the first time was something [unbelievable], more than goose bumps. He believed he had a chance with the big team next year. He was out of options so he knew that something would have to be done.''

Halman stepped up to the plate at Time Warner Cable for the first time on Opening Night, 2007.  To remind you about Opening Night, 2007.  The Timber Rattlers played the Peoria Chiefs in Ryne Sandberg's first game as a manager.  It was 33 degrees at game time with a 22mph wind blowing in from left field.  Had it not been opening night, there was no way that game would have been played.  But, this is Wisconsin!  PLAY BALL.

Halman was the starting centerfielder and was in the third spot in the batting order.  He went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts that night, but did knock in a run with a sacrifice fly.  The weather did not cooperate and Halman struggled early in the season as he went hitless in his first 15 at bats and struck out 12 times.  

Then, his first hit gave a clue to why Baseball America had rated him as the #25 prospect in the Mariners going into that season.  It was his second at bat of a game at Cedar Rapids on April 14.  He cracked a single two drive in a pair of runs, stole second, and went to third on a throwing error.  Then, he scored on a grounder to first.  

That started Halman on a hot streak.  He would get at least one hit in 15 of his next 17 games, including a nine game hitting streak to raise his average to .263.  The last game of the nine game hit streak was maybe his best game as a Timber Rattler.

It was April 29 and 76 degrees for a home game against the Fort Wayne Wizards.  He hit a three-run home run over the brand new Miller High Life Home Run Porch in right.  It was an impressive opposite field home run by a 19-year old kid.  You could see why he was the MVP of a Dutch professional league as a 17 year old.  You could see why Baseball America wrote: He has projectable frame and present strength, and Seattle envisions him hitting for power and average once he matures physically, gains more experience and tightens his strike zone.

That game was the high point in his Rattlers career.

At times his temper and his intensity would get to him.  There was a game in South Bend on May 5, 2007.  The Rattlers were up 3-1 in the top of the ninth inning.  He was up with a runner at third with one out.  The runner from third tried to score on a wild pitch, but was out.  The pitcher - Ramon Sanchez - hit Halman on a 3-0 pitch.  Greg did not take it well.  Then, Carlos Triunfel, who I remember as one of Halman's closer friends on the team, was hit by Sanchez.  Halman and Sanchez began yelling at each other - Halman was standing on second base at the time - and the benches cleared, but order was restored after Sanchez was ejected from the game.

After that game in South Bend, Greg went into a horrible 1-for-31 slump.  But, he was there every day working before games.

Halman was one of those guys who could make the bat hitting the ball make THAT sound.  You know THAT sound.  THAT sound can be so pure.  THAT sound lasts for less than a second, but THAT sound drowns out everything else going on in the stadium.  THAT sound makes every head whip around to try and follow the ball as it becomes a speck of white against a cloudless blue sky.

The Mariners sent him back down to extended spring training in Arizona a game on June 10.  This would get him ready for the season in Everett.

From there, he took off.  Back in the Northwest League, Halman hit 16 homers in 62 games over the remainder of 2007.  In 2008, he hit 29 homers and drove in 83 runs between High Desert and West Tennessee.  In 2009, he hit 25 homers in Tacoma.  Then, a 33 homer season for Tacoma in 2010 and a major league call up to make his debut on September 23, 2010.  That was just about a month after his 23rd birthday.

He did not break camp with the Mariners in 2011, but he was ready when called.  On June 5 against Tampa Bay, he made this catch to keep the game tied.  Then, he hit this two-run triple to give the M's the lead.  That hit was his third of the day and - most importantly - was hit to right-center.  As Dave Sims said, "Good for Greg Halman!"

We in Appleton knew Greg for a very short time.  Unfortunately, everyone will only know Greg for a tragically short 24 years.  But, this is not the end.

Here is a comment from coach Chulp in that Geoff Baker piece quoted and linked earlier in the story.  It's about Halman being part of the contingent of major league players on a tour of Europe that included a stop in the Czech Republic: Chulp said Halman was surprised that so many fans in the Czech Republic seemed to know who he was. Other than Fielder, Chulp said, Halman got the loudest reception of any player introduced to the crowds.

In ten or twelve years, when some kid from the Czech Republic makes his Major League debut don't be surprised if that kid tells a story about how meeting Greg Halman during the 2011 European Big League Tour inspired him to chase his major league dream.

That story will be a really sweet sound and that is how I'll remember Greg Halman.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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