The sounds of cleats clicked down the hallway and laughter from the clubhouse filled the air as West Virginia Power first baseman Daniel Arribas sat reflecting on the many moments that brought him to where is he today. None may be more important than a delayed plane flight sixteen years ago.
Arribas' mother, known by most as simply "Gigi," went to the Miami airport to pick up a friend from the airport. The flight was in a long delay, causing her to find a nearby restaurant to pass the time. While eating, she struck up a conversation with the person sitting diagonally from her, a Dutchman named Hans van de Meeberg.
After this chance meeting, the two quickly became close and spent as much time as they could together, though Hans lived in the Netherlands to be with his three daughters. As the relationship became more serious, Gigi invited Hans to live with her and her two boys in Miami. While flattered by the request, Hans instead proposed that Arribas' family move with him back to the Netherlands.
"We didn't even know where the Netherlands was," Arribas, who was nine at the time, remembers. "The first question I asked Hans was whether or not the Netherlands was a free country. He just laughed."
Just like that, Gigi, Arribas, and his younger brother Marco packed their bags and uprooted their Florida life for the Netherlands.
Arribas' new home was Tetteringen, located in the southern part of the Netherlands. While it took time to adapt to new people, a new language, and a new culture, Arribas eventually found his place.
His new life consisted of biking to school with friends from other cities and playing pickup soccer in the very community-oriented Dutch culture. The adjustment was easier for Arribas, especially because he was enrolled him in public schools where he immersed himself in Dutch culture and made friends quickly. Of course it wasn't always easy as an American in a Dutch school. Arribas remembers his classmates would poke fun at his struggles to pronounce even the most basic Dutch words. However, those struggles subsided quickly.
"It took us about six months to understand everyone and about a year and a half to fluently speak Dutch without much of an accent," Arribas mentioned. "I felt really comfortable pretty quickly."
Of course for Arribas, his main focus was still finding a way to follow his passion: baseball. While living in Miami, Arribas discovered a love for the sport and was one of the best players on his travel baseball team.
"I was kind of afraid I wasn't going to be able to play baseball when I got to the Netherlands," Arribas said. "Hans did his research and put us in the right spot."
Arribas joined an instructional baseball league in the area and once again he became one of the top players. When he was 12, he was selected to enroll in one of the top baseball schools in Holland.
The daily two-hour, public transportation commute from his home to the school paid off. By the time he was 17, Arribas was selected as a member of the Netherlands Junior National Team. He was able to train with Hensley Muelens, the manager of the Netherlands national team and hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants, and Major League players such as Didi Gregorious.
A year after joining the club, the Netherlands participated in the Junior World Cup of Baseball in Canada and Arribas took advantage of the opportunity. Against perennial powerhouse baseball countries like Cuba, South Korea, Panama, and the United States, Arribas was one of the most dominant players of the tournament.
The outstanding tournament earned Arribas an international tryout for the Pirates and the team signed him shortly thereafter.
Arribas is now in his sixth season of professional baseball and his first with the Power. He still returns to the Netherlands at least once a year usually around Christmas. The country holds a firm place in his heart and he takes the lessons he learned there with him wherever he goes.
"It's a whole different culture. They're extremely efficient and that's why they're so good at sports. Very efficient and very innovative. I take a lot of pride in that."
One of Arribas' favorite Dutch phrases that stuck with him throughout his life translates to: "Be normal, then you're already doing crazy enough."
"That's really helped me at the plate," Arribas explained. "It's helped me remember to keep my head down, lay low, and don't try to do crazy things. It's kept me sane."
The normalcy Arribas keeps inside the batters box is a stark contrast to all the crazy twists and turns his life has taken outside of it.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.