AquaSox go Dutch

EVERETT – Who could have predicted this?

About 10 years ago Gregory Halman and Kalian Sams began roaming the same baseball fields in the Netherlands, a pair of friends enjoying a sport considered secondary in their native country.

But who could have imagined that a decade later they’d be reunited on the diamond halfway across the world?

Yet the baseball fates determined the Everett AquaSox would be going double Dutch in the outfield this season.

Halman and Sams are undergoing an unlikely baseball reunion this summer as teammates in Everett, renewing a friendship that was forged 5,000 miles away.

“We always had a good time as little kids, running around and playing baseball,” Sams said. “That was fun. It’s nice to do it again.”

Added Halman: “I’ve known him since I was about 9, 10 years old, played against him throughout Little League and all the junior leagues after that. We’ve always been good friends, everybody knows that.”

And now they’re putting that friendship to good use in North America.

Halman and Sams are considered two of the Seattle Mariners’ better prospects playing for the AquaSox this season.

Halman, 19, is an athletic freak of nature. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder has that rare combination of speed and power, allowing him to one moment flag down every ball hit in the air in center field, then the next moment to launch the ball over that same center-field fence he had just been guarding. Going into Monday night’s game at Salem-Keizer Halman led the AquaSox in virtually every offensive category, including batting average (.333), home runs (five), RBI (14) and stolen bases (nine).

Sams, 20, is a picture of strength. A muscle-bound Goliath at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Sams cuts an intimidating presence at the plate. He has yet to make the same kind of impact as Halman – going into Monday he was batting .145 with one homer and seven RBI – but those numbers have crept upward since he suffered through an 0-for-31 slump early in the season.

“In the Mariner organization we’ve got players from all over the world, the international department does a great job, and one of the places we’re heavy on is the Netherlands,” Everett manager Mike Tosar said.

“These two guys are very athletic, very strong and powerful guys,” Tosar added. “Both of them can run, both have power. They’ve got great tools and they’re very young with a lot of potential.”

But their history together dates back far earlier than when they joined the Mariners organization. Their story begins when Halman was 9 and Sams was 10. At that time Sams, who grew up in The Hague, and Halman, from the nearby suburb of Haarlem, found themselves adversaries, playing for opposing teams.

However, as standouts they soon found themselves teammates for the Dutch national team. A year after they first encountered one another they teamed up on a Dutch squad that traveled to a European tournament in Switzerland.

Since then the two developed a strong bond.

“I’ve known him half my life,” Halman said. “We’re a whole family together. I know everybody he knows, he knows everybody I know. He knows my family, I know his family. It’s good.”

But the pair split up when Halman left the Netherlands in 2004 after signing with the Mariners. For two years they lost contact until Sams signed with the M’s himself in 2006.

“For those two years we didn’t talk a lot, I almost didn’t speak to him,” Halman recalled. “Then hearing he got signed it really made me happy. It was good to hear he got signed because now I’ve really got somebody I know in my life.”

And naturally, Sams had incentive to choose Seattle.

“I had a chance to sign with the Twins, Giants, Mariners and Phillies,” Sams said. “I knew (Halman) was playing for the Mariners so I thought it would be a good idea to go with the Mariners too, play with my homeboy Greg Halman.”

The two were immediately paired together, beginning this season with Wisconsin of the full-season single-A Midwest League. However, they both struggled – Sams hit .205, Halman .182 – and were subsequently sent to Everett.

That’s when their history together came in handy. Having one another helped them not only cope with living far from home – they chuckle about the fact they can speak Dutch to one another and nobody else can understand what they’re saying – but also with their struggles while at Wisconsin.

“We don’t have to talk about baseball,” Halman explained. “We can talk to each other and relate to each other, pick each other up different than guys you just got to know through baseball. I know this guy, I know how he reacts, I know what he does. Sometimes I just know how to get him up when he’s feeling down, he does the same with me.”

And now that they’ve found a comfort zone, there’s just one goal.

“We both hope we make it to the big leagues together,” Sams said. “That would be a good thing, two Dutch guys in the big leagues at the same time.”

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