Halman taken before world could see potential
J.P. Arencibia recalls knowing Greg Halman "from everything" -- from Triple-A, to the Arizona Fall League, to the Majors. Sometimes they'd joke around (which Halman's bubbly personality allowed), and sometimes they'd talk seriously about hitting (a skill with which Halman impressed many evaluators).
"He's a guy I've always admired," Arencibia said.
Halman died on Monday morning in his native Netherlands at just 24 years old, the victim of a tragic stabbing of which his 22-year-old brother is a reported suspect. Upon hearing the news, one of Arencibia's first thoughts was something many who have suddenly lost loved ones can identify with.
"You wish you had said all the things you wanted to say," the Blue Jays' young catcher expressed, "and now he's no longer with us."
This time of year -- as we ponder what kind of contract Albert Pujols will land, what it will take to reel in Jose Reyes and how many years make sense for Mark Buehrle -- we tend to link our athletes to mere numbers.
Then we remember they're human beings, facing real problems and real dangers.
We were reminded of that when Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (now safe) was kidnapped by armed gun men in Venezuela a couple of weeks ago. And we were reminded on Monday, when the Mariners lost a young, talented outfielder they were counting on in 2012.
Coming off a 2011 season that saw him earn a two-month stint in the Majors, Halman was heading into the biggest year of his professional life. He was out of options, but the Mariners had him protected on the 40-man roster and were expecting him to either challenge for a starting job in left field or serve as Franklin Gutierrez's backup in center.
Now, instead of pondering his future, the Mariners can only look back at the memory Halman has left behind.
"He had an infectious smile that would greet you in the clubhouse, and he was a tremendous teammate," the club said in a statement.
"Greg had a tremendous energy about him, both on and off the field, that I loved," manager Eric Wedge added. "This is just tragic."
Halman may not have been an established Major Leaguer, or even a highly regarded prospect, but he was a lot of other things. He was a rarity because of his combination of speed and power; a treat because of his infectious personality; and a pioneer as one of nine players ever -- and two current ones, along with Rick VandenHurk -- to go from the Netherlands to the Majors.
In many ways, Halman helped make Holland the European baseball powerhouse it is today, and perhaps may have even played a role in the sport's growth throughout the continent. Halman played for the gold medal-winning Dutch squad in the 2007 European Championships, suited up for Holland in an '09 World Baseball Classic that saw it turn heads and took part in several clinics in hopes of growing the game in his native land.
Robert Eenhoorn, the former Major League infielder who's now the technical director of the Dutch baseball association, was asked what stood out most about Halman.
"That baseball was his life," said Eenhoorn, who was understandably finding it difficult to convey his thoughts about the passing of a young man he watched grow up.
"This is so fresh for me. I'm having a hard time looking back for him. It's been so devastating. All I can think about is his family."
Halman was born to an athletic family in the city of Haarlem. His sister, Naomi, is a professional basketball player in Europe, and his father, Eddy, played on the Dutch national team -- as did his younger brother, and as did Halman himself, starting at age 16. Halman spoke several languages and was a graduate of Mendel College in North Holland in 2004.
That same year, the Mariners signed him as an international free agent.
And early on in his pro career, he showed them what he was all about.
As a 19-year-old in 2007, Halman struggled mightily at the start of his first full season in Class A, batting only .182 while striking out 77 times in 52 games. But instead of sulking after being sent back down to short-season A ball, he enjoyed a resurgence, hitting .307 with 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases in the last 62 games of the '07 season.
Halman would go on to be named Mariners Minor League Player of the Year in '08, play in the Arizona Fall League's heralded Rising Stars Game that fall, be a Southern League All-Star in '09 and hit an organizational-high 33 homers at Triple-A Tacoma in 2010, en route to a September callup.
"He was just raw, but had the work ethic and the desire and all the tools," former Mariners skipper Don Wakamatsu said. "He was one of those guys that if he had the at-bats and playing time, he had a chance to be a great player."
Those who knew Halman talked a lot about his talent on Monday. Mariners phenom Dustin Ackley, in fact, called him "the most athletic guy on the team."
"I mean, he could just hit the ball a mile in batting practice and get to balls hit all over," Ackley said.
"Just a big, strong guy, so athletic, and everything came easy to him," Mariners closer Brandon League said. "He was such a young and promising guy. You could see him doing a lot of things in the game of baseball."
Mostly, though, they talked about his personality. Arencibia called him "one of those happy spirits."
"Great, great teammate," veteran Mariners infielder Adam Kennedy said. "Great guy. He was fun to get to know and fun to watch learn the game at that level. I know he'd been in the system for a while and learning and getting better, and he was real fun to be around."
We'll soon learn a lot more about what exactly happened to Halman, a lot of which we may not want to know.
But all that matters today is that a talented ballplayer has left us way too soon.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. MLB.com reporters Jonathan Mayo and Doug Miller contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.