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11/21/11 3:37 PM EST

Halman was key to Dutch baseball emergence

Greg Halman will be remembered as the most prominent face of a rapidly shifting baseball demographic and an ambassador for the game beyond its normal borders.

Halman, one of just three Dutch-born Major Leaguers since 1900 who have had more than 100 at-bats at baseball's highest level, was found stabbed to death Monday, robbing the world of an earnest young man who had shattered barriers en route to realizing his professional dream.

Perhaps nobody in baseball knew Halman better than Rick VandenHurk, who met his countryman when they were just 7 years old. VandenHurk and Halman bonded over their shared vision of bringing baseball to greater prominence in Holland, Europe and beyond.

"I'm still in shock. It's terrible and so sad," said VandenHurk via e-mail. "He has a big personality, great guy to be around and always cracking jokes. On the field, a gamer, and he loves playing the game of baseball. From when he was little he wanted to play in the big leagues. ... He's a big name in Holland and all kids love him. He always helped with clinics and wanted to help kids get better."

The former outfielder, who was just 24 years old, was born in Haarlem and passed away in Rotterdam, two cities far removed from the normal pulse of baseball. Halman, a Seattle prospect, was part of the 2009 World Baseball Classic team that ignited a frenzy in his homeland, and he had taken the responsibility of trying to teach European youths how to play the game he loved.

Bert Blyleven, a Hall of Famer and by far the most decorated player in Dutch history, left a message for the Halman family on Twitter. "Our condolences to Greg Halman's family in Holland," it said. "He played well for us in the WBC in 2009. He had a lot of promise in baseball and life."

Halman's brother, Jason -- who also played professionally in Holland's highest league -- was arrested in connection with the death. Their father, Eddy Halman, had also played in Holland, and sister Naomi Halman is a professional basketball player in Europe.

The Netherlands hasn't always been a baseball hotbed, but it's had big league connections since before the 20th century. According to baseball-reference.com, the two Dutch-born position players with the most at-bats -- John Houseman and Rynie Wolters -- were both done playing by 1897.

Blyleven, born in Zeist, Netherlands, in 1951, emigrated to North America with his family at a young age and got bitten by the baseball bug as a California high school student. Blyleven went on to win 287 games and was recently recognized as part of the 2011 Hall of Fame induction class.

And in between Blyleven and Halman's careers, there was a bit of a Dutch renaissance. Win Remmerswaal pitched briefly in the big leagues in 1979 and '80, and two position players -- outfielder Rikkert Faneyte and infielder Robert Eenhoorn -- played in the '90s.

Several players from Dutch holdings like Aruba and Curacao have gone on to play in the Major Leagues, but only two Dutch-born players -- Halman and VandenHurk -- have made their mark in the past 10 years. Holland, though, has been conspicuous on the international stage, beating Cuba in the 2000 Olympics and the '07 Baseball World Cup before a star-turn in the '09 World Baseball Classic.

The Netherlands -- aided by VandenHurk and Halman -- beat the Dominican Republic powerhouse twice in the World Baseball Classic before being eliminated by the United States. Halman, who was just 21 at that point, batted just 1-for-11 and struck out nine times in his WBC experience.

Away from the field, though, Halman proved that he understood his position in the game. He took part in instructional tours across Europe the past two years, teaming with several other pro baseball players in the hope of increasing baseball awareness around the world.

And it was working. Holland beat the USA and Cuba twice during the 2011 Baseball World Cup and became one of just five nations that have won that tourney since 1952. Cuba and the USA have also won it, and South Korea and Colombia have won in years in which Cuba did not appear.

Halman, who signed with the Mariners as an amateur free agent in 2004, batted .207 with two home runs in his brief career, but he made an impact that went beyond the box score. Halman will be remembered for what he did, but also for the promise of what was yet to come.

That, if nothing else, was clear from the tributes around the game that flowed in on Monday. Andrew Bailey, closer for the A's, for instance, issued a heartfelt statement about Halman on Twitter.

"Saddened to hear the news about the Mariners Greg Halman," wrote Bailey on his personal account. "He was such a great talent. My prayers are with him and his loved ones today."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. Brittany Ghiroli contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.