Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Memory of Greg Halman

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
-- Jackie Robinson
One of the biggest baseball stories of this offseason was the tragic death of Mariners outfielder Greg Halman. Halman, a native of the Netherlands, played in thirty-five games with the Mariners last season. Halman was one of eighteen rookies to spend time with the big league club in 2011. While at home in Rotterdam in November, Halman reportedly went downstairs in his apartment to complain about the noise level coming from below and was subsequently stabbed by his brother. Halman died from his injuries. Halman's brother, who is said to suffer from a mental illness, was arrested for Greg's murder.

Halman had a breakout year with the Mariners where he competed for playing time with veteran mainstays as well as a number of talented young outfielders who made the trip to and from the minor leagues often. His numbers in limited plate appearances suggested he was gaining plate discipline, one of the few holes in his game, and he provided solid defense in left field, a spot that was a question mark for the Mariners in 2011 (Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, Michael Saunders, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Mike Carp, Ryan Langerhans, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells and Halman all spent time in left field). Halman was listed 57th on Baseball America's top prospect list in 2009, had a memorable big league debut in 2010 as a September call-up, had what Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times called an "electrifying" debut this past season, hit his first major league home run in 2011, and was expected to compete for a big league roster spot during spring training.

Halman's tragic death was a blow to the entire Mariners organization, but especially to young players like Mike Carp. Carp, who played at the Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers and made his way up to the big leagues with Halman, was one of a handful of Mariners who attended Halman's funeral in the Netherlands. In the days that followed the death of Halman, many of his teammates spoke about their slain friend, the foremost being Carp. Just prior to Christmas, Mike Carp gave an interview to MLB.com's Greg Johns where he spoke of how heavy his heart was as he celebrated the holidays with his family, but without Halman. It was obvious how highly he thought of Halman:
"Definitely, the last month has been life changing," Carp said this week from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "It makes you sit back and realize what a special gift we have, to be able to get up and go every day. It's such a tragedy, what happened with Greg. He never got a chance to prove what he could do in the big leagues. I know he could have made it big. He was going to be a star; there is no doubt in my mind."
Carp went on to speak of Halman's legacy and how he will be remembered, especially in his home country where he had devoted so much of his time helping develop the game. Halman, one of the biggest Dutch names in baseball (another being Andruw Jones who Halman said he grew up admiring), had competed for the Netherlands national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and participated in both the 2010 and 2011 European Big League Tours. In fact, both Greg and Jason Halman had returned just a week earlier from the Tour when Greg was killed. Halman's death was as difficult a loss for his home country as it was for the Mariners organization and its fans.

As players began reporting to the Peoria Sports Complex where the Mariners hold spring training, the second consecutive spring training that the Mariners organization has suffered a major loss in the offseason, they were met by bright orange shirts hanging in each of their lockers. The shirts, designed and paid for by Mike Carp, are a tribute to Halman. The shirts incorporate the Dutch national team color, have a great Dane on the front with the words
"Broer voor het leven" (translated: brother for life), and on the back have Halman's number (56) and the Jackie Robinson quote referenced above.

When Mariners fans first heard of Carp's touching tribute to Halman, they praised Carp's thoughtfulness and quickly asked if the shirts would be available to the public. Carp and teammate Alex Liddi, also a close friend of Halman, have approached the team about making the shirts available in team stores with proceeds going to Halman's family or a mental health charity.

On March 28th, the Mariners will open the baseball season in Tokyo, Japan against the Oakland Athletics. When they take the field at the Tokyo Dome, they will be wearing a patch with the number fifty-six in memory of Greg Halman. As they take the game across the world, showcasing Major League Baseball for Japanese fans, they will surely remember that their teammate once did the same. The memory of Greg Halman will live on and not just through a patch on the uniforms of twenty-five ballplayers or through his close friend Mike Carp, but through the hundreds of lives Halman touched, lives that he brought the joy of baseball to.

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