Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Dutch Field of Dreams Is Causing Lots of Headaches ; Town Finds It's Not Easy to Hit Exacting Standards of Major League Baseball

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Dutch Field of Dreams Is Causing Lots of Headaches ; Town Finds It's Not Easy to Hit Exacting Standards of Major League Baseball

Article excerpt

Hoofddorp is building a new baseball complex to meet major league standards, but that comes with its own host of problems.

Major League Baseball wants to play ball -- exhibition games or even regular-season games -- in Europe. But the ballpark it is eyeing for possible games lies not in a big sports center, like London, with its Wembley Stadium, or Paris, with the Stade de France, but this midsize Dutch town on land that until about 150 years ago lay under water.

Baseball is gaining in popularity in the Netherlands, but Hoofddorp, with a population of about 73,000 and just southwest of Amsterdam, has found that bringing major league ball there has all the charms of a three-hour rain delay.

Hoofddorp is toiling on a an EUR 11.5 million, or $15 million, project, including a modest ballpark, capable of temporary expansion to seat 30,000, and five diamonds for use by the local team, the Hoofddorp Pioniers. When the fields are ready, sometime next spring, the Pioniers will begin playing there. But making the field acceptable for the big leagues, the town has discovered, is a major league headache.

"I've got to listen to the club, what they want," said Maarten Broersen, the energetic project manager and an avid baseball fan. "I've got to listen to Major League Baseball, what they want, and I've got to listen to my budget."

"Sometimes I've got to make a sacrifice," he said.

Take locker rooms. Major League Baseball insisted on 400 square meters, or 4,300 square feet, per team. "For daily use, what's the sense of that?" Broersen said, striding across the construction site, a hard hat bobbing on his head. "Or showers: I don't need a shower room with 10 or 12 shower heads, but M.L.B. said, 'I want it."'

"So I'll skip the automatic toilet flushing," he said, exasperation evident in his voice, "to get the shower heads."

Such compromising has pushed the project ahead nicely, but not without bizarre decisions.

Major League Baseball has sent some top consultants to assure that the ballpark meets its specifications. For the pitcher's mound and batter's circle, for instance, the league insisted on a special blend of clay, silt and gravel common in American ballparks (Fenway Park seems to have been the model), yet the mix could not be found in Europe.

So the Dutch, not without some grumbling, flew in 200 tons of it from Virginia, and consultants for Major League Baseball installed it. Dutch customs officials at Schiphol Airport, perplexed by a shipment of that much clay, accompanied the trucks to the building site, apparently to make sure nothing else was concealed inside the neat plastic bundles.

On the less contentious question of outfield turf, both sides accepted a local solution. The league wanted a kind of bluegrass, common in American ballparks. Though the Dutch are hardly amateur gardeners -- their companies handle the turf in major European soccer stadiums -- it was only after much searching that Murray Cook, the official field consultant to Major League Baseball, accepted a local seed mix. …

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