To the sudden death of Loek van Mil we publish a very personal and compassionate Farewell, written by Robert van Doorn, our very appreciated Dutch I&I Contributor and Scouting Correspondent.
Whenever you were at a ballpark and Loek van Mil was pitching for or Curacao Neptunus or Team Kingdom of the Netherlands, he could not be overlooked. With his 2.16m length he was the tallest man in baseball. He was a closer for both his club and national team with a fastball thrown at a speed up to 95 mph. Loek entered my life with a bang. Take that literally. I was working as a volunteer at the European Baseball Championships in 2016 and was guarding the dugout of the Dutch Team. As the game Netherlands vs Spain was coming to an end, I did not pay attention to the field, but to the gate. At the end of the games the most photographers came to shoot the final moments of the game. Loek was on the mound and threw one of his signature fastballs. Spanish player Angel Beltre tried everything to avoid a Spanish loss and managed to get his bat behind the ball. The result was a foul ball that hit me on my upper arm at an estimated speed of more than 150 kmh. The impact and pain sent me to the ground immediately and that is where I stayed, till the medics came. A minute or so later the game ended. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, Loek van Mil ran to me to see what had happened. After checking that I was doing reasonably ok, he took a brand new ball from his bag, signed it and gave it to me saying: “you really did deserve this” and then posed for a photo with me.
He then left, but only after he was sure that I would be taken care of. Since that moment Loek came to me every day till the end of the tournament to check if I was alright and how I was doing. After answering his questions we had some small talk about the tournament and baseball in general. Loek was the closer in the finals where once again Spain was the opponent. He won that game and the European title for The Netherlands. After he received his medal, he showed it to me. I congratulated him and said: Loek, you sure are a tall pitcher, but this week you showed me that you are an even greater human being. We kept on meeting each other afterward at games of Curacao Neptunus or when he was playing for the Dutch team. Each time Loek came to me asking me how I was doing and we always had some small talk about how he was doing at of course about baseball. And this continued at every occasion where we met. Before I had a chance to meet up with him, he always found a way to come to me first. Always, except once at the preparation tournament at HCAW Bussum. Loek was not playing that weekend, but showed up anyway and was addressed by so many people that I never got the chance to talk with him. He took his time to talk to anyone who wanted to that day and there were a lot. When I travelled back by train, at the change-over at Utrecht Central Station. I saw Loek getting out of the same train. I thought this was funny that such a great baseball player was not travelling by car, but just like anyone else, by train. The baseball season of 2018 ended with me seeing Loek winning the National title with Curacao Neptunus. After the season, Loek travelled to Australia to play for the Brisbane Bandits. During a series of away games in Canberra in December, the news came that Loek was missing while hiking. Luckily, the next day it was reported that Loek had been found being badly wounded after a hiking incident. After 7 days in hospital, he was released and stunningly, played for the Bandits again, winning the Australian title. From then on, there was complete silence. There never was a single news report about Loek. A few weeks after the accident I met a journalist and I knew that he could have information what happened to Loek, but he told me that he was not going to say anything. I worried a lot about the situation. In order to meet Loek again, I went to the HCAW preparation tournament, but he was not there. Dutch television also showed up to interview Loek, but they also had no luck. In the broadcast the journalist asked a teammate what he could tell about Loek and his answer was: “It is not up to me to tell” and the answer of the coach was: “We all know what happened, but it is up to Loek to tell”. I found these answers particularly mysterious and odd as the accident in Australia was a hikig accident after all.It just did not feel right in combination with again total silence and the fact that Loek was not playing. I had a gut feeling that things were not right for Loek. Until one day in May when I was about to take the train home from work and on Utrecht Central Station someone knocked me hard om my shoulder. I looked around and there he was; Loek van Mil with a very big smile on his face and looking great. “How are you?” he asked. My answer was: “That is not important, but how are you? What happened? Tell me, because there is never any news about you.” He told me that while hiking, he was trying to climb a rock, the rock broke off and he fell backwards landing on his head on another rock and the other rock fell on his head. He was unconsious for 24 hours, woke up covered with blood, started to walk and was found by someone who was walking the dog. He felt great now and he was in training and he expected to pitch again at the Europa Cup. I told him that I was so happy to see him and that I and so many more people were very worried about him, because there was never a report on how he was doing. I told him: if you can take anything from this situation Loek, it should be that many people care about you, want the best for you and love you. Please know this. He told me again that he was feeling great and doing very well. I told him that I would be watching the internet to see when he was playing for Curacao Neptunus and that I would come to see him play. We said our goodbyes wishing each other all the best and that we would soon see each other at the ballpark. But Loek was not on the roster for the Europa Cup and never appeared on the roster of Curacao Neptunus. And again the deafening media silence. Never any news. Loek was not at the training camp for pitchers of the National team and he was not on the roster for the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam. Two weeks ago I was a volunteer at the Olympic Softball Qualifier in Utrecht and on a Tuesday I saw a teanmate of Loek sitting together with a person from the National Baseball Federation. I approached them and said: “Excuse me, but may I ask an awkward question? “Yes, you may”. “Can you tell me how Loek van Mil is doing, because I never hear anything about him. I met him a couple of weeks ago and he told he he was about ready to play.” They answered simultaneously: “Loek has retired from baseball, but he is doing well.” “Are you sure he is doing well?” I asked. “Yes. Loek is doing great”. Three days later the official announcement was published that Loek had indeed retired from baseball. He had wanted to come back and play, but noticed that he could not get his boby back in the shape required for top level baseball. He would be focussing on a new career, but for sure nothing in baseball. Three days after that Loek van Mil left my life with a bang, but this time causing even more pain as the news was released that he had passed away at the age of only 34, due to the causes of a fatal incident. Details were not to be released at the request of the family. The funeral services where for family and intimate friends only at the request of Loek. During last weeks play-off and play-down games, Loek was honoured with a minute of silence. Of course I was there at Rotterdam. It was not easy to do, but I had to pay tribute. After the impressive minute of silence, Loek's favorite song was played. During the game I caught a foul ball. I guess Loek was at the ballpark that evening.
Robert van Doorn