COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) - Bert Blyleven knows what took him to where he’s been and where he’s headed _ his heritage.
“I’m Dutch, I’m stubborn. I think it’s the stubbornness, the consistency. You take the good with the bad,” said the 60-year-old Blyleven, the first player born in the Netherlands to earn Major League Baseball’s highest honor, election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I came up at a young age. I retired at an old age. I was one of only three pitchers to win a game before their 20th (birthday) and after their 40th. It’s just loving a game that you felt that you could compete at the highest level.”
“I’m going to be in awe,” Blyleven said. “We all have dreams as kids. You don’t know where it’s going to head.”
Also to be honored in a July 23 ceremony at Doubleday Field are: Dave Van Horne, longtime play-by-play man for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins, who will be given the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting; Philadelphia Daily News sports writer and columnist Bill Conlin, winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing; and Roland Hemond, who will receive the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
The awards ceremony will feature a performance by singer/songwriter Terry Cashman, whose classic “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and The Duke)” released 30 years ago paid homage to the three great New York center fielders of the 1950s.
Though he lost 250 games, Blyleven threw 60 shutouts (ninth all time) and logged 242 complete games, finishing his career in 1992 with 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all time). He also made 685 starts (11th all time), pitched 4,969 1-3 innings (14th all time), and was 3-0 in League Championship Series play and 2-1 in World Series games.
His sojourn was longer than most.
Born in 1951 in Zeist, Netherlands, his parents, Joe and Jenny, moved the family to Canada two years later.
“My dad’s eventual goal was get to the United States, but it was hard back in the early 1950s,” Blyleven said. “The Canadian government was looking for strong men to work on farms. Holland gave my parents $79 and we went to Canada.”
The family stayed for four years before moving to Southern California, where Blyleven’s uncle had settled. The Blylevens lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Paramount, then moved to Garden Grove when he was in third grade.
“The friends that I started hanging out with played Little League. I didn’t know what it was,” Blyleven recalled. “I started out as a catcher at about 10 years old. My manager I guess realized that I was throwing the ball back harder to the pitcher than he was throwing to me, so he said, `Would you like to pitch?’ And I said, `Sure.’ So I tried it and fell in love with it.”
It wasn’t long before Joe Blyleven built a pitcher’s mound in the backyard, laying the foundation for his son’s Hall of Fame career.
Although he didn’t throw a curveball until he was 14 _ “My dad understood that I shouldn’t throw a curve until I was a teenager and he was a big, strong man, so I listened.” _ Blyleven mastered the art better than most. And he did it through the art of visualization, watching and listening to broadcaster Vin Scully describe Dodgers star left-hander Sandy Koufax’s drop.
“I also learned that everything keys off my fastball,” Blyleven said. “People talk about my curveball, but it was control of my fastball (that made me effective). And I learned that from sitting on a bench with (former Dodger great) Don Drysdale when I was very young _ about pitching inside, pitching both sides of the plate and being a bulldog on the mound.”