Cleveland Indians Days of Future Past: Rick van den Hurk and J.D. Martin
Originally Posted To WahoosOnFirst.com
If you watch enough baseball, eventually there become certain players on the periphery of relevance that stick out in your mind.
Rick van den Hurk (Wikipedia has it as VandenHurk and but he goes by van den Hurk on Twitter) is one of those guys for me. I don’t know if it’s because I saw him make a few random relief appearances for the Marlins back in the day, because I maybe used him in a game of MLB The Show in 2008, or because of his place in the Netherlands 2009 World Baseball Classic team (a steal at $2.86!), but for whatever reason his name is one that sticks out to me.
One fun thing about being a part of Wahoos On First is the daily email exchanges between the writers. During a recent exchange, we got on the topic of ex-Indians plying their trade in South Korea. One guy not in that article but brought up in the email thread was pitcher J.D. Martin.
Unlike van den Hurk, Martin is not one of those guys that sticks out in my mind, primarily because despite being the Tribe’s second pick in the 2001 draft he never suited up for the big league squad. In fact, he only made 24 career starts for the Washington Nationals in 2006 and 2007.
But our email conversation got me curious. So I fired up the ol’ Google machine and came across Martin’s Twitter account, which is a veritable treasure trove of fringe MLB player goodness.
First off, congratulations are in order. Martin just finished up the 2014 season with the Samsung Lions of the Korean Baseball Organization, where he helped the team to their third consecutive KBO championship and their eighth since their inception in 1986. Martin wasn’t all that great for the team, posting a 4.78 ERA and 84 strikeouts over 128 innings (the KBO is an offense-heavy league). Perhaps because of that it doesn’t appear Martin will be back with Samsung in 2015, according to his Twitter page.
But there’s much more to Martin than baseball. His son Tripp has one of the slickest helmet-name combinations this side of Scott Player. Martin also apparently has a soft spot for Soju, the Coors Light of Korea.
The tweet that really caught my eye however was this gem. A ball player I haven’t thought of in years and a ballplayer I hadn’t thought of in ever holding a trophy I doubt either of them had thought of when they were playing catch in the backyard.
Van den Hurk has his own story. Unlike a lot of the players of Dutch nationality from Curacao or Aruba, such as Andruw Jones and Xander Boegarts respectively, van den Hurk is from the Netherlands mainland. I don’t know if he found the position of pitcher more entertaining than center back, but according to Wikipedia he came over from the Netherlands at 16 and was eventually signed by the Marlins as an international free agent in 2002. He never found success at the big league level; his best year was probably 2009, when he registered a 4.30 ERA over 58.2 innings at the age of 24.
The part I didn’t know, and the part that’s not readily apparent in his Baseball Reference page, is that van den Hurk was in Tribe spring training for a whopping one week in 2012. For whatever reason, he must have thought he had a better chance getting a big league call-up with another organization. He ended up signing with the Pirates and pitched in the minors until making a couple September appearances for the club. Those appearances are his last in MLB.
He had a really great year with the Lions in the KBO, posting a 3.18 ERA and 180 strikeouts over 152.2 innings. The ERA figure was tops in the KBO for starters according to Wikipedia, which means the KBO is either really fun to watch or really dangerous to watch due to all the home run balls flying into the stands.
But the most important part of this deep dive into baseball’s less celebrated corners comes from van den Hurk’s time with the Netherlands WBC team. Some googling of van den Hurk’s WBC stint led me across this photo. I had to stare at that photo a good thirty seconds before it fully registered with me. I knew Kenley Jansen was a converted catcher, but it was one of those pieces of knowledge that’s inaccessible until something jars it out of the mind.
But it’s more than that. That photo is an inexplicable symbol of why I’m so fascinated with baseball. To me, there are no Rick van den Hurks or J.D. Martin’s in football or basketball. I know they exist to the ardent followers of those sports, but seeing a photo of Rick van den Hurk meeting on the mound with the catcher version of Kenley Jansen captures a small yet mystifying part of why I follow baseball to its distant fringes. The simplest way to put it is, like seeing a long home run or a knee-buckling curveball, that photo put a smile on my face that was not there just a moment before.