In The Netherlands, sport fans know Johannes Hendrikus Urbanus as well as Americans know Urbanus' hero, Bob Feller. Like Feller, 24-year-old Urbanus is a pitcher. He plays on Amsterdam's Op Volharding Volgt Overwinning (Perseverance Leads to Victory) team. The O.V.V.O. nine, behind Urbanus' consistent pitching, has won three straight Dutch championships. Last week "Hannie" was the envy of some 5,000 Dutch Honkbal players. At the invitation of the Knickerbocker, a Dutch-American magazine, Hannie flew to the U.S. to spend a month of spring training with the New York Giants, National League champions.
Baseball was made popular in The Netherlands by U.S. soldiers after World War I, and has been getting more popular ever since. The Honkbal Federation now has 165 senior teams, made up of players over 16. Crowds of more than 3,000 at a game are nothing unusual. Though the Dutch are careful to follow all the American rules, the game is strictly amateur and considerably more gentlemanly than the sometimes rowdy U.S. variety. The Dutch have no equivalent for the Bronx cheer; no one ever boos; no one would dream of suggesting that the umpire be killed. No player ever tries to steal signals, for the simple reason that few players are skillful enough to bunt strategically or to drop a hit behind the runner.
Hannie was aghast at the idea of a beanball or "duster" (a pitch aimed at the batter's head to scare him away from the plate). Righthander Hannie never has to resort to such strategy, because ordinarily he simply strikes out half the opposing batters. He has no change-of-pace pitch or slow ball, only a curve ("which I invented myself") and a fast ball ("which I hope some day to be as good as Feller"). Because Honkbal is played on soccer fields, Hannie has never had the advantage of pitching from the raised (15 in.) mound, but since equipment is scarce in The Netherlands, he has usually had the advantage of pitching with a grimy, hard-to-see ball.
Hannie is modest about his chances of making the grade in U.S. baseball: "I don't know if I would accept an offer, because I know I wouldn't get one." He will be happy "just to learn," then go back to Amsterdam, where his brother Charles, an O.V.V.O. shortstop, vill take care of a good percentage of the batters that Hannie does not strike out. Charles is O.V.V.O.'s relief pitcher, but the title is strictly honorary. In 150 games over eight years, Hannie has never yet been relieved.