May’s featured International Star is Dylan Verdonk, a 6’9 Right-Handed pitcher from the Netherlands who just completed his first year attending and playing for NCAA Division I Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Dylan grew up playing for the Tex Town Tigers (TTT) in Enschede – a small town in the far eastern part of the Netherlands, bordering Germany. Dylan possessed such a strong passion and love for the game that as he progressed to higher levels in the Netherlands, including the Junior (U-18) National Team, he began making 3 hour daily train rides across the country in order to practice and play against the highest competition possible, so he could continue to develop.
Dylan has been with the International Stars as a pitcher at the 2013 Prague Baseball Week AND as a participant in the Fall 2014 College Showcasewhere he was scouted and recruited by Seton Hall University’s Pitching Coach. In his first year at Seton Hall, which plays in the Big East Conference, Dylan had a perfect 0.00 E.R.A. in 6 games, only giving up 1 extra-base hit and 2 walks in 9 innings of work and also picked up his first collegiate win in the month of May. For all his accomplishments, and perseverance on and off the field, Dylan has earned the Feature Star for the month of May.
It was a busy Spring (and Summer) season for Dylan, playing the entire year in America for the first time, but we had a chance to catch-up with the “Dutch Pirate” and ask him about his first year of playing college baseball in America. Check out his Q and A here:
Q: Dylan, thanks for taking the time out of your busy baseball schedule to answer some questions. It’s your first year playing college baseball in America, can you first tell us the coolest thing about being a college baseball player in the States?
Dylan: There are a lot of cool things about being a college baseball player. I always had to manage my time between spending time on school, and spending time on baseball, because school and sports were separated. But because are related right now, you have more time for both (Maybe also because I always had to travel far for baseball back home, and here everything is only a 5-minute walk. Besides this, I feel honored to be able to play college baseball, because not many Dutch baseball players get a chance to do this.
Q: This past season that just concluded was your first year playing college baseball in America. Can you describe to us what your typical day was like in college?
Dylan: A typical day in the Fall would be waking up at 4:45 (This was probably the hardest part of the day) and getting ready to go into the weight-room with the whole team. Since all the freshmen lived in the same dorm, we gathered in front of the elevator and walked towards the Recreation Center, where the weight-room is located. We were lucky if it wasn’t raining or freezing outside at the time. First we went to the locker-room, and next to the “Fieldhouse”, a huge gym with several basketball courts inside. Here we stretched with our trainer at 5:45 before lifting. Since we had 35 guys on the team, and approximately half of us are pitchers, we split the group in pitchers and hitters. One group would do their lifting on the squat racks, and the other groups on the machines and free weights. During the week we would go into the weight-room 4 times, so everyone would use both parts of the weight-room twice. After lifting for an hour, so at 7:00, we would stretch again, shower, and get some breakfast before class started. I had classes from 9am-12:15pm. Then I went back to my room to drop off my bag, get some lunch, and walked to the locker-room to get ready for practice. A normal practice was about 3,5 hours, from 1:30pm-5pm. After that, it was time for the best part of the day, doing homework. During the week I had to spend three mandatory hours in a study area, so that my coach could check that I did my work. I did my homework till late in the evening, with a break for dinner, watched some tv and went to bed. This is how my Fall looked like. My Spring was a little different, because we didn’t lift in the mornings anymore, and we had one or two games during the week and a 3-game series on the weekend.
Q: That sounds like a pretty intense schedule – so how many times did you practice or have games during the week?
Dylan: In the Fall, we would have 6 practices a week, with Monday as our only off-day. We also had this off-day in the Spring, but now we had less practices, because of our games. Normally we would have a game on Tuesday, sometimes on Wednesday as well, and a 3-game series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Q: How would you compare the practices in college baseball to your practices back home in The Netherlands?
Dylan: The first week of practices were just really long. It wasn’t really intense. But as the weeks went by, we tried to do as many drills, as good and as fast a possible. I wasn’t used to this. We would stretch as a team, then throw as a team. After that we split up in different groups (infielders, outfielders, catchers, pitchers) and did our own drills. Eventually we did drills as a team together as well, before finishing practice with BP and a team meeting. Everything was completely organized, compared to home, where everything wasn’t as organized sometimes.
Q: How do you think your baseball skills improved since coming to play at Seton Hall? Has your pitching style or mentality changed?
Dylan: Of course, the first few weeks I had to adjust to a new way of practicing. I worked hard in the weight-room, and already hoped to see improvement before the Christmas break (Because I always wanted and expected to see improvements on a short term). As the months passed by, I talked a lot to my pitching coach, and I started to change my mindset. Every effort you put in now will pay out, but it can take time. I struggled with my pitching motion in the beginning, which frustrated me at times. But I assured myself that I had to improve, and so I became mentally stronger. My pitching coach helped me with this so much, and still continues to do so. By the time our season started, I got stronger, mentally and physically. And I started to feel more comfortable with my motion and the control over my pitches. But the one thing that hadn’t improved, and disappointed me the most (because I worked hard), was that my velocity was still the same. I felt like maybe I already hit my limit, and this was just what my body was capable of. Luckily, 2 weeks after our first game I finally went up 1 mph, which gave me hope. And within the next 3 months, I went up another 5 miles, which made me even happier.
Q: How was the competition at NCAA Division 1 compare to what you played in Europe/The Netherlands?
Dylan: Although I loved playing baseball at home, here in the NCAA Division 1 the competition is higher. It’s not only the amount of players (I went from having approx. 15 players to having 35 players on my team), but also the dedication and motivation. I feel like everyone works just a little harder, and is more motivated to get to a certain goal. This is just what I’ve noticed.
Q: What’s the biggest cultural difference you experienced between living and studying in the U.S. and The Netherlands?
Dylan: The biggest difference is of course the language. English was already my second language, but it’s an adjustment to speak it 24/7. Besides that, there aren’t a lot of big cultural differences. The one thing I tell guys around here when they ask me about the differences, is that people here where sweatpants all the time and everywhere they go, the food portions are huge here, I love the unlimited refills, and they eat so many things with peanut butter (Like peanut butter and celery?!)
Q: What was the hardest adjustment for you living, playing, or studying in America?
Dylan: In the Spring I didn’t have a hard time adjusting anymore, but in the Fall there were two things: I had a lot more homework than I was used to, because in my last two years pf high school I basically only had to study for tests, and this amount was the reason I didn’t get enough sleep during the night.
Q: Were your teammates really curious about The Netherlands? How do they treat you? Did you teach them any Dutch?
Dylan: Because I was the only international student on the team, they asked me a lot about the Netherlands. And I wanted to tell them even more, but because I felt short sometimes on my vocabulary, it was hard to explain things in detail, but that’s just a matter of time. I still sometimes feel that it’s hard to blend in with certain activities because my English isn’t as good as theirs, but it will come. I tried to teach some guys some Dutch words and sentences, but it’s a hard language to remember and speak.
Q: What was it like to pick-up your first college win and also go the entire season without giving up a run?
Dylan: This year as a freshman I didn’t get a lot of playing time, but that’s just how it is. I didn’t get to play during out-of-conference games, but got some innings when we started to play in-conference games. For my first win, I came in as a reliever in the 2nd and 3rd inning, but I was lucky enough that we took the lead in the 3rd, which resulted in a win on my name. But not giving up a run made me even happier. I gave up some hits, but hitters didn’t connect the line-up good enough to score.
Q: You participated in 2014 International Stars College Showcase in Washington DC… What was your experience like? How did it help you get an opportunity to play college baseball? Would you recommend it for other European players and why?
Dylan: I would definitely recommend it for players that have the ambition to play baseball in the US. That showcase was one of the first times that I played with players with another nationality than me, so it kind of prepared me already for being on a college team. But besides this, the showcase gave me chance to show myself to college coaches. And I’m glad my current pitching coach saw me there.