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The game, down under: Mount Si senior developing skills with New Zealand national ball team
By Melissa Couto/Of the Toronto Observer
New Zealand is entering into a love affair with America’s pastime, and international influences are helping it along.
For the past year, Dewald de Klerk, a senior at Mount Si High School, and the catcher of New Zealand’s 18-and-under national team, has been developing his skills at the Chaffey Baseball Club in Kirkland.
Having spent time playing baseball in both countries, the 17-year-old can attest to the differences between American and New Zealand player-development.
“I have noticed in the United States that most of the kids playing here at a high level look amazing on the field because they play so much,” de Klerk said. “In certain situations, they don’t have to think ‘what should I do now?’ They just react.”
The New Zealand native learned about Chaffey while playing them on a 16-and-under U.S. tour two summers ago. Chaffey’s head coach, Jim Stewart, noticed something significant about de Klerk right away.
“He’s a horse!” Stewart said. “But he’s not just a big kid at 17 years old; he’s also very strong, and in some ways, very mature. It was just very obvious.”
The Chaffey coach saw great potential in the athletic ability of de Klerk and another Kiwi, pitcher Joe Boyce. When both teenagers decided they wanted to finish high school in Washington so they could play at Stewart’s distinguished baseball club, he personally took the New Zealanders under his wing.
De Klerk and Boyce are now living and breathing baseball every day in a new continent.
“Even when we are not on the baseball field or at practice, we are either talking about baseball or something to do with it,” de Klerk said.
According to Stewart, the Kiwi catcher acclimatized to his new baseball-intensive lifestyle relatively quickly.
“His work ethic in regards to baseball is off the charts,” the Chaffey coach insisted. “He and Boyce were like a couple of big sponges running around. Anything they could do, they wanted to do.”
Stewart went on to explain the extent of the adjustment that needed to be made.
“In New Zealand, you’d play 14 or 15 games per season. Here you play 60 or 70,” Stewart said. “But [de Klerk’s] a very hard-worker. There’s nobody that works harder than him. Absolutely nobody.”
Aside from being completely submersed in baseball, the Mount Si student is also experiencing a North American coaching style that is reportedly “much more firm” than its New Zealand counterpart.
“The coaches here are very blunt,” de Klerk said. “They’d rather be blunt and have you get better than be nice and have you suck all your life.”
Both de Klerk and Boyce traveled to Guam earlier this month to play for their country in a qualifying tournament for the 18U World Cup of Baseball, to be held in Korea later this year. Their second-place finish in the tournament serves to highlight the improvements that international forces have already made to baseball in New Zealand.
While in Guam, de Klerk, Boyce, and the rest of the Junior Diamond Blacks trained under the tutelage of Canadian head coach, Matt Mills. Having had previous experience with the Hamilton, Ontario, native (he was on the coaching staff of the 16U team that traveled to Seattle), de Klerk sees parallels between Mills’ methods and those of his American instructors.
“[Mills] is similar to the coaches in the U.S.,” de Klerk said. “When he’s coaching, he’s focused on you.”
The Canadian believes that de Klerk’s exposure to the North American baseball system has helped him immensely.
According to Mills, players on the 18U national team who have spent time playing ball in the U.S. are much more receptive to his own coaching simply because they understand that “this is a high level sport.”
Both Mills and Stewart recognize and appreciate what the other is doing for the game of baseball.
“Chaffey is one of, if not the top baseball program in the pacific northwest.” The Junior Diamond Blacks manager said, while Stewart asserted that, “With Matt, they’ve absolutely got the right guy running the program [in New Zealand].”
So far, de Klerk has reaped the benefits of both coaches.
The New Zealander hit 5-for-16 with seven RBI in the Guam tournament. He recorded two doubles, walked eight times, and struck out only twice.
Dewald de Klerk, playing in a Guam tournament, preps in the dugout. The youth national team player for New Zealand is working with a Kirkland club and is a student at Mount Si High School.