A couple of months ago, news (that was mostly ignored) came out that the Blue Jays had signed a young player from Belgium, Sam Buelens. Buelens is a 19-year-old outfielder who has been among the best young players for Belgium over the past several years, playing in at least one major league showcase as a youth.
So how does a young man from Belgium get interested in baseball? Buelens told us that “My interest in baseball grew from when I was a small child and I had some baseball games at school and I just loved it so I just started to play and my mother played softball so I just rolled in it.” Obviously the influence of a parent is important.
We asked Sam about his father’s role in getting him to where he’s gotten so far. He credits his dad, Dirk, and his mom, Linda Peeters, with raising him and his two sisters and making sure they got a good education. Sam said that at first, Dirk “was a great soccer coach in his free time because I played soccer until I was twelve and then had to make a choice because they would workout at the exact same time at the same day. So I chose baseball and never regretted it ever since.” Sam and his dad would talk “about baseball all the time to find things so I could improve” and Dirk started to take video of Sam hitting.
While he was a second baseman when he started playing baseball, he has become a full-time outfieler and he had a chance to play in with some of Europe’s top talent for three weeks at the MLB Elite camp in Regensburg, Germany in 2013. Learning from former major league players and coaches, Buelens felt his game stepped up a level working with talent like ex-major leaguer Steve Finley. Buelens told us that “as an outfielder I had Steve Finley as my everyday coach which was amazing, I had the honour of working with him for two full weeks which I will never forget!”
He also raved about the opportunity to work on his hitting with a Hall of Famer: “Barry Larkin was an amazing coach: he gave hitting sessions and was also there for two full weeks. I had a little notebook so with all the information he gave me, I wrote down everything in my book so I will never forget.”
In 2014, he played for the Borgerhout Squirrels, the Belgian Division I champion. According to the site Mister Baseball, a major site for European baseball, Buelens hit .348/.448/430 with six extra-base hits, 50 runs, 23 RBI and 31 stolen bases.
We asked Buelens about what kind of player he is. He said, “I am very fast, I have good defensive abilities, and I’m mentally strong,” but he’s aware that the top Belgian league is no match for what he’ll face in North America: “I will have to adjust to the speed in hitting.”
With exciting times coming up for him, I asked him to look back at his most memorable experiences on the baseball field and he mentioned starting a triple play as an outfielder “with a diving catch in centerfield with a ball in the gap” while playing against Italy.
Being just 19 and without a lot of experience against the highest levels of competition, Buelens will almost certainly be playing for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2015 but he told the website Sporza that his initial training camp might be in the Florida or the Dominican Republic.
Sam believes that he’ll work hard and get rewarded for it and his first steps will come in just a few short months.
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