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April 3, 2012
By Robert Niedzwiecki
The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER- As Greg Van Sickler worked in Shenandoah University's Office of Admissions throughout the fall and winter, he did so with a feeling that he didn't do enough to make his professional baseball dreams a reality.

Apparently, he did a lot more than he realized.

Van Sicker, the former SU All-American and James Wood High School baseball star, will begin his professional baseball career this weekend as a member of Belgium's Namur Angels, one of eight teams in the Belgian Baseball Federation First Division.

Van Sickler will depart the United States Thursday to compete for Namur, which also plays games against teams from other countries. The right-handed Van Sickler, who will be used primarily as a pitcher with Namur, will compete in an exhibition in Amsterdam this weekend before the regular season commences April 13.

"I realize that I'm not a guy who should have been drafted in the top 10 [rounds], but I always thought I was good enough to play professional baseball," said Van Sickler, a 2011 SU graduate and 2007 James Wood graduate, Monday. "The call [to play in Belgium] was kind of out of the blue, but after talking it over with my family I knew I wanted to jump on this opportunity. I'm looking forward to it."

Van Sickler had already left his position in SU's admissions department on Feb. 4 so he could prepare for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau showcase camps, which begin in June following the completion of the MLB Draft and take place in various locations throughout the summer across the country.

But a little more than a month ago, SU head baseball coach Kevin Anderson got a call from Namur manager Chris Dassy. Though Dassy hadn't seen any video of the 6-foot-2 Van Sickler, Dassy was impressed by Van Sickler's statistics, which he came across after researching the participants of the past few Division III College World Series.

Van Sickler - who went 11-1 with a 1.81 ERA as a senior and hit .390 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs at the plate - initially thought it was a prank when he discovered a voicemail on his phone that said a Belgian baseball team was interested in him.

But after talking with Dassy, it was clear Dassy's interest was very much real. And suddenly, Van Sickler had a resolution to his nagging doubts much earlier than he expected. Van Sickler only needed a few days to think it over before telling Dassy he was going to play for him.

"I didn't think I gave myself enough of chance to prove myself last summer," said Van Sickler, who participated in two tryouts with the Kansas City Royals after he was bypassed in the 2011 MLB Draft. "I regretted that."

Most of Van Sickler's games will be played on weekends, with 34 scheduled against fellow Belgian First Division teams in a regular season that runs through the end of September. The playoffs will follow - Namur played in the league's championship series last year.

Van Sickler said he'll also be playing games against teams from France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Russia.

Van Sickler said he'll be paid approximately $1,000 a month, but virtually all of Van Sickler's expenses, including housing, will be paid for. The only thing he would have to pay for himself would be expenses associated with traveling and sightseeing on his own.

The expense situation is just part of why Van Sickler said he has no qualms about playing baseball in Belgium, even though as of now he says "he's lost" beyond the ability to say "bonjour" as far as speaking French. (Van Sickler will be required to take classes in French while he's with the team.)

"I'm an outgoing guy," said Van Sickler, who will be one of two Americans (the most any team in the league can have) on the Namur Angels. "I get along with everyone I meet."

That also applies to children. Van Sickler will also be required to coach a youth baseball team as part of his contract, which is something he's well prepared for. Through SU's youth baseball camps and Van Sickler's own private lessons, he's worked with children age 5 to 16.

Of course, Van Sickler acknowledges it will be a little tougher in Belgium.

"It will be interesting to see how well I teach kids who don't understand anything I'm saying," said Van Sickler, who added that one of his going-away presents was a French-English dictionary.

From the sound of it, Van Sickler won't be hoarding all his money either. Van Sickler noted that his baseball career has probably denied him a lot of traveling opportunities in his life, because he's always had games to play during spring breaks and summers.

Van Sickler said Florida and Wisconsin (and that was for the D-III World Series) have been his two farthest destinations, and he doesn't want to waste this experience.

"I'm going to enjoy it," said Van Sickler, who graduated from SU with a business degree. "I definitely want a job with travel in my future."

Preferably, that travel job will also involve baseball, perhaps as a recruiter, because Van Sickler realizes his professional baseball career can't last forever.

Anderson is just glad that someone realized that Van Sickler's career deserved a chance to start. Anderson said he and assistant coach Bruce Cameron exhausted every contact they could after Van Sickler didn't get drafted, because they believed he was good enough to play at a higher level.

"This opportunity is well-deserved," he said. "Greg's the best two-way player I've ever coached, and we have a great relationship. I'm happy for him."

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