R.I.P. to Loek van Mil, a Dutch pitcher who played in the minor leagues for the Twins, Angels, Reds and Indians. It has been reported that he died on July 28 from an accident at the age of 34. No other details have been made available at the moment. In addition to pitching in the minors, van Mil also pitched for the Dutch National Team as well as in Japan and Australia. At 7’1″, he was one of the tallest people to ever play professional baseball.
A statement from the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation (KNBSB) read:
On Sunday evening the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation (KNBSB) learned that Loek van Mil had passed away at age 34 due to the consequences of a fatal accident.
Van Mil enjoyed a long and successful baseball career in which he played for HCAW and Curaçao Neptunus. Professionally, the tall right-handed pitcher played for the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds in the US minor leagues, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan and the Adelaide Bite and Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League.
In 2007 van Mil debuted for Team Kingdom of the Netherlands during the Baseball World Cup. He played in 48 total international teams for the national team in tournaments such as the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic, the 2015 Premier 12 and he earned the win over Spain in the final of the 2016 final of the European Championship in the Netherlands.
The KNBSB is thankful for everything van Mil has meant to baseball in the Netherlands and offers sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Loek van Mil (full name: Ludovicus Jacobus Maria van Mil) was born in Oss, Netherlands, on September 15, 1984. He was discovered as a sidearm pitcher when he was 16, and he was eventually taught a three-quarter delivery by Twins international scouts. The team signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2005 and sent him to Australia to throw a few more innings before debuting him in the Gulf Coast League in 2006. They saw him as a good prospect, but one who would be a project. Though baseball is growing as a sport in the Netherlands, he had never played organized baseball.
“When you first look at him, you’re thinking ‘Here comes a train wreck with the long arms and legs and body,'” said Twins minor-league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp. “But it’s not a train wreck. He’s pretty complete. The delivery is pretty good.”
The conventional way of thinking is that a tall pitcher has a greater chance for mechanical flaws in his delivery, whereas a shorter, more compact pitcher has fewer adjustments. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Randy Johnson, at 6’10”, became a Hall of Famer.
“When you’re 7-feet tall, you have to keep your body in control. It’s a long process, and I wish him the best,” Johnson said of van Mil.
He was originally a catcher but moved to the mound after outgrowing the position. He took to the gawking from his teammates with a good nature, wearing a T-shirt that read, “Don’t ask” on the front and “7-foot-1. No, I don’t play basketball” on the back. Still, he was serious about being known for more than just his height. The major leagues were his goal.
“If you aim high, that’s always good, eh?” he said.
The Twins brought him along slowly in the low minors. He pitched in 10 games (8 starts) in the Gulf Coast League and went 1-2 with a 3.30 ERA. He was used as a reliever almost exclusively from there and threw in 13 games for Elizabethton in the Appalachian League in 2007 and 28 games in Class-A Beloit in 2008. He was used as an occasional closer, picking up 6 saves in 2009. His strikeout totals started to rise, but so did his walk totals. Injuries also slowed his development.
Van Mil put up good numbers in Twins system until 2010, when his ERA for the AA New Britain Rock Cats rose up to 6.37, and his WHIP to 2.090. He was sent to the Angels as part of a trade that brought Brian Fuentes to Minnesota.
Pitching for the Arkansas Travelers in 2011, van Mil put up stellar numbers: a 3-5 record in 30 games, 2.04 ERA, 46 Ks in 66-1/2 innings, 1.146 WHIP. He impressed the Angels players in Spring Training, too. “His stride is so long it’s like he’s handing the ball to the catcher,” said Torii Hunter.
Van Mil got his first taste of AAA in 2012 and struggled there, both for the Angels and the Indians, who acquired him in midseason for cash considerations. He pitched in the Reds system in 2013 before leaving the U.S. to pitch overseas. Aside from a couple of return appearances in the Twins’ AAA affiliate in Rochester, he spent the rest of his career pitching in Japan and Australia.
Van Mil had an 0-1 record and 4.15 ERA in 7 games for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2014. The following season, he had a spectacular 0.36 ERA for Curacao Neptunus of the Dutch Major League, winning 2 of 3 decisions in 19 games, with 6 saves. He also pitched for the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League and saved 5 more games, to go with a 3-2 record and 2.93 ERA. He pitched for both teams in 2016 as well and saved 16 more games, with a combined 1.03 ERA.
In 2018, van Mil joined a new Australian team, the Brisbane Bandits. In five games, he had a 4.50 ERA with 3 saves. Then, while hiking in Canberra, van Mil slipped and hit his head on a rock, knocking him unconscious. He was missing for 24 hours and was saved when a hiker saw a 7-foot bloody stranger stumbling her way and got him to a hospital. He suffered 14 head fractures, bleeding of the brain, a ruptured ear drum and four hemorrhages. Incredibly, he came back from all those injuries to throw 2 more scoreless innings of relief for Brisbane in the regular season and had a 1.93 through 4-2/3 innings in the playoffs. The Bandits won their fourth straight championship thanks to his miraculous comeback.
When he wasn’t pitching around the world professionally, he was playing for the Dutch national team. He picked up saves against Venezuela and South Korea in the 2007 Baseball World Cup and ended up with a 0.71 ERA in the tournament. A partially torn UCL kept him out of the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he returned to represent his home country in national tournaments in 2016 and the World Baseball Classic in 2017. When Team Netherlands faced Team Israel in 2017, van Mil faced 6’8″ Nate Freiman. That is believed to be the tallest batter-pitcher matchup in baseball history.
Just recently, van Mil announced his retirement from baseball, stating that the injuries he sustained in his hiking accident were still bothering him. For his 10 seasons in MiLB, van Mil had a 12-27 record and 17 saves, with a 3.48 ERA and 278 strikeouts in 393-2/3 innings. In his five seasons in foreign professional leagues, he was 8-7 with a 1.98 ERA and 36 saves.