Home for the holidays is a phrase that means quality time for family and old friends, but at the Little League Ballpark on Pond Island this year, it was a time for former teammates to catch up. The reunion included Franklin van Gurp, TB Burnett, Denzel Richardson and Junior King.
While a few balls were thrown and some even hit, most of the catching was about where everyone is now, years after they played together as Little Leaguers.
Franklin Van Gurp is a junior at Florida International University where he still plays baseball; in fact, he is one of the team’s pitchers. He has the honour of being the team’s closer and is pitching hard with his speed in miles per hour in the low 90’s. He has even been scouted and is considering deferring his last year of school in order to turn pro.
Franklin was born on St. Maarten and has a Dutch passport. In 2004, he was a member of the St. Peters Marlins in the Pony League. That year, the team went undefeated and won the Division Championship. The following year, his final season with the team, he had an on-base percentage of .667. “I left St. Maarten when I was I was 10 years old,” recalls Franklin, who now stands six-foot one-inch tall and weighs 200 pounds. He moved to the Dominican Republic and attended school there, continuing to practice his baseball.
The teammates would catch up a few years later. A training squad from St. Maarten travelled to the Dominican Republic for some additional practice. While on one of the many fields, Franklin spotted some of his old teammates and walked over for a visit.
Not much was heard from Franklin for several more years. Then his named popped up again when there were rumours he was going to sign a pro contract. But before the rumours could pan out, Franklin was injured.
His arm was hurt, but Franklin did not give up on his dream. He started a rehab program and fought his way back to health and to baseball. By 2014, he was catching for Chipola College in Florida. As a sophomore, he switched to pitching.
Wearing number 55, Franklin, a “righty-righty” sophomore worked 24.1 innings. He had an earned run average of 5.92 with 32 strike outs. At the plate in 19 appearances, he averaged .267 with an on base percentage of .389.
The Florida Junior College scouting report on van Gurp said, “If you want to go off on arm talent alone, then Van Gurp was the best arm of the weekend.” The report continued, “The arm is long and loose with above average strength and speed and his fastball is a heavy 91-93 mph heater with late run.” As for another pitch, the report stated,” Van Gurp also has a tight sweeping slider that has the ability to miss bats. He threw it often with confidence, and it was steadily in the 75-77 range.”
“I transferred out to FIU [Florida International University] for this season,” said Franklin. Now a junior, Franklin is once again marked as the team’s closer, an important position that helps clinch wins, leaving little to chance. While on the island, Franklin and the other grown players took time to mentor the younger boys and girls, explaining the importance of hard work and discipline.
In St. Maarten over the Christmas Break, former teammates had time to catch up and renew friendships. The talk was about work out schedules, who expected or at least hoped to sign, and when the group might see each other next.
Some of the boys played a homerun derby at the ballpark, letting the current crop of Little Leaguers catch the fly balls in the outfield. Pro ballplayer Denzel Richardson won the derby and pro-prospect Junior King was second. The young ballplayers, ages 12 and under, quickly grew exhausted shagging balls for the big batters. The day ended with a BBQ hosted by Coach Tom Burnett for all the players, old and new.
Now the holidays are done, and most of the team have gone back to work. Richardson is off to Nicaragua to play a little winter ball. Franklin is back in school. “Our season starts February 17,” said Franklin. King will be going to the Dominican Republic in hopes of signing. TB Burnett is back in Texas working.
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