Rodgers will play, coach in Belgium

February 25, 2004|JILL ERWIN

Matt Rodgers had all but given up on playing baseball again after graduating from the University of Charleston last spring. However, an overseas telephone call changed all that.

Rodgers got a call from Chris Dassy, a Belgian baseball coach, wanting him to join the Namur Angels for the upcoming season. The 1998 Danville High School graduate leaves March 8 to spend seven months in Belgium as a player and coach for the Angels. He'll also have a chance to coach a middle-school aged team.

"It will be interesting seeing the culture over there," Rodgers said. "Coaching is something I want to do down the road, and I love to play baseball, so this is a chance to do both."

It's Rodgers' chance to play Division I baseball. That's what Belgium calls its top pro league, but Rodgers spent his college career at Division II Charleston. He was named to West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference second team last year after batting .380 as an outfielder. He was 16th in the nation in fewest strikeouts per at-bat, with just five in 108 opportunities.


Rodgers also made first-team all-WVIAC as a closing right-handed pitcher his freshman year.

He said he had "all but hung up" his cleats after wrapping up his career at Charleston. That was until Dassy called him with what Rodgers sees as the opportunity of a lifetime.

"He actually knew more about my season than I did," Rodgers said. "From a personal level, I just think this is a great opportunity. To get to go over there and continue to do something I love to do and to teach the game is just a wonderful thing."

A chance to expand his horizons

Rodgers is doing some coaching now, working with Danville coach Paul Morse and the Admirals until he leaves for Belgium. While he enjoys working with the Danville players, he said the chance to expand his horizons, on and off the baseball field, is worth the trip.

"It gives me a chance to play around Europe, going to Germany, Italy, places like that to play," Rodgers said.

Their are two federations in the league, one Dutch-speaking and one French-speaking. Namur is in the French-speaking federation, but no team in either federation is allowed to have more than two Americans on the field at any time. Rodgers said that makes perfect sense, since the French federation has been around for less than 20 years.

"It's not a developmental league for us, it's for them to improve their level of baseball," Rodgers said. "It's a chance to bring the game to them."

Rodgers has done plenty of traveling. He saw a large chunk of this country while playing for Charleston and on summer teams, and also spent two weeks in China in 1999.

Rodgers is also an accomplished artist, having majored in art in college and drawing the logo on the Danville baseball field's press box.

"It's a great opportunity to see the things I've learned and read about," Rodgers said.

That excitement isn't tempered at all by thoughts of going overseas with the threat of a terrorist attack looming. Rodgers said he has no fears because of his faith and what he terms as a sign.

The city he'll be playing in, Namur, is the city his grandfather was stationed in during World War II.

"I think I'm meant to go over there," Rodgers said. "This opportunity is real coincidental, and I just feel like I'm supposed to go over there for some reason. I think it's a great opportunity for me."

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