If you’re a baseball fan in the UK, visiting Holland is the easiest way to watch some high quality ballgames without travelling all the way to the States. There are several decent ballparks in the Netherlands, such as those in Amsterdam and Haarlem, but the Neptunus Family Stadium in Rotterdam is arguably the best of the lot. Indeed, it may well be the best ballpark in Europe.
Joe and I were extremely impressed by the set-up during our recent road trip to watch some games there at the World Port Tournament (WPT). Hopefully one day there will be a similar ballpark in the UK, but until then you definitely need to start planning your own trip to Rotterdam.
(Note: The photos were taken an hour or so before first pitch, hence the relative lack of a crowd!)
Rotterdam: the journey, hotels and the city
Let’s start with a few basic points about the city itself. Rotterdam is very easy to get to from the UK. Transavia runs cheap flights direct to Rotterdam Airport via London Luton and you are in the air for less than forty minutes. Alternatively you could fly to Amsterdam via various UK airports. The train from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to Rotterdam takes approximately forty-five minutes.
If you’d prefer not to fly, there’s a direct overnight ferry to Rotterdam from Hull or a ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland, from which you can get a direct train to Rotterdam that takes approximately thirty minutes.
There are many different hotel options depending on your budget and exactly whereabouts you want to stay, particularly within the heart of the city. If you want to stay close to the ballpark, the new Domina Hotel is where the visiting players are staying for the World Port Tournament (and is the place from which Cuba’s Arolbis Chapman famously made his exit for the Majors).
The city is currently undergoing a fair amount of building work around the Central Station, but that doesn’t detract from the area too much. There are plenty of places to wander around as well as many shops and restaurants/bars where you can enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. Most of the locals speak at least some English, so there isn’t much of a language barrier apart from getting used to referring to the game as honkbal.
If you’ve never been to Holland before, it’s worth noting that their love of bicycles is not a misleading stereotype. I doubt there are many people in Rotterdam who don’t have a bike judging by the number we saw travelling along (and they’re even more common in Amsterdam).
A lot of the roads/pavements have a separate red cycling path (also used by people on mopeds) and you would be wise to keep out of them when walking along. The general rule seems to be that, whether in the red cycling area or not, bikes take precedence over cars and pedestrians. Don’t expect someone on a bike to stop for you, even if the crossing is telling you it’s safe to leave the pavement! You also need to keep an eye out for the trams.
The Neptunus Family Stadium, or the Neptunus Familiestadion as it’s spelt in Dutch, opened in 1999. The regular capacity is approximately 2,200 and it can be increased to around 6,000 with additional temporary seating for larger events, such as the WPT. The stadium is home to the Neptunus Rotterdam ballclub, one of the leading teams in the Dutch Major League: the Hoofdklasse. Dutch ballclubs often take the name of their lead sponsor and Neptunus are therefore currently known as DOOR Neptunus after the DOOR Training and Coaching company.
Getting to the ballpark
The ballpark is a thirty to thirty-five minute walk away from the Central Station. Alternatively you can take a four/five minute bus journey via the number 38 bus from the Central Station, getting off at the Beukelsweg stop (costing €1.60) before walking the last few minutes to the stadium.
The ballpark site
You pay at the gate when you get to the ballpark, or show them your e-ticket, and you are then free to walk about the main area around the stadium and into the actual ballpark. There are no internal concourses in the standard parts of the ballpark, so all facilities (toilets, food stalls etc) are located in the surrounding area. For the WPT, this was filled with a variety of marquees.
There were several selling baseball merchandise, ranging from jerseys/caps for the international teams to lots of MLB-related goodies. General baseball equipment such as bats, gloves and balls could also be purchased by kids or adults who got the urge to start playing after watching a game.
Food was available from a large marquee selling a wide variety of different dishes and there was a separate stall serving up fish-based offerings (herring being a Dutch favourite). Although the menus were in Dutch, you could generally tell what was on offer and the staff were happy to help if you were not sure. The main word you will probably need is ‘patat’, which is Dutch for chips/french fries (cultural point: if you want to eat like a local, you’ll need to drown your patat in mayo). Prices for the food and drink matched the general experience at most sporting venues or public events: a little high but not outrageous.
A music stage provided additional entertainment (particularly entertaining one day when the power went off just as the bloke was half-way through the first verse of Amarillo) and various activities were available for kids on the multi-purpose football pitch.
Free A4 print-outs of the starting lineups were handed out 30-40 minutes prior to first pitch and free scorecards were also available. However, they were charging 50 cents to use the toilets!
From the surrounding area, you simply walk up some stairs to get onto the main concourse and to see the diamond for the first time. The concourse runs along the middle of the stand, so that there are seats below the concourse and then seats above it.
The permanent seating runs from the first base bag to the third base bag, with temporary seating being erected down the lines for bigger events (such as the WPT).
A row of corporate boxes runs along the top of the stadium and part of the upper section behind home plate is a dedicated media area. The area at ground level directly behind home plate is also given over to the press, photographers and scouts.
All seats were unreserved for the WPT and I didn’t notice any seat/row numbers so this is probably the way it always works. That means it’s worth getting to your spot early if there’s a large group of you that wants to sit together or if you want to get one of the best seats. However, ‘best seats’ is a bit meaningless in this context as all seats provide a fantastic view (all would be considered premium seating at a Major League ballpark, for example).
There is no roof over the main seating, so take an umbrella or a waterproof top if some rain is forecast. As there are no internal concourses, the only place to shelter from a downpour would be in any external marquees that had been erected.
During the game
The in-game experience at the Neputnus Family Stadium matches what you would expect to see at a Minor League game in the States. There are the usual bursts of music when batters step up to the plate, as well as the odd comedy sound effect when a ball gets fouled-off over the stand. There were a few Dutch standards that the locals merrily sang along to and, of course, we all joined in with ‘Take me out to the Ballgame’ during the seventh inning stretch. A mascot provided entertainment in between some of the innings and spent the rest of the time causing havoc in the stands, gleefully cheered on by the kids chasing after him.
There is a basic scoreboard in left-field that provides all of the standard details (score, inning and number of outs, the plate appearance count and details of the current batter). Scoring details are normally flashed across the scoreboard as well (e.g. “double”, “ERROR e6″, “Wild Pitch” etc), which comes in useful as all of the comments over the public address system are (unsurprisingly) in Dutch. In some cases they simply use the American/British baseball term anyway (i.e. “strikeout”), but there are exceptions to this. A pitching change, for example, is clearly shown on the scoreboard whereas you might not fully catch was has happened if you are just relying on the commentary.
Joe and I attended four games and they were all good quality contests. Decent crowds were on hand, especially for the games involving the Netherlands, and they created an enjoyable atmosphere. There were even a few visiting fans in the ballpark, with some Cuban supporters providing percussion to the chants and a smattering of Taiwan supporters cheering on their players. The crowd was a genuine mixture of young and old, male and female. An afternoon or evening at the ballpark is a perfect event for a family and there were many in attendance. It was great to see so many kids walking around with baseball gear on, enjoying the occasion. That’s exactly how you create baseball fans for life.
We were a little unlucky on our trip with the amount of games we ended up watching. Originally two games were scheduled for every day of the tournament (except for the final day), but the late no-show from the USA meant that a new schedule was put in place. Consequently only one game per day was scheduled for two of the days we were there and one of those (Cuba versus Taiwan on Tuesday) was postponed due to rain.
Apart from that slight disappointment, it was a great trip and it left me with two resolutions: 1) to return to Rotterdam in the future, and 2) to start the campaign to build a similar ballpark in the UK. There are lots of barriers in place for the second point, not least financial, but there is no reason why a place as big as the UK cannot have at least one decent ballpark.
As for the first point, I’ll definitely be heading back to the Neptunus Family Stadium when I can. Why not make the trip yourself?