TEMPE, Ariz. -- Loek Van Mil, the 7-foot-1 reliever in Angels camp, readily admits there are both advantages and disadvantages to being a giant. One advantage is that he can ride his bicycle to Tempe Diablo Stadium every morning and never have to worry about locking the bike, which is so big, he figures, that no one else could possibly ride it. So it sits just outside the clubhouse waiting for its owner, the only one who could comfortably use it.
Right now Van Mil, the Oss, Netherlands, native who's hoping to become the tallest major leaguer ever, is just waiting to be used himself. He experienced a touch of shoulder tendinitis in the right arm that brings heat at 95 mph and now gives him a good chance to eventually make it to a big-league mound as a power reliever after a slow start as a "spot up'' control pitcher in the Twins organization. For the moment, the funnyman with a dry wit, is just providing comic relief. But he hopes that changes soon with some appearance on the mound against live hitters following a bullpen sessions. If it happens, folks are bound to notice him.
Van Mil is so tall he has to duck as he enters the clubhouse so as not to hit his head. He figures there are distinct pitching disadvantages to his height, which include the fact that there are more variables in his windup, making it harder to repeat it, and also that he's a bit slower to first base ("I do weigh 260 pounds,'' he said).
There are some real advantages, as well, such as a release point that's closer to the plate, a longer arm that provides more leverage, plus, as he said, "I'd like to think it's a little intimidating.'' Torii Hunter, who was with the Twins when Van Mil first surfaced as a minor league hopeful, said he has that potential after taking a sudden leap in radar readings, from the high 80s to the mid 90s.
"He has a nice arm,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. The key, Scioscia said, will be "harnessing the delivery.''
His chance to make it to the majors improved almost overnight, when Twins minor league pitching coach Jim Shellenback questioned the softness of his pitches. After an especially nondescript throwing session, Shellenback asked Van Mill, "Why don't you throw like a 7-footer?''
Van Mil, a quick wit, wondered aloud whether there were actually any 7-footers throwing at that high a level. But the point was not lost on him. He knew from then on he should use his height to create power.
"I always knew I could throw a little harder,'' Van Mil said. "But I figured it was going to affect my accuracy or command.'' (As it turns out, it didn't.)
Van Mil's story has taken several twists, beginning way back as a youth in Oss, where he asked his mother to sign him up for basketball. But she misheard him, and he didn't realize the miscommunication until she drove him out to the baseball field one day. While he wasn't enamored at first by the accidental choice of baseball, eventually he grew to love the game.
He has experienced some ups and downs, though, including suffering a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow while warming up in Beijing for the Olympics, causing him to go from the Opening Ceremony straight to the doctor's office back in the United States, where rehab was prescribed. Van Mil pitched at three minor league stops last year, when he was traded in midseason to the Angels for established reliever Brian Fuentes. He is a bit behind due to the shoulder concern now, but hopes to start the year at Triple-A Salt Lake City before possibly ascending to the majors.