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MLB a tall order for Angels prospect

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TEMPE, Ariz.

He is the tallest figure in the field of play not painted yellow. His wind-up evokes thoughts of the famed windmills of his native Holland. And while he may throw gas, he never buys it.

Meet Loek Van Mil, who stands 7-foot-1 before he even takes the mound at Tempe Diablo Stadium. If the 26-year-old native of Oss, The Netherlands, were to make the Los Angeles Angels Opening Day roster, he would become the tallest player in major league history. The reigning tallest player in MLB history is the Twins' Jon Rauch, who stands at 6-11.

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“I don’t own a car,” said Van Mil, who bikes roughly two miles to and from the Angels practice complex each day. “I’ve never had a driver’s license. It’s maybe three to four thousand dollars to get a driver’s license back home. And another $500 to take the exam.”

If Honus Wagner was the Flying Dutchman, then Van Mil may someday be known as The Pedaling Dutchman. He bought his Trek bicycle in 2008, back when he was pitching Class A ball in Beloit, Wis. Then he shipped it to Fort Myers, Fla. for advanced A ball and next to New Britain, Conn., for AA ball.

“It’s cost me more to have it shipped wherever I’m pitching next than what I actually paid for it,” said Van Mil.

Is Van Mil not the most intriguing minor-league pitcher this side of Kenny Powers? What’s a 7-footer doing playing baseball instead of basketball? What’s a Dutch native doing in a professional sport that is neither soccer nor speed skating? And could Van Mil also become the first major leaguer to put his own baseball card between the spokes of his ride?

“I’m going to eventually have to get a car,” says Van Mil, “if for no other reason than when my girlfriend visits.”

In Holland, the children’s game is roughly translated as “hit-ball.” You toss the ball in the air and hit it yourself with the bat, then run around a series of cones as fielders attempt to run you down.

“I really enjoyed hit-ball and from there it was on to Little League,” says the effortlessly affable Van Mil, who has a thick bramble of curly brown hair. “I was a catcher the first six years that I played.”

Ask Van Mil, whose full name is Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, if had a growth spurt and his reply is, “always.”

Van Mil was 6-1 at the age of 12. He was 6-6 at age 14 when he realized that perhaps catching was not his natural position, so he moved to first base.

“Every month I’d look down at my feet,” said Van Mil, “and then I’d say, ‘Mom, I need a new pair of jeans.’ I was a bit of a nerd, really into studying and reading growing up.”

He was accepted to law school shortly before the right-hander signed a minor-league contract in 2005 with the Minnesota Twins. “I was going to be a tax attorney. They seem to make a lot of money, and I wanted to retire early.”

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He kept growing, though, and his manager at the Dutch juniors level told him, “You throw hard. You should try pitching.”

“I didn’t want to leave first base,” said Van Mil. “I was a good hitter. I led my team in batting three years in a row. But that was when guys were throwing 75 mph. At the speed I now throw [mid-90s], I couldn’t hit myself these days.”

Speaking of changing speeds, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has a habit of asking rookies and younger players to name a hobby or a special interest. When Van Mil informed the skipper that he is a two-wheeler aficionado, Scioscia gave him a homework assignment: a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation, to be delivered to the entire team and front-office staff on Dutch driving rules.

“I went home and drew up diagrams on my iPad,” says Van Mil, “and titled the presentation ‘Traffic Rules of the Netherlands’.”

As any baseball fan knows, no pitcher likes to have his delivery interrupted. At one point of the oration, as Van Mil was informing his audience about Dutch speed limits in metric terms, Scioscia interjected. “So in kilometers-per-hour,” asked the manager, “what would be the difference between your two-seamer and your four-seamer?”

“Doesn’t matter,” replied Van Mil. “They’re both balls.”

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