11.23.11

Murder at Home Plate

When the Halman brothers were growing up in the Netherlands, they shared the same motto: 'Baseball is my life.' Now the one who made it is dead. The other is the prime suspect.

As neighbors and friends tell the story, the Halman brothers were inseparable, and part of what kept them together was their family’s love for baseball. Never mind that they were from the Netherlands, a place where the national pastime of the United States is considerably less popular than, say, field hockey. Their father had played baseball on the Dutch island of Aruba, in the Caribbean Basin, which has brought the American major leagues a number of stars. Gregory, 24, and Jason, younger by two years, both started playing for the Dutch minor leagues when they were teenagers. “Baseball is my life,” they would say.

Dutch police are still trying to piece together precisely what happened between the brothers in the hours just before dawn on Monday morning. The cops are looking into the possibility that jealousy or drugs, drunkenness or mental instability, or all or none of the above, might have played a role. But the basic facts are these: at about 5.30 a.m., neighbors in the modest homes along Jan Sonje Street in Rotterdam were awakened by the sound of police and ambulance services arriving at the site. Greg had rented a house there especially for Jason, and so that he would have a place to stay when he was back visiting from Seattle, where he was a player for the Mariners. Very early Monday morning, it seems, Greg was arguing with Jason about Jason playing music too loudly, and it got him killed.

Police are unwilling to get into much detail about the case. “There was an argument between the two gentlemen; one of them died and the other was involved in his death,” a police spokesman says. “He is held for questioning and charges may follow later. We are not looking for other suspects.” The Dutch press have suggested that the argument spiraled out of control, triggering a fury in the younger brother that was so violent he grabbed a knife and attacked the Mariners player.

Shortly after the argument, the police and emergency services received a call from Greg’s girlfriend, who had been staying with him upstairs at the house. When they arrived at the site, Greg was bleeding badly from multiple stab wounds. The emergency services made every effort to revive him, but shortly after 5.30 a.m. the athlete succumbed to his wounds and was declared dead.

The Dutch press, trying to make sense of the killing, has reported rumors that Jason had a record of psychological problems, and that he was visiting a psychiatrist and had been prescribed antidepressants. But few of these accounts have been confirmed. “Only now do the stories come out,” says Peter Jager, chairman of the Kinheim Corendon team, where Greg played for a few months and Jason played for three years. “I have known them both for ages. I cannot get my head around it.”

'I spoke to him a few weeks ago about his transfer to the Rotterdam Neptunes, and he did not quite seem himself,' says one of Jason’s old teammates.

“They were more than close,” says Kinheim’s manager, Eelco Jansen. “They were inseparable brothers.” According to the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, one of Jason’s last postings on Facebook said, simply, “My everything, my brother is coming to the Netherlands, how I have missed him.”

Jason lived in his brother’s shadow. He was second string in a game where your career is either going someplace by the time you’re in your early 20s, or it’s not.

Like Greg, Jason is a professional baseball player. And Jason has promise, too, his coaches say. He had just moved up from Kinheim to the Rotterdam Neptunes this year at the age of 22. But that’s very far from the American major leagues.

Greg was discovered at the age of 15, and it took him only one year to get signed up with a Mariners’ farm team in 2004. In September 2010 he made his debut with the big club. “He was in a league of his own, the first player from Kinheim to become a major-league player,” says Jager. “He had everything: he was a great batter, good pitcher, and an amazing runner.” When Greg was only 15, says Jager, “I sent him to the European Cup game, and he hit a grand-slam home run. He could have gone anywhere.” As Greg told a Dutch newspaper, “Baseball is beautiful, but baseball in America is the most beautiful of all.” And Jason wasn’t on his way to the world of American baseball.

“I spoke to him a few weeks ago about his transfer to the Rotterdam Neptunes, and he did not quite seem himself,” says one of Jason’s old teammates, who asked not to be named. “He was rather rude, and I know the whole family, and they’re extremely polite. Looking back, he might have been on the verge of a breakdown. It would make more sense. There was, after all, no rational explanation for what happened.”