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As returns go, it wasn't in the same league as General MacArthur's or Ulysses' or even George Foreman's. Bert Blyleven, the pride of Zeist, was back in his native Netherlands to pitch in the five-team, international Rotterdam World Port tournament. "It was more like the veterans' returning from Vietnam," he said. "You know, like, who gives a damn?"
Blyleven was the headliner of a traveling troupe billed as Major League Baseball International, a group of mostly minor league scrubs donated by their parent clubs. He started last Friday's opener against the Canadian national team. "The reason I'm here is simple," said the erstwhile Dutch Master, who ended a 22-year major league career this spring only 13 wins shy of 300. "I was home doing nothing, and someone said, 'Oh, we should send him back to where he came from.' "
Blyleven's homecoming came after a 39-year trek through the U.S. including stops in Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and California. He arrived in Holland ranked third on baseball's career strikeout list (3,701), ninth in shutouts (60) and 13th in innings pitched (4,969?).
Netherlanders have been taking one another out to the wedstryd since 1912, but only two Dutchmen have ever made the big leagues: Blyleven and reliever Win Remmerswaal, who had a cup of koffie with Boston in 1979 and '80. Though Blyleven was just a Dutch boy of two when his family left the Netherlands, he claims his life in Holland gave him his careening curve. "My fingers were stuck in a dike," he says. "They got stronger and longer when my parents pulled me away to leave the country."
About 2,500 Netherlanders filled up the grandstands at Neptunus Honkbalstadion, a small ballpark across the street from the city jail, for the opener. Beforehand, Blyleven fielded questions from the Dutch press as adroitly as he would a comebacker to the mound. He laughed when he was asked, "Did it bother you to come so close to 300 victories and not get them?"
"No, not really," he said. "If you include my wins in high school and Little League, I had well over 300."
"If you pitch well here, will you come out of retirement?"