The Obit For Rob Derksen

Greek Olympic baseball team manager dies
Orioles scout, 44, dies of unknown causes

The Associated Press
Updated: 9:25 p.m. ET June 17, 2004

NEW YORK - Rob Derksen, the manager of Greece’s Olympic baseball team and a scout with the Baltimore Orioles, died Wednesday. He was 44.

Derksen died in the New York area, the Orioles said. The team did not know the cause of death.

Derksen was still under contract with Baltimore while working with the Greek team that was preparing to compete in the Athens Games this summer.

“He was just a good, knowledgeable baseball guy,” said Colorado Rockies second baseman Aaron Miles, who was recruited by Derksen to play for the Greek national team. “He was a great man and fun to be around.”

A former pitching prospect for Milwaukee, Derksen also managed in the minor league systems of the Brewers and Boston Red Sox.

Derksen managed the Australian Olympic team in 1996 and guided the Guam squad that tried for an Olympic spot in 2000.

“I talked to him once or twice a week, and every time he was in a different city looking for a Greek baseball player,” said Jack Rhodes, Derksen’s assistant coach.

Rhodes, the head coach at North Florida, said he spoke with Derksen on Tuesday night.

“He really put a lot of effort into this,” Rhodes said. “He was determined to make this work. He was in New York scouting some independent teams.”

Greece received an automatic bid to the Olympic baseball tournament because Athens is hosting the games.

Derksen was from Hales Corners, Wis., and was drafted by the Brewers in 1982.

“Rob not only was a good baseball man, he was a great family man and good friend to us all with the Brewers,” Milwaukee spokesman Jon Greenberg said. “I’m going to miss him. This is just stunning news.

“On behalf of the organization, we’re very deeply saddened by Rob’s sudden passing. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his family,” he said.

After his playing career ended because of an arm injury, Derksen went on to manage and coach in the Brewers’ system at Beloit. He later managed in the Boston organization and then became a Pacific Rim scout for the Orioles.

Nobody figured fielding a Greek Olympic baseball team was going to be easy. But neither did they ever imagine it would be this damn difficult.

Just the other day, John Kazanas received a teary call from pitcher Tom Lyons.

"He was crying because he thinks he's let us down," Kazanas said. "He says, 'The doctor says if I keep throwing, I'll do more damage. But I'm still willing to pitch if you need me.' I told him no way. We weren't going to risk his career."

Of course, that call was easy compared to the news the team received last month: Manager Rob Derksen died of a sudden heart attack while he was scouting players on Long Island. He was 44. He leaves behind a wife and two teenage children.

"Derk had called me that same morning," pitcher A.J. Brack said. "I was in Connecticut on a road trip and he was in New York, and we were thinking that maybe we could meet up. He called me at 9:30 and I got an e-mail from him after the game. I still can't believe he's gone."

Derksen didn't have any Greek blood in his heritage (he was Dutch and Austrian), but the Greek team had been his life for several years. Because baseball is rarely played in Greece, an Olympics loophole allows this year's host country to field a team of Americans and Canadians with Greek ancestry. So for more than three years, Derksen scoured North America for these players -- phoning, writing, e-mailing, scouting and searching everywhere but in Nia Vardalos' bedroom. He found them in major-league organizations and on independent rosters. He found them in investment firms. He found them in pinstriped uniforms and in pinstriped business suits.

Greek Team Suffers Heatache
Rob Derksen believed his team could surprise everyone and win a medal.

And then he brought them all together as a team.

"It's just unreal. I talked to him two or three times a week," said shortstop Chris Demetral. "He was so darned excited about this thing. He had us so fired up. It's like we were 10 years old again. I can't believe it."

A former pitcher in the Brewers system, Derksen was the Kofi Annan of baseball. He managed the Australian team in the 1996 Olympics. He managed Guam's national team four years later, and nearly made it to the Olympics. He not only was ready to manage Greece this year, he was determined to win a medal.

"He loved building these federations. I didn't realize how much he had become identified for his work in international baseball," said Lou Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles, who are supplying funds for the Greek team. "He was a guy from Milwaukee, but he traveled all over for baseball. He loved going to these other countries -- not just for the baseball, but for the people and the customs. He had a great appreciation for people. Whether they were Australian or Japanese, he just loved people coming together around baseball.

"There's an empty, hollow feeling; and it's pretty deep."

Derksen brought people together all over the world. And at his funeral near Milwaukee, they came together for him. There were more than 600 mourners at the service. The pallbearers were kids from his youth league team.

"He was so good for baseball," Brack said. "He was an ambassador for the game. He loved the game, and he just wanted it to do well."

Derksen repeatedly told the players and staff how thrilling the Olympics would be, how large the goosebumps would grow and how dry the throats would become when they marched into the stadium.

And now he won't be there. Kazanas and coach Dusty Rhodes will co-manage the team in his place.

"The more we thought about it," Kazanas said, "the more we realized we don't want to say we're 'replacing' Derk. Derk is still the manager. ... He would always find a way to make this thing work even with all the odds against us."

For more than three years, Derksen reached out and held the team together in his hand. This is still his big Greek baseball team and when the players take the field in Athens, they'll still feel his grip.