GVSU alum leads Vietnamese baseball movement

GVSU alum leads Vietnamese baseball movement

Adam Knorr

Adam Poel’s players bow to the umpire when they enter the batter’s box. His starting pitcher throws a self-taught knuckleball. They’re the subject of an in-progress documentary.

They’re the U16 Hanoi Capitals.

Poel, a former pitcher for the Grand Valley State baseball team, is the head coach of the Vietnamese squad.

Tom Treutler, a family friend of Poel’s, lived in Vietnam due to his job for a number of years. Treutler wanted his children to have a chance to play baseball.

But there was one problem. There are no baseball fields in the entire country.

Treutler went to work, outfitting tennis courts for baseball use and putting a team together. Treutler reached out to Poel and asked him to help coach the team.

Poel was hesitant at first, but his cautious acceptance soon turned into full-blown interest.

“I’m all in,” Poel said. “Whatever Tom asks of me or expects of me, I’ll do my best to make anything happen that he needs.”

Poel and the Capitals have played in a number of tournaments this summer – most notably the U16 Colt World Series in Lafayette, Indiana, where the Capitals represented the Asia Pacific region.

Although the Capitals were unable to leave Lafayette with a victory, their ability to put a competitive product on the field was something to be proud of.

“To be honest, I thought we were going to get mercied every game,” said outfielder Hai Nguyen. “But we came out and fought… I think our team did very well.”

So did others. The head coach of the Lafayette All-Stars singled the team out after the tournament and sent recognition their way. In the past, most Asia Pacific representatives were blown out with no chance at competing – let alone a win.

“That really hit home with the kids with how close they are to competing,” Poel said.

The roster is composed of a number of Vietnamese permanent exchange students, the majority of whom go to school and play baseball for Muskegon Catholic Central.

The Crusaders won the Division 4 State Championship last season with a number of Poel’s players on their roster.

Due to a new MHSAA rule, however, the exchange students will not be able to compete at the varsity level next season.

If Poel and the Capitals can help it, that rule won’t last.

“We’re working on putting something together to challenge the MHSAA about that rule,” Poel said. “They’re not coming over to play ball, they’re coming for school.”

And play ball they have.

Poel notes that, although most of his players have only been playing for fewer than five years, the skill level isn’t lacking.

“My kids are really good athletes,” Poel said. “The challenge is getting them to learn baseball specific movement and skills. With time it’s going to happen. I’ve got four or five kids on this team who could be college baseball players.”

Between various quirks and encounters, the Hanoi Capitals have no shortage of uniqueness.

Huy Nguyen, one of the main pitchers for Hanoi, displays a prime example of the dedication the Capitals have to their newfound sport.

Nguyen throws a knuckleball as a secondary pitch – rare for a 15-year-old. His two primary teachers for the dancing wonder? YouTube and Toronto Blue Jays’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Poel tells a story of a game in which the umpire was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He entertained the Capitals roster by telling him where in their country he was stationed.

The umpire’s experiences in Vietnam weren’t up to par with what the Capitals players felt about their country, and they petitioned the umpire to come back and enjoy their now-beautiful country.

Thanks to Treutler’s efforts, baseball is expanding in Vietnam. When the Capitals first formed, only about 15 players were interested in participating.

Now, Treutler’s system houses 75 to 100 Vietnamese youths interest in playing baseball.

The expansion can be partially credited to the Hanoi Capitals squad – something members of the team are honored to provide.

“Every time I step on the field I feel really proud of myself and this baseball team,” said middle infielder Phu An.

The future for the team remains in limbo. Poel hopes to organize participation in a number of tournaments during the fall and winter. The team may participate in a regional qualifying tournament in hopes to secure the Asia Pacific representation for next year’s Colt World Series.