When Loek van Mil stands tall on the mound, he really stands tall.
And there’s nothing like a pitcher’s mound to magnify the presence of somebody who stands 7-foot-1.
“Pitching down for him might be thigh-high for everybody else,” Salt Lake Bees manager Keith Johnson said prior to Friday’s home opener at 6:35 p.m. against Tucson at Spring Mobile Ballpark.
Yet Ludovicus Jacobus Maria van Mil, known as Loek — sounds like Luke — is good natured about being the tallest pitcher in professional baseball. He looks forward to supplanting the Mets’ Jon Rauch, a mere 6-foot-11, as the tallest man in Major League Baseball.
Yes, there are the good-natured jokes, even about how he cycles everywhere on his oversized bicycle.
“It doesn’t affect me at all,” van Mil said. “If I was 6 feet and met a 7-footer, I’d say something, too. I kind of laugh, though most people think they are the first to ever say anything to me.”
The 27-year-old native of Oss, Netherlands has the tools — a 90-plus fastball and an effective breaking pitch. Last season for Double-A Arkansas, despite missing part of the season with a chest injury, van Mil threw 66 innings out of the bullpen and registered a sterling 2.04 earned-run average.
So, the question begs, can he become ninth Dutch baseball player in history — including Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven — to make a big league roster?
Harnessing that long delivery will be key.
“He has all those moving parts,” Johnson said. “If something gets out of whack, his back might get tired, his hamstrings might get tired. It’s something that Loek is aware of. He’s pretty athletic.”
Which brings up another question: In a country known best for producing soccer players and speed skaters, how in the world did van Mil find baseball?
It’s pretty simple. At age seven, van Mil was introduced to a variation of baseball that was played in his elementary school. Eventually, he opted for baseball over the most obvious sport for a tall kid — basketball.
“I have always been a guy that swam upstream, so I wanted to do something no one else did and baseball was one of them,” he said. “I stuck to it.”
A first baseman until the age of 17 — van Mil grew out of his original catcher’s position — a coach saw potential in the right arm and moved van Mil to the mound. There were some initial growing pains.
“I hit the first guy I faced,” van Mil said.
Later, at camps held by U.S. baseball organizations, van Mil’s right arm drew more attention than his height. Minnesota Twins scout Howard Norsetter signed van Mil as an undrafted free agent. He was traded to the Angels in 2010 as part of the deal that sent Brian Fuentes to Minnesota.
Van Mil was also part of the Netherlands’ national baseball team, which in 2007, played for the first time in the Baseball World Cup.
He pitched two perfect innings and got a save against Venezuela, then threw three scoreless innings in a win against South Korea. In all, van Mil would finish Cup competition with a 0.71 ERA and two saves as Holland placed fourth.
Van Mil’s first outing for the Bees was definitely forgettable, allowing four runs without retiring a batter. Since then, however, he’s pitched two quality innings.
“My learning curve is a little longer,” he said. “I’m still in that curve. Because I’m not a typical 6-footer; my margin of error is smaller. An inch off on the mound translates to a foot at the plate. So, if I miss something, I’m a little early or late in my delivery, a little high or a little low, that means I miss the zone by a lot.
“It’s a little more challenging. I guess. I wasn’t six-feet tall when I started to pitch.”
Aces 7, Bees 6 • In Reno, Nev., pinch-hitter Jason Lane’s check-swing infield hit with two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning drove in the winning run, leading Reno over Salt Lake in PCL baseball Thursday night. The Aces forced extra innings with a run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Andrew Romine and Hank Conger each went 3-for-6 for the Bees.
Loek van Mil file
• A native of Oss, Netherlands, Ludovicus “Loek” Jacobus Maria van Mil is the tallest player in professional baseball. He stands 7-foot-1.
• Van Mil pitched for the Netherlands during the 2007 Baseball World Cup and registered two saves and a 0.71 ERA.
• In 2011, van Mil pitched in 30 games and finished 3-5 with a 2.04 ERA in 66.1 innings.
Friday • Tucson at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.
Saturday • Tucson at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.
Sunday • Tucson at Salt Lake, 1:05 p.m.
Monday • Tucson at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.
Tuesday • Las Vegas at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.
Wednesday • Las Vegas at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.
Thursday • Las Vegas at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.
April 20 • Las Vegas at Salt Lake, 6:35 p.m.