Student Stories

Show up, work hard and make it about the team

Valuable advice to all baseball student-athletes on their way to study and play ball in the US from Milan van der Breggen. Milan speaks from experience, having studied and played baseball for two years at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, then transferring to Oakland City University in Indiana to complete his bachelor’s degree.

No stranger to baseball in the Netherlands, Milan played for Rabbits Baseball Academy and competed in many regional, national and international championships. Milan is also a regular sportswriter for Fastball Magazine and has interviewed everyone from top level Dutch players to former MLB pros.

Were you prepared for the level of baseball in the US?

Milan graduated with a VWO diploma from Jan van Egmond Lyceum and started at Indian Hills Community College in the fall of 2019. IHCC normally has a diverse team, with players from across the US, Latin America, Japan and Europe.

I asked if he felt prepared when he arrived for the level of baseball in the US. Being an academy player, he was used to practicing 4x a week and playing two games each weekend. He said every player had to adjust in their own way to the sheer volume and intensity of practice in the US – for the European players, it was the amount of practice, while the players from Latin America had to get used to a more focused approach to the game. The first few months were intense for everyone – practice every day, balancing sports with study, getting used to language/culture/food – but everyone found their place in time.

Practice, study, eat – repeat! At Indian Hills Milan lived with his roommate in a dorm with shared bathroom facilities – all baseball players lived on the same floor. Now at 4-year college, he shares an apartment-style room and it’s far more chill. 

He opted for a meal plan at both colleges, and sometimes it was a flip of the coin if today’s meal would be edible or not –the Midwest is known for its heavy meals. But Milan thinks campus cafeterias get a bad rap. “They do their best and the food is fine (maybe not the best you have ever eaten) but there are always places you can go off campus to eat if you need a plan B.”

Many colleges offer a study hall for student-athletes and the coach does keep a close eye on each players grades. If you don’t keep your grades up, you will hear about it!

“Playing baseball during the height of the pandemic” 

Milan’s first season in the US was played during the height of the pandemic – he remembers the time spent in the weight room with masks on as being particularly challenging but remains low-key about it all. “It was inconvenient but everyone adapted.” At least they got to play which was not the case in all states.

In Milan’s sophomore year, the team made it to the Juco World Series. That was something special and they worked hard as a team to get there. While college competition can sometimes feel more like every man for himself, the coach made it plain to the players that they needed to get it together, figure it out and start playing for each other.

Proof positive that hard work pays off!

They started winning important games and made it to the World Series, perhaps not because they were the best team but because they were a strong team who cared about each other.

Indian Hills played the Memorial Day evening game and it was an incredible experience playing to a sold-out crowd of 8,000 people.

Each team had baseball cards made for them and kids were asking for autographs. At the close of this baseball season, Milan’s team at Oakland City (The Mighty Oaks) made it not only to the NAIA Conference Tournament but also won the NCCAA regional conference and participated the World Series. Proof positive that hard work pays off!

I asked Milan what his time in the US has taught him and he feels the biggest takeaway is discipline. “Showing up, getting things done on time and done well, and doing things for me and not for anyone.” 

I wondered if that discipline was instilled by his coaches and he said some it was but also because he chose to take on the responsibility himself.

He has learned so much about baseball and has made close friends at both colleges, many of whom he is still in daily contact with.

Milan’s advice to incoming baseball players: it’s important to have the physical and mental stamina to practice hard and play baseball every single day.

It’s intense but worth it. Treat the coach with respect and observe what’s going on around you. You can learn a lot from the returning students and while the head coach may be tough, the assistant coaches are approachable and there to help keep you locked into your goal.

Baseball is all about failure – daily, on your own, and as a team. You have good outings and bad ones but it’s not the end of the world. And don’t forget to be yourself!

Having been so independent for the last few years, it’s sometimes a weird experience spending the summer at home with his family but Milan is keeping busy playing for Kinheim, providing recaps for the European Champions Cup and getting a head start on the final phase of his studies. 

Milan is now embarking on a master’s in strategic management at Oakland City University and we wish him the best of luck!