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BASEBALL

Curveballer Blyleven recalls life's twists

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bert Blyleven's best pitch as a major leaguer was a nose-to-toes curveball so it was perhaps no surprise that he traveled an unusual, roundabout way to Baseball's Hall of Fame.

Born in the Netherlands and named Rik Aalbert Blijleven, he moved as a child to Canada where his family found work on a farm before settling in Southern California where he fell in love with America's national pastime.

"Being born in Holland, I'm very proud to be going in as the first Dutchman in the Hall of Fame," Blyleven said Thursday after donning a Hall of Fame jersey at a news conference he shared with Roberto Alomar, who will be inducted along with him this summer.

"My dad was a tradesman in Holland," the bearded Blyleven explained. "His brother had settled in California and he wanted to get to the United States.

"After the war (World War II) it was easier for European men, Dutch men and their families to go to Canada because the Canadian government was looking for strong men to work on their farms."

Blyleven said he and his parents, and older brother and sister, left their European homeland with no money and were given $72 dollars after they landed in Montreal.

The family were sent to the province of Saskatchewan and worked on a farm in the Melville area until they saved enough money to move to California.

"I was about two years old when we left Holland and then spent four years in Canada. I was about six years old when we came over."

Blyleven, 59, said he owed his start in baseball to his father, Joe (Johannes), who died in 2004.

"Through my dad I fell in love with baseball at a young age," said Blyleven, whose imagination was fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts by Vin Scully who described the the paralyzing curves thrown by future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

His dad set up a makeshift pitcher's mound and set up a canvas target in their backyard for Blyleven to throw at, and over the years he taught himself how to control what became his signature pitch.

"I wish my father was here with me," said Blyleven, winner of 287 games.

The first call Blyleven made after being told his 14-year wait to be elected to the Hall of Fame was over was to his mother, Jenny, in California.

Then the man whose family left their Dutch home without a cent, cracked open some Dom Perignon to celebrate with his wife and friends.

(Editing by Julian Linden)