When the 2017 World Baseball Classic began, the team representing The Netherlands was certainly not considered to be among the tournament favorites.
After all, we’re talking about The Netherlands. You know, the Dutch?
Isn’t that Holland? When you think of them, wouldn’t you tend to think of windmills, dikes, tulips, and chocolates more than hardball?
On the grander world stage, The Netherlands that most people think about refers to the main constituent nation in Western Europe.
They may be one of the smallest nations in Europe, but The Netherlands are tremendously influential. For instance, it is home to Europe’s largest seaport at Rotterdam.
At The Hague, the nation is a host city to the United Nations, and home of the World Court. The official capitol city of Amsterdam is one of the most populous regions in Europe, and gave us the likes of Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.
But the nation of The Netherlands is also a “kingdom”, a constitutional monarchy which also encompasses countries of the Caribbean region, including Aruba, Curacao, and St. Maarten. They are part of an area often referred to as The Netherlands Antilles.
DUTCH CARIBBEAN BASEBALL INFLUENCE
Many of the top players with The Netherlands national team in the 2017 WBC hail from these islands. They include MLB all-stars in shortstop Xander Bogaerts from Aruba and closer Kenley Jansen of Curacao.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, shortstops Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius, and IF/OF Jurickson Profar are all from Curacao as well.
A member of the coaching staff is very familiar to American baseball fans. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven is from Utrecht, the fourth largest city in The Netherlands that lies about 32 miles south of Amsterdam.
Former Atlanta Braves star Andruw Jones is from Curacao. He played with The Netherlands teams in both the 2006 and 2013 World Baseball Classic. Jones is another coach with the 2017 version of the squad.
The manager for The Netherlands is Hensley Meulens. He was the 1990 AAA International League Most Valuable Player while with the Columbus Clippers in the New York Yankees farm system. Meulens enjoyed a seven-year big league career. He has spent the last seven seasons as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach, helping the club win three World Series championships.
NETHERLANDS INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCES
Starting play in Pool A of this year’s WBC, the Dutch went 2-1 against South Korea, Israel, and Chinese Taipei. Advancing to the second round, the club again went 2-1 against Japan, Israel, and Cuba.
That overall 4-2 performance in Pool play allowed The Netherlands to advance into the semi-finals of the WBC for the second consecutive time. The Dutch were eliminated in the first round in 2006, and the second round in 2009.
In 2013, the team simply couldn’t overcome Japan. They were mercy-ruled by the Japanese by a 16-4 score in the second round. Reaching the semis, Team Japan again dumped The Netherlands, though this time by a more competitive 10-6 final.
Despite last night’s extra-innings defeat at the hands of Puerto Rico, The Netherlands can still medal in this competition. If Japan (6-0) defeats the US (4-2) in tonight’s other semi-final, both the Americans and the Dutch would finish 4-3. The two would finish tied for 3rd place. If the US wins, The Netherlands finish in fourth place.
In other international competitions over the years, The Netherlands have fought hard. The Dutch won the 2011 World Cup. They finished fifth at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. They have captured 22 Gold Medals at the European Championships, and are the defending champs.
So as you can see, while The Netherlands might not have been the first nation that you thought of when figuring on WBC favorites, they are certainly capable of putting a talented baseball team on the field.