26 February 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Netherlands

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Netherlands article was written by Eli Moore.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 7th
2013 Pool Korea


Chinese Taipei
2013 Players of Note Jonathan Schoop, Inf

Jurickson Profar, SS

Andrelton Simmons, SS

Roger Bernadina, OF

Andruw Jones, OF

2009 Record 2 - 4, Round 2

2006 Record 1 - 2, Round 1

If you were going to set out to build a successful national baseball team you probably wouldn’t select a country with most of its land sitting below sea level.  You might consider constant clouds and rain a drawback as well.  However, throw in over a hundred years of baseball tradition, Caribbean territories charged with talent, the guts to call the game “honkbal,” and you would get the Netherlands.  The 2011 Baseball World Cup champions come into this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC) looking to improve on their 2009 seventh place performance.  Baseball may not be considered the national pastime in the Netherlands, but the Dutch national team is as dangerous as anyone to take home the 2013 WBC crown.
Baseball was introduced to the Netherlands in 1911 by J. C. G. Grasé, an English teacher from Amsterdam, after discovering baseball while on vacation in the United States.  Grasé translated the rules of the game and founded the Dutch Baseball Union in 1912.  He was also the founder of Europe’s oldest baseball club, Quick Amsterdam, in 1913.  The first official competition was played in 1922 with four teams from Amsterdam: Quick Amsterdam, Ajax (a branch of the famous soccer club), Blue White (also a soccer club), and Hercules.  Quick Amsterdam became the first Dutch champion of the inaugural season.

In 1925 a US Navy ship made port in Amsterdam.  Players from Blue White heard of the visit and were anxious to test their skills against a group of Americans.  The sailors accepted the friendly invitation and ended up making quite an impression.  After one inning, the Americans led 14-0.  After two hours of play the final score was 27-2.  At that time Dutch pitchers were selected solely on who could throw the fastest regardless of control.  It was considered unsportsmanlike for batters to take advantage of lack of control by a pitcher.  Reaching base on balls was a humiliation and it was much more respectable to fly or ground out.  Baseball gained popularity and quickly spread to Harlem later in the 20s.  In 1939 a group of Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City played in the Dutch league with the team name Seagulls.  They lost just two games during the season.

Baseball in the Netherlands went through a difficult era after the German invasion in May 1940 when play was completely disrupted and materials became scarce.  Baseballs were made of rubber with a cork center by the tire company Vredenstein, and could only absorb a couple hits before breaking apart.  You could imagine old Dutch ball players were unimpressed by Roy Hobbs busting the guts out of a baseball in the “The Natural”.  Because there were no seams in the balls some pitchers would simply cut groves in the balls in order to throw curves, which made them even more fragile.  After World War II the Marshall Plan included baseball materials (bats, balls, uniforms) to be sent to the Netherlands to build morale.  The post war assistance helped keep baseball alive in the country and the Dutch national team went on to win their first European title in 1956, held in Rome, Italy.  Since then the Netherlands has been dominant in the continent, winning 20 European championships and nine second place finishes.

Up until 1963, baseball in the Netherlands was ruled by teams from Amsterdam and Haarlem.  That year Sparta from Rotterdam became champion and won a total of nine national titles from 1963 to 1974.  The unstoppable trio of players Hudson John, Simon Arrindell, and Hamilton Richardson, all from the Dutch Antilles, were known as the “magnificent three”.  In 1970 a Dutch born pitcher, who was raised in California, named Bert Blyleven made the Minnesota Twins roster and went on to have a hall of fame career (inducted in 2010).  The first Dutch Major League Baseball player who grew up and learned the game in the Netherlands was Win Remmerswaal, who pitched briefly for the Boston Red Sox in 1979 and 1980 before his MLB career was cut short by injuries.

The 1980s and 90s were rough decades for Dutch baseball when many teams went bankrupt.  The Haarlem Nicols was the most striking example as the team won 7 pennants in a ten year period but declared bankruptcy in 1994, only 5 years after their last pennant.  Imagine what the MLB would look like if every small market team folded because of multiple losing seasons after a pennant.  Despite the struggles of Dutch baseball clubs, the Netherland’s national team expanded its international presence in the 1980s and 90s by hosting the Baseball World Cup in 1986 and competing in the 1988 summer Olympics.  The Netherlands best Olympics finish was 5th in both the 1996 and 2000 games.
The WBC has made the influx of Dutch players to the MLB more apparent as recognizable Major Leaguers players have played for the Dutch national team including Andruw Jones (hometown: Willemstad, Curacao, WBC performance: 2006), Sidney Ponson (Noord, Aruba, 2009), Randall Simon (Willemstad, Curacao, 2006, 2009), Jair Jurrjens (Willemstad, Curacao, 2006, picked up by the Orioles on Feb 15th), and Kenley Jansen (Willemstad, Curacao).  The Netherlands finished 11th in the 2006 WBC and 7th in the 2009 WBC.  The 2009 performance included two wins over the very strong Dominican Republic team.  However, they lost their second round games to Venezuela and the United States, knocking them out of the tournament.

While the Dutch showing in 2009 included some impressive wins, five years earlier the baseball hotbed of Willemstad, Curacao was exploding with young talent that would help propel the national team’s success in the following decade.  In 2004, Willemstad won the Little League World Series and were runners up in 2005.  From the 2004 championship team, Jonathan Schoop, who is now in the Orioles organization, joined the national team in 2011 along with six additional players, including Jonathan’s brother Sharlon, from the small city of Willemstad (population 140,000).  Four more players from the Caribbean, a number of players from around the Netherlands, and one Canadian born member made up the 24 man roster lead by American manager Brian Farley.

In the 2011 World Cup the Netherlands went 6-1 in round one pool play including a 19-0 blowout win over Greece and a 7-5 win over defending World Cup champions the United States.  In round two pool play the Dutch team knocked off Cuba 4-1 giving the Cuban national team their first loss of the tournament.  The two teams would have the best records from round two pool play and face each other again in the finals.  Cuba would score first in the 4th inning of the championship game on a sacrifice fly by slugger Alfredo Despaigne driving in Frederich Cepeda.  The Netherlands answered right back with two runs in the bottom of the 4th on an RBI single by Bryan Engelhardt bringing home Sidney de Jong and another RBI single by Jonathan Schoop scoring Curt Smith.  Netherlands pitchers would not allow any more hits until the 9th inning when two Cuban batters reached base on singles.  With two outs and two on in a one run game pinch hitter Hector Olivera lined out to Jonathan Schoop at 3rd base to close out the win for the Netherlands.  Robbie Cordemans was the winning pitcher with Juan Carlos Sulbaran pitching an inning of relief and David Bergmans picking up the save.  Dutch player Curt Smith was named Cup MVP, with the most RBIs, and teammate Tom Stuifbergen had the lowest ERA of the tournament.

The Netherlands finished 2012 ranked 7th in the IBAF national rankings.  They enter the 2013 WBC with 10 players on their provisional roster returning from the 2011 World Cup championship team including position players Curt Smith and Jonathan Schoop.  Seven of the ten returners are pitchers, indicating the staff has the potential shut down opposing offenses in international play.  Additional Major Leaguers Roger Bernadina (Washington Nationals) and Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers) are on the provisional roster as well although Profar is reportedly undecided about participating in the WBC or reporting to spring training.  Andruw Jones is also listed on the roster and will bring valuable experience to the team having played in the 2006 WBC, 17 years in the majors, and a season in Japan’s Pacific League.  With the success of their Caribbean players, consistent championship performances in Europe, and gutsy honkbal to pull out close games, the Netherlands is sure to be an international contender for many years in the future.

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