Netherlands making quite a WBC statement, in semis
By JANIE McCAULEY
SAN FRANCISCO — Most of Hensley Meulens’ pitchers for the Netherlands hail from Holland, the position players from three Dutch islands.
It has become quite the winning mix in the World Baseball Classic for the tournament’s unlikely semifinalists.
“It will be a very special thing for the Netherlands,” Meulens said Saturday. “It’s a soccer-based country, and for the first time I think the biggest TV stations have come out to cover us in the middle of soccer season in the Netherlands. But we’re turning heads. They can’t believe that we’re getting this far, but that’s fine. They’re getting used to us getting better.”
So is the baseball world.
Team Netherlands will play in a Monday night semifinal against the Dominican Republic, which beat Puerto Rico 2-0 on Saturday in Miami. Top-seeded and two-time defending champion Japan will face Puerto Rico on Sunday night at AT&T Park.
Ballpark workers scurried around putting the finishing touches on the field in sunny conditions in the Bay Area on Saturday before Meulens led his team through a workout on the same field where he is hitting coach for the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Japan also was scheduled to practice, but the workout got pushed back to late Saturday after the team’s equipment was delayed getting to town.
The Netherlands beat Australia, 2009 WBC runner-up South Korea and fellow world power Cuba not once but twice to reach the semifinal. But they also lost two games to Japan, outscored 26-10.
While Meulens speaks mostly English with his players, the guys are often heard in the clubhouse conversing in Papiamento — the common language of the Dutch “ABC” islands — as they play cards and prepare.
The club has a chemistry Meulens insists is much like what the family-oriented Giants had in pulling off another surprising championship last fall.
“I think it’s a great honor just to be able to be the manager of this team,” said Meulens, sporting familiar black and orange gear. “Moving into the final round here, into our park here where I work, where we won a championship two out of the last three years, wearing the same colors. I think that winning one more championship in the same color, that will be great.”
Left-hander Diegomar Markwell is slated to start for the Dutch against Dominican righty Edinson Volquez of the Padres on Monday.
The Dominican Republic lost twice to the Netherlands in the 2009 Classic and failed to get out of the first round.
“Well, it’s a different team. They’re undefeated,” Meulens said. “They have played very, very well. We are going to have to play a very good game, pitch a very good game, play great defense like we have been playing, and get some offense. They’re a great team. They have a lot of major league players, more than we do. We can’t make mistakes against them, because they capitalize.”
The Netherlands will bring a slightly new look to the semis.
Jurickson Profar, a top prospect of the Texas Rangers, will play second base and bat second after being added to the roster to replace the injured Yurendell de Caster.
“This is going to be my first time playing for them. It’s a great honor for me,” Profar said. “The first time I got here you, you can see right away why they’re winning. They have great guy, great manager, great coaches. So I’m proud.”
Aside from Andruw Jones, Meulens has a team of little-known players with big potential, as several are top major league prospects.
The players from Holland didn’t even get on an outdoor field together for the first time until Feb. 10 in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Dutch have an indoor facility in Haarlem, Holland, where Meulens visited in January and also stopped at the team’s training camp in his native Curacao.
Jones has been so instrumental in getting this group together — from phone calls and text messages as the team was built — and leading the way on the field.
“He had a lot of influence,” Profar said. “We all grew up watching him play. Every player. He was the only one there when I grew up. So everyone was watching him and everyone wanted to be like him.”
Not like Meulens? The manager teased his second baseman.
“Too old, man,” Profar quipped.
“I’m too old,” Meulens said, smiling.
The Dominicans certainly have something to prove after that shocking early exit in the last WBC. They certainly made a spectacular leap for their small island nation by stunning the U.S. team in a 3-1 victory Thursday night to earn their trip to San Francisco.
“This was like the World Series. It was great to see all the people that came out and supported us. It was a great atmosphere,” second baseman Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees said. “We had a bad feeling last time. We have to go all the way through because we don’t want to go home disappointed.”
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