The one aspect of the recently concluded World Baseball Classic that I can’t quite get over is the image of The Netherlands as a world-class baseball-playing nation. Do all of the pitchers have windmill windups? Are all of the players related to Bert Blyleven?
It’s a brave new world is what we are learning. We hear it all of the time in other contexts about how the jet plane, the Internet and other modernizing developments have changed the world, shrunk the world, made it more accessible to everyone wherever they live (as long as they have money, of course), but we keep witnessing it on the sports front, as well.
The 1992 United States Olympic basketball team was known as the Dream Team and at the time, a mere 21 years ago, everyone oohed and ahhed over the collection of talent representing one country. What few realized at the time was the addition of pros to the Olympics would lead to other nations working hard to catch up and seek to surpass the U.S. Americans have stayed one step away of challengers in world competition, but the gap continues to shrink and there are so many foreign players in the NBA now from so many different countries that one of the guys in suits on the bench should be a United Nations translator.
Same for hockey and the National Hockey League. I would hate to be an agate clerk in a newspaper sports department these days trying to make sure all of the names are spelled correctly in the summaries.
Baseball has essentially gotten used to this over the decades with the continuous influx of players representing Latin American nations and Asian countries, especially Japan, but also South Korea and Taiwan. If you can play, you can play, and the scouts will find you and pay top dollar for talent wherever you reside.
I’ve just been a little slow on the uptake when it comes to Holland, previously appreciated on a worldwide sporting scale mostly because of its speedskaters. But the Dutch pretty much own European baseball, with 20 continental titles in the last 32 years. Most impressively, The Netherlands beat Cuba in 2011 for the Baseball World Cup crown.
Blyleven was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple of years ago and was the pitching coach with The Netherlands’ national team in the WBC, but without research I can’t think of another baseball player of prominence from Holland. The manager was Hensley Muelens, a San Francisco Giants coach. Oh, and as a bonus, The Netherlands also had their pick of players from Curacao. In terms of advantage, that’s not too different than saying players from the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa were eligible for the American team in terms of advantage.
Yet The Netherlands did well in the WBC last time around (topping this year’s champs the Dominican Republic twice) and came close to reaching the finals this time. As one curiosity in terms of (Hey, let’s see what this guy looks like) the Dutch suited up a 7-foot-1, 260-pound pitcher named Loek Van Mil. Yes, the guy is bigger than Randy Johnson.
This is not to say that baseball is going to eclipse speedskating as a national mania in Holland and become the No. 1 sport in the land, but it should tell us to expect more major leaguers from The Netherlands down the road. Before a nation becomes a world championship victor it usually produces some great players who can make their mark at the very highest level of the game. That would still be Major League baseball and one day we should wake up to a 50-homer man, or a 20-game winner, bursting onto the scene from Holland.