Netherlands proving to not be a fluke

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you want to know one big reason the Kingdom of the Netherlands is playing in the second semifinal game of the World Baseball Classic against the Dominican Republic, begin with Andruw Jones. He not only actively recruited players for the Netherlands team last summer, he inspired many of the younger players in Curacao when he became a star for Atlanta at age 19 in the 1996 World Series.

Jones, however, says the Netherlands' success begins earlier, with manager Hensley Meulens, who was the first major leaguer from Curacao seven years earlier with the Yankees.

"I know all the guys that say all those good things [about me], they probably grew up watching me play and wanted to be at the same stage that I am," Jones said. "But everything starts with Hensley Meulens and getting a chance to open the door for a lot of opportunities from guys from Curacao. After that, a lot of chances start opening. So I took advantage of it and I worked hard at it and I became really established in the major leagues for a long time.

"And now that the door is open, a lot of guys are coming out from Curacao and I'm really surprised how many guys that are in the minor leagues that are upcoming to be a star in the major leagues."

They definitely are. The Rangers' Jurickson Profar and Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons are two of the top prospects in the game, while 10 other players from Curacao are on the Dutch team, including the Nationals' Roger Bernadina and Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen. Two others are from Aruba.

Asked about Jones' influence at a news conference with Meulens on Saturday, Profar replied, "He had a lot of influence. 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."

Meulens then turned to Profar and said, "What do you mean? You never watched me play?"

"You were too old, man," Profar said with a laugh.

Meulens played parts of seven seasons in the majors but never come close to stardom, hitting .220 with 15 home runs in his career. He has had far more of an impact as the Giants' hitting coach for their two World Series championship teams, as well as the manager of the Netherlands team in the 2004 Olympics and the 2009 and 2013 WBC.

The Dutch team is more than the players from its islands, though. Eleven players are from the Netherlands, including Monday's starting pitcher, Diegomar Markwell, who pitches for the Neptunus team in Rotterdam.

"We are not familiar at all with him," Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said. "And that's no joke. I know Andruw Jones, I know Simmons, I know Wladimir Balentien, some others, but I don't know too much about him. And it's not to be rude."

"It might take them an at-bat or two to figure him out. Hopefully it will take them more than that," Meulens said. "But it's always an advantage for the pitcher to attack guys that don't know him. But again, he's going to have to make pitches."

If advancing to the championship game isn't incentive enough for the Dominican Republic, the previous WBC could provide more. The Netherlands knocked the Dominicans out of the 2009 WBC by beating them twice in the first round. The Dutch showed that wasn't a fluke this year by beating Cuba twice in the second round of the WBC last week.

"That's just a sign that we have arrived as a country," Meulens said. "That people have to make sure that they take us into consideration when we're playing them."

In other words, if the Netherlands wins, it no longer can be considered an upset. Jones says the game was always big in Curacao and that we're seeing more players from there now because of greater opportunities. Others, such as Profar, say that's because of Jones, though the outfielder shrugs off suggestions that he's a father figure to them all.

"I don't want to be their father because I would have to take care of a lot of kids," Jones said. "I'm just proud of them. I'm proud of all those guys. We managed to get together and make things happen."