SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – You don’t have to wait until April 5 to see the orange and black at AT&T Park.
OK, so it’s more like the oranje and black.
“It’s the same colors,” said Giants hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, who managed the Netherlands into the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic that will take place on the shores of McCovey Cove. “Just put them on and fill the stadium just like the Giants are playing.”
Meulens, who hails from Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, advanced along with Japan from the pool that completed play in Tokyo on Monday. He crossed the Pacific and stopped by Giants camp in Scottsdale on Wednesday, where he got some scouting reports on Dominican and Puerto Rican players from Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, who were part of the Venezuelan team that didn’t survive the first round.
No, the Netherlands is not considered a baseball nation. But their success – including two victories over Cuba -- hasn’t been a total shock, either. And their recipe for success is a familiar one.
“I talked to the guys about offense and told them the way we won (with the Giants) is by not thinking about hitting home runs,” Meulens said. “You can see Andruw Jones hitting line drive base hits to right field, (Wladimir) Balentien choking up and getting singles with two strikes, keeping the line moving. Andruw’s walked six or seven times. And none of them have ht a home run. I’ve bunted a bunch with them, moving guys up and they’ve scored, sac flies, and just like our offense works here, pretty much.
“The pitching for the most part has been great. We’ve gotten beaten up a couple times but it was two or three bad innings.”
Then there is the defense, especially Andrelton Simmons – who might be the best shortstop prospect to come along in some time. He’s expected to start on opening day for the Atlanta Braves, and will give Brandon Crawford annual competition for a Gold Glove.
“An unbelievable player,” Meulens said. “This guy made one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen in center field, catching and throwing and spinning … They’re going to be up there every year, battling for that Gold Glove. He’s pretty legit.”
If Team USA makes it out of their second-round pool, which also includes Italy, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the Americans figure to receive the most support in San Francisco. But Meulens is hoping the 60,000 Dutch in the Bay Area will come out in support.
He’s already been stunned at the amount of interest the tournament has created in the Netherlands, especially amid soccer season there. Two years ago, when the Dutch won an amateur world cup in Panama, the queen knighted the whole team. (Sir Bam Bam already received his Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau last year.)
“They’re going to televise live on Monday, which is unheard of,” he said. “And I don’t even want to talk about the islands because they’re going crazy over this. The islands are paralyzed by this. The games are on late, the time differences are huge but they’re staying up late and supporting us. It’s been great for the islands and the Netherlands.”
The best part for Meulens?
“Seeing all your guys in the same uniform playing for the same purpose,” he said. “We’re playing for the homeland and you can see everybody being so unselfish, helping each other out, picking each other up. No egos involved. It’s been awesome.”
He said Jones, especially, has been a leader for the group.
“Andruw’s been in the big leagues, what, 17 years? A five-time All-Star?” Meulens said. “He’s our biggest star but you wouldn’t know it because his door is open every day. In the hotel, everybody’s in his room. It’s really a big family and these guys have enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed it even more watching them interact with each other on a daily basis.”
One last question: Why is baseball called honkbal in the Netherlands?
“Well, honk is the word for base,” he said. “You want to start calling it honkbal? All right by me.”