keyboard_arrow_uptop

The third World Baseball Classic kicked off pool play this week, with six games taking place in Taichung, Taiwan and Fukuoka, Japan. I watched most of the games this weekend (all games are being aired on the MLB Network), and seeing the Netherlands blank Korea, then lose a tough one to Taiwan cemented the Dutch as my team in the WBC. Here are just a few reasons why.

1. They call it “honkbal.” That should be enough right there, frankly, but I doubt my editors would be happy if I submitted a 75-word article. They typically like to have some content after the green “paywall” box.

Near as I can figure, “honkbal” is a literal Dutch translation of “baseball.” “Honk” is variously translated as purpose, goal, or base, and “bal” should be obvious. (“Bal” can also mean lump, globe, clod, or testicle, FYI.)

This literal translation seems to be a fixture of Netherlandian baseball, as the practice continues onto the bases and the players manning them: instead of going first to third, honkballers go from eerste honk to derde honk, touching tweede honk in the process. That makes the second baseman the tweede honkman, and his double-play partner is the korte stop.

The pitcher is the werper, “werpen” being “to sling, throw, or pitch.” But for some reason unfathomable to me, the catcher is just “catcher.” According to this site, there are nearly 20 Dutch words for “catch,” so why isn’t a Dutch catcher called a vanger or a teisterer? It makes no sense.

2. They’re managed by Hensley Meulens. Bam-Bam is a totally fascinating dude. Among his many claims to fame are:

  • He was the first player from Curacao to reach the major leagues.
  • He speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento (the main language on Curacao), and Japanese.
  • In 2012 he was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, so you have to call him “Sir Hensley Bam Bam Meulens” or he can have you arrested. (This last part is probably not true.)
  • He amassed 0.3 WARP over parts of seven seasons in the majors.
  • Bam Bam is one of the nicest, smartest people in baseball. While I can’t prove this statement empirically, I’m fairly confident it’s true. I got to talk to Sir Hensley once when I was writing a story on Joaquin Arias. I basically asked one question, and Meulens held forth on the science of hitting for like 20 minutes. I learned more about hitting in the course of that one conversation than I’d learned in a lifetime of watching, playing, and studying baseball. It was awesome.

(I had a similar conversation with Chili Davis once; maybe it’s a hitting coach thing. It’s kind of his job to talk about hitting, so maybe he gets really good at it? Or maybe it’s just coincidence. Anyway, we’re talking about honkbal here, not baseball.)

3. On Saturday, the Netherlands shut out a far more talented Korean team, prompting the Korean coach to say “This was one of the worst events in our history” and "I want to apologize to the Korean people for the worst game ever.” You’d NEVER hear a major-league manager say something like that; it demeans your opponent and gives them instant bulletin-board fodder. But that’s something else cool about the WBC; it’s not Major League Baseball. It’s another perspective on the game we love, like the ubiquitous Japanese bat flips and the way the Aussie players get in an umpire’s face. The cultural differences are fascinating.

But I went and got distracted again.

Dutch starting pitcher Diegomar Markwell held the powerful Korean team to just two hits over four innings, and former Giants farmhand Orlando Yntema surrendered two more hits over three innings of relief. This is what Orlando Yntema looks like these days (he’s the guy on the right). How can you not root for that guy? You can’t not. At least I can’t not.

4. Andrelton Simmons. That guy is one of the best young korte stops in the game. Did you know he used to throw 98 when he pitched at OSU? I read it on Wikipedia, so it must be true.

5. It definitely feels weird rooting for the European team and against the Asian teams in Pool B, but the Netherlands are definitely the underdog, and I always root for the underdog. (Of course, Australia is really the underdog, but, much like Brazil, no one expects them to do anything other than show up and take their licks.) Further cementing the Dutch underdog status is the fact that the majority of the Netherlandish players hail from Curacao, a Caribbean island with a population of less than 150,000. Curacao is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the Dutch occupied the island in 1634 and never left. Hence the honkballing.

6. Bert Blyleven is the pitching coach for der Nederlanders. In case you didn’t know, Rik Aalbert Blijleven is the only Dutch-born player in the Hall of Fame and is also just generally awesome.

7. Dutch baseball ROCKS!

Nothing says “rock” like a poorly recorded guitar lead over a cheesy MIDI rhythm track, amirite? But still, these guys did manage to beat Cuba in the 2011 IBAF World Cup, and that’s worth something. Plus the Cuban guy at 2:33 is just priceless.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter for whom you root in the WBC; I’m just happy it exists. I don’t care about the controversy surrounding who’s playing for Team USA, seeing as I wouldn’t root for them anyway. That would be like rooting for Goliath against David, and that’s just not how I roll. The WBC is important for baseball’s future, especially in places like the Netherlands, Brazil, Australia, and across Asia. These regions will produce future MLB consumers and players, and raising the profile of the game “back home” is critically important. Imagine what it would do for baseball in Australia or Brazil if one of those teams made it through to the finals.

I’ve got tickets to all three championship-round games in San Francisco, where I’ll be thrilled to watch whichever teams make the trip. I’m anticipating a Caribbean/Asian final. But if the Dutchmen are still standing at the end of it, I’ll cheer just a little bit louder. If only because they call it honkbal.