Semifinal Berth Represents Next Step For Honkbal

SAN FRANCISCO—Rob Cordemans has been on the Netherlands’ national team since the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

That’s a lot of honkbal (the Dutch word for baseball).

Seventeen years later, he’s still a significant factor for the team, earning a win and a loss for the Dutch in the first two rounds of the World Baseball Classic. He’s likely to pitch for the Honkballers here at AT&T Park, though Dutch manager Hensley Meulens did not say who his starter would be for the team’s Monday semifinal matchup against the Dominican Republic.

Meulens, the Giants’ big league hitting coach, did say his newest player, Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar, would play second base and bat second as the Dutch chase a WBC championship to go with the 2011 World Cup title they won when Cordemans beat Cuba, pitching into the eighth inning.

“It’s a great honor to be in this ballpark where I work,” said Meulens, the batting coach for the Giants. “We’ve won championships two of the last three years, wearing the same colors that we’re wearing now. So it’s very special.”

Cordemans isn’t surprised the Dutch are in this position while the United States is home. But having seen the evolution of the Orange and Black, he is a little bit in awe of the accomplishments he’s seen. The Dutch considered it a huge upset when they beat Cuba in round-robin play during the 2000 Olympics, with former Giants big leaguer Rikkert Faneyte coming in from center field to close the game as a relief pitcher.

“Back when I started, say 15 years ago, when we played Cuba, we didn’t put our ace in the game. We knew we were going to lose,” the 38-year-old righthander said. “There was no chance we were going to win. Now we’ve won I think six consecutive games against Cuba. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. If you beat those guys six times in a row, that’s a real, real good team.”

Robert Eenhoorn, the former Yankees shortstop who now is head of the Dutch baseball federation, said the 2000 Olympic victory was a key moment, because the Dutch knew they could compete with the best.

“It’s been this progression such as the first time we made the semifinals of the World Cup in 2005 and again in 2007,” he said. “The firsts Classic in 2006, we were just happy to be there, and the players were a little in awe. At the second one, we beat the Dominican Republic two times and go to second round and it was out of control.

“But this time, you can tell, that the goal was at hand. It was step by step, you can’t get ahead of yourself, but when we won the first round, were like, let’s get to the second round. OK, we did well in the second round, even better, but hey, let’s win the thing.”

The Dutch got here by going 4-3 during the Classic—2-1 in Pool B in Taiwan, then 2-2 in Pool 1 in Tokyo, Japan, with two wins against Cuba and two losses to Japan. The two-time WBC champion Japanese play Sunday in the first semifinal against Puerto Rico, another underdog coming off Friday’s upset of the United States that eliminated the Americans.

Injuries prompted the Dutch to seek reinforcements for the semifinals, and the team’s talent should be better. Profar, the top prospect in Organized Baseball, and hard-throwing Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen have joined the roster, and Profar was the center of attention at Saturday’s workout. Part of that was media-driven but much of the attention was from Meulens and his coaching staff.

Infield defense has been a cornerstone of Dutch success, such as turning five double plays against Cuba in one victory. Now Profar will play second base, shifting Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop to third base. Profar said this will be the first time he’s played with Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and the Dutch focused on bunt defenses during their workout with Schoop and Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts taking turns at third.

“It’s my first time playing for the Netherlands,” said Profar, a native of Curacao. “I can see right away why we are winning. We have great guys, a great manager and coaches.”

Profar starred in the 2004 and 2005 Little League World Series, years when Andruw Jones was hitting 80 home runs in the big leagues and in the midst of his 10-year streak of winning Gold Glove awards. Now he’s Jones’ teammate in the WBC, and following Jones’ lead.

“He had a lot of influence on me; we all grew up watching him, because he was the only one (from Curacao in the big leagues) when I grew up,” Profar said. Meulens interrupted, saying, “What do you mean? I was playing too!” Profar smiled and replied, “You’re too old man!”

Meulens smiled, and after Profar finished, Meulens credited Jones’ leadership role.

“Andruw is pulling this since August, calling people to get them to play,” he said. “They all want to play with him. When you see him, where he goes, the other guys follow, and he also has been our most consistent hitter (.348, third on the team).

“It’s special for me to see, because in 2006 when he played in the Classic, it was a little different. He was a superstar at the top of his game. Now he’s older, more mature, more of a leader . . . Aruba, Curacao, the Netherlands, it doesn’t matter, we are all one family right now.

“It’s hard to get the camaraderie that we have had with the Giants the last few years, but this is very similar. The only difference is instead of English in the clubhouse, they are speaking Papiamento.”