Q & A: Honkbal Hoofdklasse with Rogier van Zon
Back in May, I wrote that I was looking for expertise on baseball in the Netherlands and Brazil for content on the site. An emailer tipped me off to Rogier van Zon, editor-in-chief of the Dutch-language honkbalsite.com. Honkbalsite has been online since 2000, and is the most popular site on Dutch baseball. Rogier took the time to share his knowledge of Dutch baseball with us.
NPB Tracker: I suspect the biggest impression npbtracker.com readers will have of Dutch baseball is from this year’s WBC, which for me was one of the highlights of the tournament. Was the WBC a notable story in the Netherlands? Did the national team’s performance have any impact on the popularity of baseball in the Netherlands?
Rogier van Zon: When the Dutch beat the Dominican Republic in the WBC, it was one of the best days in Dutch baseball. It also proved that Dutch baseball is getting stronger each year. Not many people know that the Dutch team has won the European championship 20 times since 1956. They were number 4 during the last two World Cups and they forced Cuba to extra innings during the final of the last Intercontinental Cup.
Maybe it is hard to believe, but when the Dutch beat the Dominicans and advanced to the second round, there was hardly any newspapers or tv stations in the Netherlands that brought the news. The only media attention was a small article on one of the last pages of the sports section. Except baseball fans, probably the most people in the Netherlands didn’t even know what the Dutch team had done. Baseball isn’t a popular sport in the Netherlands. The game and it’s rules are to hard to understand. People prefer soccer, volleyball, cycling and speedskating. During the last world Port Tournament, just two games were televised (a recap in the evening).
NT: Can you give a brief overview of the Honkbal Hofdklasse?
RvZ: The Dutch Hoofdklasse is a league consisting of eight teams. They are located in and around Haarlem, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The reigning champion is L&D Amsterdam (the team names are mostly from the sponsors), and DOOR Neptunus (Rotterdam) is one of the strongest teams. They won the championship from 1999-2005. Another strong team is Corendon Kinheim (Haarlem). These teams rely a lot on their veteran players, mostly players from the Dutch national team. For example Raily Legito, Diegomar Markwell (Neptunus), Sidney de Jong (Amsterdam), Danny Rombley, Vince Rooi and David Bergman (Kinheim).
You can compare the level of the competition with SingleA/Double A in the United States. Each team is allowed to have one player without a European passport. One of these players is the Cuban Fausto Álvarez. He is 48 years old, but still one of the best in the league. He hit 24 home runs in his last four seasons. another strong player is Ryan Murphy. He is one of the best pitchers and batters in the Hoofdklase.
The Dutch league is an amateur league. This means that most of the players have a dayjob next to baseball. So they have to work during the daytime and have training in the evening. Baseball is not a very big sport in the Netherlands. Games in the Dutch Hoofdklasse attract a couple of hundred visitors.
NT: Who are some of the top players?
RvZ: The top players are of course well known players like Sidney de Jong (he was part of the Olympic lobby in Lausanne last month), Rob Cordemans (he also played in Taiwan for a couple of months) and Dirk van ‘t Klooster. Van ‘t Klooster has played 164 for the Dutch national team. These players were part of the team during the WBC.
Because Curaçao, Aruba and Sint-Maarten are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the players from these islands are allowed to play for the Dutch national team. That’s why the Dutch team can also rely on players like Major Leaguers Wladimir Balentien, Shairon Martis and Jair Jurrjens. There are (at this moment) around forty Antillean players in the Minors. Besides that, there are thirteen in Holland-born player in the Minors. These numbers will definitely will increase in the next years. The Netherlands have also started baseball academies. Former Yankees player Robert Eenhoorn is the progenitor. The academies bring a lot of talent.
Because the Netherlands can use players form Curaçao and Aruba, it is possible to create a very strong team. But this is not the key to the success. During the last World Cup, where the Netherlands reached the semi-finals, just four players of the Dutch team were not born in the Netherlands. The biggest key to success is the movement the Dutch manager Eenhoorn started. He made baseball in the Netherlands “professional”. He created two nationals teams: one for Dutch tournaments with players from the Hoofdklasse and another team for big tournaments with players from the Minors and Majors. This is just like Team USA has different national teams. The things Eenhoorn did are very important for baseball in the Netherlands.
RvZ: These two tournaments are events Dutch baseball fans really look forward to. It’s the only time baseball games in the Netherlands are sold out. During these games there are about4500-5000 visitors. For the Netherlands that is a lot. Mostly participants are Asian teams like Taipei and Japan, but also Cuba and American teams. The level of teams isn’t very high. Most of the teams play with college players, but for baseball fans in the Netherlands it is one big party.
NT: The 2009 World Port Tournament just wrapped up with Cuba as the champion. Were there any players on any team in the tournament that you were particularly impressed with?
RvZ: Cuba participated in the tournament with a very strong team. They couldn’t afford to lose another championship. They came to Rotterdam with a handful of players that had participated in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic. Some of the strong players were pitchers Miguel A. González (MVP during the Cuban playoffs) and Maikel Folch (a Cuban All Star). Some other All Stars were in Rotterdam: outfielders Giorvis Duvergel and Leonys Martin, second baseman Yoilán Cerce and catcher Rolando Meriño.
Cuba had the four players with the best batting averages: Adonis García (16-34 / .471), Ariel Borrero (15-34 / .441), Yoelvis Fiss (17-40 / .425) and Eriel Sánchez (14-35 / .400).
The Netherlands started the tournament with 8 players who never played for the Dutch A-team. One of them was the 17 year-old Nick Urbanus. He’s a big talent. His father is Charles Urbanus and is grandfather is Han Urbanus, who both played for the national team. They are some of the best players ever in the Netherlands. Another rookie was Bas de Jong (24 years old). He was 5 for 5 against Cuba in his only second game for the Dutch team. He ended up as the best hitter for the Netherlands (.379).
NT: And finally, since NPB Tracker is primarily about Japanese baseball, I must ask, how did the Japanese team do?
RvZ: The Japanse team did play a couple of good games. They played 11 innings against Taipei in the first game and almost beat the Dutch team. The Dutch team scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 4-3. If Japan would have won these games, it would have been a whole other tournament and they would even have reached the finals.
Japan was the only team this tournament that has beaten Cuba. They won 2-1 because of a great performance by pitcher Syogo Suenaga (Ed. note: Teikyo University senior). He allowed just four hits in nine innings. It was the first time Cuba lost in nineteen games during the World Port Tournament. They had not lost since 2001.
Suenaga pitched and won complete games against both finalists. He also shutout the Netherlands (3 hits in 9 innings) earlier in the tournament.
You can find al of the statistics on http://www.knbsb-stats.nl/knbsb/stats09/wpt09/index.php.
If you are interested in Dutch baseball, you can read more:
NT: Thank you Rogier!