Most of Hensley Meulens’ pitchers for the Netherlands hail from Holland, the position players from three Dutch islands.
It has become quite the winning mix in the World Baseball Classic for the tournament’s unlikely semifinalist.
“It will be a very special thing for the Netherlands,” Meulens said Saturday in San Francisco where the semifinals begin tonight. “It’s a soccer-based country, and for the first time I think the biggest TV stations have come out to cover us in the middle of soccer season in the Netherlands. But we’re turning heads. They can’t believe that we’re getting this far, but that’s fine. They’re getting used to us getting better.”
So is the baseball world.
Team Netherlands will play Monday night in a semifinal against the Dominican Republic, a 2-0 victor over Puerto Rico on Saturday in Miami.
Top-seeded and two-time defending champion Japan will face Puerto Rico tonight at AT&T Park.
The United States has never reached the semifinals in three WBC tournaments.
Ballpark workers scurried around putting the finishing touches on the field in sunny conditions in the Bay Area on Saturday before Meulens led his team through a workout on the same field where he is hitting coach for the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Japan also was scheduled to practice, but the workout was delayed when the team’s equipment was late.
The Netherlands beat Australia, 2009 WBC runner-up South Korea and fellow world power Cuba not once but twice to reach the semifinals. But the Dutch also lost two games to Japan, outscored 26-10.
While Meulens speaks mostly English with his players, the guys are often heard in the clubhouse conversing in Papiamento — the common language of the Dutch “ABC” islands.
The club has a chemistry Meulens insists is much like what the family-oriented Giants had in pulling off another surprising championship last fall.
“I think it’s a great honor just to be able to be the manager of this team,” said Meulens.
Left-hander Diegomar Markwell is scheduled to start Monday for the Dutch against Dominican right-hander Edinson Volquez of the Padres.
The Dominican Republic lost twice to the Netherlands in the 2009 WBC and failed to get out of the first round.
“Well, it’s a different team. They’re undefeated,” Meulens said. “… They have a lot of major league players, more than we do. We can’t make mistakes against them, because they capitalize.”
The Netherlands will bring a slightly new look to the semis.
Jurickson Profar, a top prospect for the Texas Rangers, will play second base and bat second after being added to the roster to replace the injured Yurendell de Caster.
“This is going to be my first time playing for them. It’s a great honor for me,” Profar said.
Aside from Andruw Jones, Meulens has a team of little-known players with big potential, several as top major league prospects.
The players from Holland didn’t even get on an outdoor field together until Feb. 10 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jones was instrumental in getting the team together and leads the way on the field.
“He had a lot of influence,” Profar said.
The Dominicans certainly have something to prove after that shocking early exit in the last WBC. They made a spectacular leap for their island nation by stunning the U.S. team, 3-1, Thursday night to earn their trip to San Francisco.
Dominican Republic 2, Puerto Rico 0: As a reward for their latest victory, the Dominicans get a day off. Even better, they avoid two-time defending champion Japan in the semifinals.
Wandy Rodriguez pitched six innings, and three relievers completed a three-hitter to help the unbeaten Dominican Republic top Puerto Rico on Saturday in Miami.
Carlos Santana broke a scoreless tie for the Dominicans with his second home run in the fifth inning.
Both teams had already qualified for the semifinals in San Francisco, and the game merely determined seedings. Puerto Rico plays Japan tonight, and the Dominicans face the Netherlands on Monday. The winners advance to the championship game Tuesday.