Honkbal! Netherlands Bids to Host MLB in 2014

On Wednesday, a story appeared that a Dutch delegation is getting ready to make its final bid to host a Major League Baseball game in 2014, centered around a new stadium capable of seating 30,000 to be built in Hoofddorp, a small city outside Amsterdam. (Significantly, the story indicates that American baseball people have assisted them with the text, which indicates that there is a high chance the bid will be accepted.) Bert Blyleven‘s homeland made a surprising run in the 2009 World Baseball Classic — the Dutch team stunned Dominican Republic twice and finished seventh out of 16 teams — but most American baseball fans still don’t have much sense of the baseball past, present, or future in Netherlands.

Then again, neither do many of the Dutch. As Rogier van Zon, editor of the main Dutch baseball site honkbalsite.com, explained in a 2009 interview with Patrick Newman:

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.


Still, Netherlands has long been the baseball powerhouse of Europe — as van Zon says, the Dutch team has won the European Championship 20 times since 1956. Indeed, Holland is probably the greatest baseball country outside the Americas and East Asia, both through the Caribbean islands of the Netherlands Antilles (particularly Curaçao, but also Aruba, home of Sir Sidney Ponson), and also in mainland Holland. Baseball has been played by the Dutch for a century, introduced in 1911 by an English teacher from Amsterdam who discovered it on a trip through America. The Dutch major league, founded in 1922, is called Honkbal Hoofdklasse (“honkbal” is Dutch for “baseball”). It’s made up of just eight teams, and is an amateur league, not professional, though van Zon explains that each team is permitted one player without a European passport, a bit like the Japanese “suketto” system that allows a limited number of foreign players on a team.

Netherlands has also provided more of a pipeline to the majors than you might think, and it goes beyond Rik Aalbert Blijleven. Though Bert Blyleven himself is quite something. Of all players (UPDATE: I should have said, of all major league players) born outside the United States and Puerto Rico, only seven, from seven different countries, have ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Blyleven is only the second Hall of Famer born outside the Americas, and the first, Harry Wright, was born in England in 1835. The complete list:

    Harry Wright – Great Britain
    Rod Carew – Panama Canal Zone
    Luis Aparicio – Venezuela
    Tony Perez – Cuba
    Fergie Jenkins – Canada
    Juan Marichal – Dominican Republic
    Bert Blyleven – Netherlands

As of 2009, van Zon indicated that there were 13 Netherlands-born players in the American minor leagues, along with an additional 40 born on islands in the Netherlands Antilles, including Curaçao and Aruba. Just three months ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed 18-year old Dutchman Danny Arribas. In addition to Blyleven, there have been eight other major leaguers born in Netherlands, including Greg Halman, Rick VandenHurk, and Robert Eenhoorn, who is sort of the face of Dutch baseball: he’s the former manager of the Dutch national team and current Technical Director of the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association. (Eenhoorn was an infielder with the Yankees in the mid-’90s, and has the distinction of having been beaten out at shortstop by Derek Jeter.)

Netherlands already hosts two prominent baseball tournaments, the Haarlem Baseball Week in Haarlem and the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam — the most recent WPT concluded in July, with Taiwan (or Chinese Taipei) defeating a Cuban team which had won the previous six tournaments. The tournaments take place every two years in an alternating cycle, with the Baseball Week in even years and WPT in odd years.

Dutch players also participate in the European baseball championships, the Baseball World Cup, and of course the World Baseball Classic. Players on the 2009 Netherlands WBC team included both prospects and retired veterans, from Ponson and Randall Simon to VandenHurk, Halman, and Kenley Jansen (who at the time was still a catcher in the Dodgers organization). Eenhoorn has said that he turned in a plan for a European Professional League, made up of club teams from across Europe, which was announced in 2008; since that time, however, no further news has emerged from MLB or Baseball Europe.

Last year, Major League Baseball explored sending teams to Italy for spring training. Before the Dutch submitted their current bid, MLB apparently approached the country to see whether it would be possible to host major league games in Netherlands in 2012, but apparently the Hoofddorp stadium simply was not able to be ready in time. Italy and Germany also expressed their intention to submit bids for 2014, but MLB’s director for Europe told a Dutch reporter in May: “Your country is in pole position now.”

In an email to me, van Zon said:

I guess if it is necessary to submit a bid then there is no certainty… But I do think that in Europe this is the most serious attempt so far.

It is a fact that Dutch baseball continues to get better. The Netherlands is already in the top 6 of the world. And the youthplayers are getting stronger each year. This is also evident from the participation in the Little League World Series last month.

Understandably, van Zon doesn’t want to get too optimistic. But barring unforeseen complications, it seems very likely that the Major Leagues are coming to the Low Lands, and soon. Once that happens, the Dutch influx into the major leagues is only likely to increase. The Dutch don’t yet have a team good enough to barnstorm against Major Leaguers, and the traveling MLB squad may not get a chance to see the Dutch play. But the Dutch will see them. And that will only raise the profile of the sport in the country, encouraging even more people to play their country’s century-old sport. Baseball has gotten a great deal more global under Bud Selig’s tenure, and Selig has long desired to establish a foothold in Europe. He may soon get his wish.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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jurgen_nl
Guest
jurgen_nl
4 years 10 months ago

MLB just an hour from home, SWEET :)

Boomer
Guest
Boomer
4 years 10 months ago

“born outside the Americas”

Do you mean born outside the US? Canada (North America), Venezuela (South America), and Panama (Central America) are all in the Americas.

AK707
Member
AK707
4 years 10 months ago

Interesting, as I have to assume that getting players from the Dutch would be preferable in the sense that you can likely avoid the “Miguel Tejada is two years older” syndrome, and avoid the sharks that people call agents down in Latin America.

Eric Walkingshaw
Member
4 years 10 months ago

Very nice article. I’m infatuated with Honkbal and Dutch players in general, so I hope they get their bid.

That said, the repeated omission of the definite article from “*The* Netherlands” was driving me absolutely bonkers!

Brent
Guest
Brent
4 years 10 months ago

” Of all players born outside the United States and Puerto Rico, only seven, from seven different countries, have ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

You omitted three additional Cuban Hall of Fame players: Martín Dihigo, José Méndez, and Cristóbal Torriente.

ern
Guest
ern
4 years 10 months ago

I have a friend who plays pro baseball in Sweden of all places and he says that the quality of play over there has grown a great deal since he has been there.

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
4 years 10 months ago

It is cool that your friend is improving the play in Sweden.

Tristan
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

I believe Andruw Jones also played for The Netherlands in the 2006 WBC…?

cktai
Guest
cktai
4 years 10 months ago

He did. Not very well though :(

cktai
Guest
cktai
4 years 10 months ago

Sharon Martis threw a 7 inning perfect game against Panama that the Netherlands won on the mercy rule

scout1222
Guest
scout1222
4 years 10 months ago

HONKBAL!

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 10 months ago

Exactly. This awesome word might be the single best reason to support baseball in the Netherlands.

Woodman
Member
4 years 10 months ago

For those of you who don’t know: the sport is called honkbal over here because a “honk” is a base, and a “bal” is very obviously a ball.

Personally, I’m not interested at all in our national competition, but if MLB teams are coming that close to my hometown, that would be pretty awesome.

juan pierre's mustache
Guest
juan pierre's mustache
4 years 10 months ago

this is exceptional news. from now on i will be referring to walks as “honks on bals” and doubles as “two-honkers”. actually, if someone could teach me to count to 4 in dutch that’d be really fantastic

cktai
Guest
cktai
4 years 10 months ago

een twee drie vier

Actually it might be fun to know the proper Dutch terms

strike – slag (slag actually means hit)
ball – wijd
base on balls – vier wijd
walk – vrije loop
single – honkslag
double – tweehonkslag
run – punt (point)
out – uit
stolen base – gestolen honk
pitcher – werper
catcher – achtervanger
first baseman – eerste honkman
second baseman – tweede honkman
third baseman – derde honkman
short stop – korte stop
left fielder – linksvelder
center fielder – midvelder
right fielder – rechtsvelder

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 10 months ago

That’s as entertaining as explaining to a non-baseball fan how a man can actually walk with four balls. Har Har.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 10 months ago

Gestolen honk! This is a great language.

The only thing going against it is calling runs “points”.

LynchMob
Member
LynchMob
4 years 10 months ago

cktai – THANKS for that list … agree totally that it sticks out that run = point??? Bleh :-(

It’s also not obvious why strike = hit???

So, is a triple = driehonkslag?

And then a home run = vierhonkslag? I’m surprised it doesn’t get its own special name …

What do they call “home plate”?

joser
Guest
joser
4 years 10 months ago

It’s apparently a great language for swearing, too. Would love to hear the audio of a manager and an ump arguing a close play in Dutch.

joser
Guest
joser
4 years 10 months ago

At least they’re “punts” which is different and better than points.

cktai
Guest
cktai
4 years 10 months ago

actually I’m not aware of any Dutch name for home run. we just call it home run. Also I dont really know how they started calling strikes “slag” I always seemed reasonable to me until I started writing it down. I think it refers to a hitting opportunity. the dutch word wijd means wide.

home plate = thuisplaat
bat = knuppel
at bat = slagbeurt
ball (as in the thing you throw) = bal

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 10 months ago

“outside the United States and Puerto Rico.” Puerto Rico is part of the US, just like Washington DC–also not a state, also does not get to vote, but does get to pay taxes.

Still not sure? If you go to Puerto Rico from a state, have you left the country? Nope. No customs to clear, you are still in the same old country.

Anyways, same thing with Panama Canal Zone.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 10 months ago

For one thing, there’s a difference between a state and a nation. Puerto Rico is universally considered its own nation for international sporting competition.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 10 months ago

Still, Netherlands has long been the baseball powerhouse of Europe

That’s the soccer equivalent of being the best MLS team. *grin*

Bert
Guest
Bert
4 years 10 months ago

A MLB game in *The* Netherlands will probably be the first ever below sea level.

Jimbo
Guest
Jimbo
4 years 10 months ago

Came across a recap of the first game in the Holland Series:
http://nos.nl/video/269751-holland-series-2011-eerste-duel.html

antho51
Guest
antho51
4 years 10 months ago

Really cool that mlb is trying to develop the game in Europe through bringing their teams for spring training or reg season or even through the baseball tomorrow fund to help build fields… Gotta keep it up, I’m from france and the sport is still unknown(10,000 players out of 60 million people).
Personnally i believe it’s very important to have kids play the game during physical education classes, even if we simplify the rules or the equipment used(maybe no gloves, play with a soft touch ball..). It might be more important to try to develop the game within schools and showcasing the game to a broader mass than bringing over mlb teams for games that will be followed exclusively by people who already play or know the game.

BryanSimpson
Guest
BryanSimpson
4 years 10 months ago

Baseball writing has advanced from poetic mysticism to a fully contextualized article such as this. Alex can mix it up about saber and poly sci, notice the nuanced understanding of Russian-Ukrainian dynamic in the comments. Remington proves you have to know a little about many things to understand a lot about a specific thing. Well done.

HonkSlag
Guest
HonkSlag
4 years 10 months ago

Even though I will go and watch the MLB games in 2014 (assuming they will be organized), organizing just one or two MLB games in The Netherlands, or in Europe for that matter, won’t suffice to make the game more popular in Europe. MLB must understand they need to intensify their cooperation with individual (national) european country baseball associations far beyond what they currently do through Europe’s participation in the Little League program. Admittedly, that’s a heck of a job, requiring a much different approach than in USA, as most european countries don’t have a school-sport system like what is existing in the USA. MLB’s will need to adapt their role and make it suitable to function in Europe. It will just take a long time to create the basis of a broader baseball culture than what we currently already have in The Netherlands. But we (incl. MLB) need to be patient and give it a chance. For example, MLB should take a very close look at Rick van der Hurk’s “European Big League Tour” initiative, and build on that model.
If MLB doesn’t take serious building up baseball from the very bottom (youth development), I predict the same will happen as what happened with NFL in Europe: they failed miserably. So MLB: develop bottom up, not top down!

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