In case you missed it over the weekend, the 2009 World Baseball Classic got underway. The opening games took time slots against NCAA basketball, so chances are you may have overlooked the big moments. Like when the Netherlands, a team with five players who have logged Major League PT, knocked off a powerhouse favorite, the Dominican Republic, a team with 10 players who have logged All-Star Game PT. An absolute huge upset. This was the U.S. Hockey team taking down the Soviets in the Olympics; Appalachian State besting Michigan in the big house; Valparaiso and Bryce Drew eliminating Ansu Sesay and Ole Miss in the Big Dance. Let’s not sell this win short; it was straight ridiculous.
That said, if you happened to watch the ballgame, as I did, you might have found yourself questioning how many of these players actually grew up on the continent of Europe, which we usually tend to associate with the Netherlands. In reality, while a pinch runner here or a relief pitcher there actually hailed from the European Netherlands, most of this team originally grew up in the Caribbean, calling islands like Curacao or Aruba home.
You see, the Netherlands has control of a number of islands in the Caribbean, often referred to as the “Netherlands Antilles.” You may have seen a team by the same name take control of the Little League World Series every year, wondering why the heck they have “Netherlands” across their chest when they’re constantly referred to as “Curacao.”
Not only does the majority of the WBC Netherlands team have roots in the Caribbean, but the best players are from the islands, as well. Four out of the five players who have MLB experience have never actually lived in the European Netherlands. Starting pitcher Sidney Ponson and outfielder Eugene Kingsale are natives of Aruba; first baseman Randall Simon is from Curacao; and outfielder Luis Matos was born in Puerto Rico (how does that work?). Only pitcher Rick VandenHurk, of the Florida Marlins, comes from Europe.
Essentially, this is like if the United States comprised a team of players that were born or lived in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, outposts of the U.S. that are technically American soil, but aren’t often associated with the stars and stripes. Interestingly enough, Puerto Rico has its own team, while the Netherlands Antilles does not. What’s up with that?
It’s definitely a great story. The little Netherlands team takes down the Goliath Dominican Republic. But at the same time, how are we framing this international competition? We give Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, their own team. We give the U.S. its own team. And yet we lump the Netherlands and all their outposts into one unified nation. It’s something worth questioning when we watch these games. Where are the boundaries when it comes to drawing up a nation? That said, tune into the WBC, because so far it’s cranking out an amazing product.