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Major League Baseball in 2020 is sadly coming to a close. My Washington Nationals did not make the playoffs but rather experienced an otherwise mediocre filled year in which the Miami Marlins made the playoffs, of course this is due to a variety of factors including the new Major League Baseball playoffs system. However, baseball is not such a distantly popular sport elsewhere in the Western World. Although invented in the United States, despite claims that it was previously devised in Britain from a game called Rounders, baseball is popular in one country that you may not expect. No, it's not anywhere in South America, not it's not in Asia, and no it's not in Africa. Europe is filled with baseball leagues in almost every country which is quite peculiar as they hardly compete with the best of the best teams with the exception of one nation. The Netherlands has one of the most heavily concentrated baseball cultures in the world and the Dutch are proud of their baseball too. Yes, football is the national sport of the Netherlands and notable club Ajax out of Amsterdam has proven to be successful in its matches across Europe. However, when it comes to baseball the Netherlands does not shy away from competing with the world’s best.
Baseball in Europe
So before we narrow down the history of baseball in the Netherlands we are going to take a quick glimpse of baseball in Europe and why it is not as popular as other sports. So the first reason for this is because Baseball was not invented in Europe, it's predecessor Rounders was an English game and is still moderately played across the United Kingdom. Baseball varies though with a few different rule changes and the usage of gloves. The reason for its non-popularity in Europe is coincidentally similar to the United States. Football or Soccer as the United States refers to it, is the most popular sport across the world outside of America. It has the highest paid athletes and the most world renowned faces of any sport outside of the United States. Baseball will always take a backseat to the football simply because many consider the game “more exciting.” As someone who does not understand European Football all too well I can say that I at least understand baseball and although maybe not the most exciting sport to watch it is one of the more difficult to play.
To their credit Major League Baseball has attempted to expand it's borders within the past decade playing series across the world in Mexico, England, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere but in three of those countries the game is already popular as it is, and the exposure in these countries will not be affected whereas if you expose people in England to the game or Austria their will be a different effect.
Dutch Baseball: A brief history
The Netherlands has a very similar story regarding baseball much like Abner Doubleday’s supposed tale of discovering the game. An English teacher who lived and grew up in the Netherlands biggest city discovered the game and it's popularity while traveling to the United States. His name was J.C. Grase. He bore witness to the time in America when baseball was by far the most popular sport the country ever produced. At the time, all of baseball’s first Hall of Fame class were playing and Grase wanted to bring the game and the joy it brought him back to the Netherlands. Upon returning to the Netherlands in 1911, he set out to create a league and grow the game’s popularity in the Netherlands. Grase has a grasp on English and was accurately able to translate the game’s rules into Dutch to make players understand. Within a year, Grase founded the Dutch Baseball Union, the governing body of all baseball related leagues in the Netherlands was formed. Grase even owned and operated his own franchise which became the Netherlands first and oldest franchise, Quick Amsterdam, in 1913.
The game did not take off as one might expect though as many athletic clubs did not like the idea of appealing to an American ideal and that they should stick to their original sports. Various Football Clubs did not like the idea for fear that the game would take over their fanbases because of it's newness. By 1922, the Netherlands had its first league with four clubs including Ajax, Quick Amsterdam, Blue White, and Hercules, all football clubs in Amsterdam. The league was born but always looking to expand in popularity. Withing a few years the league had it's first team outside of Amsterdam in nearby Haarlem. For decades with the expansion of leagues both Amsterdam and Haarlem had the champion teams until 1963 when Rotterdam crowned its first champion.
The skill levels of these supposed professional players was disputed though because coming from the country where the game was invented is a lot different than playing somewhere where the game. In 1925, a US Naval unit was stationed briefly in Amsterdam and they were invited to play a scrimmage against one of the teams in Amsterdam. The score, after one inning, was 14-0. Baseball was an American tradition and it appeared that the Netherlands needed to up its game.
The issue with Dutch baseball is that within itself it was pretty competitive despite only having a few teams win the league and it seeming kind of repetitive their was a bit of a atmosphere of difficulty when it came to playing in the league. 1979 changed everything though. Although their had been Dutch players in the Major Leagues they were first generation American born. Originally born in The Hague, Win Remmerswaal became the first Dutch league player to ever play in Major League Baseball. Win’s career in the Major Leagues lasted two seasons but this was a step in the right direction. Ultimately it was decided that like most European sports their should be tiers which ultimately start at the top which is classified as Honkbal Hofdklasse (HH) or Dutch Baseball League, this is the ultimate league or Major League where the best of the best in the Netherlands play. They have a second and third tier league which falls under HH but these divisions are rarely heard from and operate as farm systems in some capacities.
Why is Baseball so popular in the Netherlands?
So far we have explained the origins of baseball in the Netherlands but nothing really explains its popularity. So, in the event that you have not researched or looked into how baseball has become so vibrant elsewhere in the world outside of South America here is a major influential reason the simple answer is America and Americanization. The longer much more complex answer is very similar to how the English spread Cricket throughout their colonies. So in England the colonizers played cricket throughout the places that they conquered and now in countries like Pakistan, India, Australia, and others the game has taken a massive following. Baseball was the same way with the exception of the occupation part. World War II occurred and countries like Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and Belgium were all liberated by forces from the US, France, England, and Russia. Well, those territories that had Americans in them exposed their culture to the locals. Even in England, the American troops would play games in their spare time and they needed a break from what they had experienced. So baseball became a major outlet for them. Well here we are 80 years later and the sport’s still around in Europe, although not as prevalent still there.
In the Netherlands specifically a New York Times article was written regarding the sport’s popularity in the Netherlands. In the article the journalist interviewed the then Manager of the Dutch National Team, Robert Eenhoorn. He had experience playing briefly with the Yankees and Angels. For his state line you can visit this link attached below. For the Dutch baseball was more than simply a game according to Eenhorn stated that baseball was a way of defying their occupiers. His father, played baseball as a child and grew up to play in the Dutch Major Leagues. Since the time, the popularity of the game never faded. So what is the love of the game in the Netherlands. Many would say because it's American, it passes the time, not to mention for a strange reason they like the clothing. The game is still behind European Football but by a close margin. In fact, the Major League players have even spoken that the Netherlands is one of the coolest places to play as the players in the Dutch Major Leagues are just as fine tuned and want to learn to get better from the professionals. It is quite interesting considering that the Dutch team is considered to be one of the top 10 in the world and the only one in Europe to appear in the World Baseball Classic in 2017. The Dutch are one of the best teams in the world but have fallen short in World competitions simply because competition is better.
So based on some videos that are on the internet it may appear that the Netherlands baseball playing style is quite simply small ball. Lots of bunting, ground balls and speed. Their players are far superior to anything that the United States has ever seen in small ball. They play with lots of stolen bases and excitement that is unmatched. Their players are not as strong as the American players but they make their impact in other ways. They also play dangerous, they chase everything when it comes to foul balls and the locals love it. They play scrappy as well which for someone who likes that kind of baseball this league is for you. They truly are changing the game at the international level with their playing styles and intensity.
Notable Players from the Netherlands ( Curaçao and Aruba included)
Kenley Jansen- Jansen currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is one of the best closers in Major League Baseball. He originally played catcher when he was growing up in Curaçao
but was moved to pitcher when he was working out in the minor leagues.
Didi Gregorius- Gregorius is a Shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was born in Amsterdam but raised in Curaçao. His father played in the Dutch Major League briefly. Didi has played in various places, most notably for a brief period with the New York Yankees.
Andruw Jones- Former Outfielder for 17 seasons in Major League Baseball. Jones most notably played for the Braves for 11 seasons during his career. Also played briefly in Japanese Major League towards the end of his career.
Xander Bogaerts- Shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. Born in Aruba, Bogartes is also one of the best betters in recent memory as he was awarded the silver slugger in both 2015, 2016, and 2019. Bogartes was a juggernaut behind the talent in the 2018 World Series championship team in Boston.
What does the future hold?
Baseball will never be the most popular sport in the Netherlands because European football is just too popular. However, it will be the second most popular sport in the Netherlands permanently. It is true that the Netherlands has produced the second largest output of baseball talent in the world behind only the United States. There is even potential for their national team to conquer and defeat the United States National Team so they too better watch out. The Netherlands is an amazing breeding ground for some of the greats that are playing in the league today, it is up to us to watch and learn from their style and discover them because a Dutchman might be the next “great one.”