3/13/2013 9:45 P.M. ET
Respected Meulens has Dutch club believing
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Hensley Meulens sat back in a plush reclining chair in a downtown Phoenix hotel on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by his wandering teammates, his tired coaching staff and maybe even a few astute fans who had seen him on TV in the global spotlight.
Recently, that is.
The former Major League player has two World Series championship rings from the San Francisco Giants, where he's the hitting coach, and now he has the world watching him for the exploits of his unique temporary gig: head honcho of honkbal.
That would be Team Nederland, or, as observers of the ongoing drama known as the 2013 World Baseball Classic better know them, the semifinalists from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the team that just knocked out Cuba in Tokyo and is spending a few more days in the desert sun before heading to AT&T Park in San Francisco for one last push at an unlikely title.
Meulens can smile about this and what are sure to be daunting challenges ahead against Japan and whichever two teams from the foursome of the United States, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Italy make it out of the other second-round pool, currently being played at Marlins Park in Miami.
On Monday, Meulens was luxuriating, in part because he and his team finally had a day off.
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The team was in Taiwan and then Tokyo before this, and after an exhibition against the Padres on Thursday night in Peoria, Ariz., and another against the Mariners on Friday night, the Netherlands club will be off to the home of the San Francisco Giants for the much-awaited conclusion of the intense international tournament.
For Meulens, it's been a joy all the way through in many more ways than just winning games.
"We've played with a lot of heart, a lot of determination, relentless and all the way through," Meulens said. "That's how these guys never give up. We keep playing hard. And you can attribute us getting this far to that. These guys are unbelievable. They're checking their ego at the door, and they're all supporting each other. They're picking each other up."
This year's journey for the team that shocked fans of the 2009 Classic by beating the Dominican Republic twice in San Juan, P.R., began in Taichung, Taiwan, where the Dutch beat Australia and shut out favored Korea to finish 2-1 in Pool B and advance to the second round in Tokyo. There, the Netherlands suffered two losses to Japan but still managed to advance by upsetting high-powered Cuba twice.
The Dutch team features an intriguing mix of young and veteran talent from the Netherlands, Curacao, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. Longtime Major League star and current Japanese league outfielder Andruw Jones is the biggest name, but the team also includes Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, Braves infielder Andrelton Simmons, Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop, Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts and, as of Wednesday, Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar, who is ranked No. 1 in baseball, according to MLB.com, and replaced injured Yurendell de Caster on the roster for the games in San Francisco.
At the helm is Meulens, who's soaking in his managerial experience with enthusiasm and perspective.
"One of the qualities that I think [Dutch national team technical director] Robert [Eenhorn] was looking for when he assigned me as the manager was that I'm in the Major Leagues. It's important that they have somebody that's respected in the league. The second was being a winner.
"And I took the job to win. I want to win. And I know we have the material to win. We just had to get them together as quickly as possible and get them to believe that we can win. That's what we did in San Francisco. We didn't have the best talent on those teams, but we made believers out of everybody that we weren't going to let anyone stand in our way. And it's the same with these guys."
Meulens says he's always had leadership skills but that being a manager is a lot different from the duties of hitting coach. Now, he has to concern himself with what the pitchers are doing. Now, he has to concern himself with the coaching staff, and, well, everything else.
His pitching coach, Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, said he thinks Meulens has a bright future in the skippering department.
"I think what you're seeing is a guy who one day will be a Major League manager," Blyleven said. "He's done a great job with this ballclub. Coming from the Giants, where they won the World Series two of the last three years, I think it just shows that along with [Giants manager] Bruce Bochy, his coaching staff has been outstanding, and [Meulens] is a big part of that.
"As far as what he's done with the guys from Curacao and Holland, he got them together as a team. That's what you have to do. In a short period of time, he's done a great job."
Meulens was the first Curacao-born player to make it to the Major Leagues, and he's seen the small Caribbean island with a population of little more than 100,000 grow into a world baseball power. Jones, of course, was a big help in that regard and has been huge for this year's Netherlands club.
"He's leading by example as our superstar," Meulens said. "Guys are playing cards and they're hanging out, and it's all in his room. It's pretty cool the way he's shown leadership, because the first Classic was different. … He was younger. Now, he's more mature -- he's cheering during the game, even when we're losing."
And Meulens is overseeing it all and having a great time.
"We've got a lot of guys from Curacao, and we feel like we're playing for someone who's like our brother," de Caster said. "We can talk to him, we can trust him. We're close with him like that."
The team has won Meulens over, and it didn't take long. Meulens said he had only a few expectations of his team: Be prepared and believe in yourselves.
There's no doubt that coming from a World Series team gave Meulens all the credibility he needed.
"I told them, 'You have to give me everything: 100 percent focus and determination,'" Meulens said. "'Go out and leave everything out on the field every day. Every one of you. Every day. That's how you win. That's how you become a winner.'"