When we planned out this piece, we expected the selection would be simple, look for one standout team that does relatively well in international action over the course of the season. Like most of the competitors they faced, we were ill-prepared for what would come out of the Netherlands in 2016.
Ranked 9/70 in the world The Netherlands have the top men’s baseball team in Europe. The winning started early in the season. In May, L&D Amsterdam won the European Champion’s Cup, defeating the home team A.S.D. Rimini of Italy for the title.
Next up, the nation hosted and won both the Honkbalweek and European Championship tournaments. Moreover, they won them both, undefeated. Team Netherlands remained undefeated in their four-game road to victory at the Yoshido Challenge. During the semi-annual French International Baseball Tournament a few pros from overseas were added to the roster.
No one knew it at the time but the 28th edition of Haarlem Baseball Week, would be the final in the tournament’s 55-year history. Hollywood could not have scripted it better. Playing with only Dutch Hoofdklasse league players The Netherlands finished the Honkbalweek Haarlem tournament as undefeated champions, beating out Japan for the title in their first win since 2010.
At the European championship the Dutch team gave the hometown crowd their money’s worth in an extra innings victory over Spain for the title. It was the 22nd time in the tournament’s history that The Netherlands had finished on top.
One last thing, they finished the season undefeated. Head Coach Steve Janssen said, “20-0 this season, winning the Haarlem Baseball Week, French Open & Europeans was fantastic.”
What made 2016 Special?
Outfielder Kalian Sams says, “Our practices have been very consistent. We train five times a week - three times baseball, two times fitness exercises. We focus on what we can do better and we’re very disciplined.”
Coach Janssen said, “We play for the name on the front of our jersey and not for the one on the back. That's what becoming successful is all about for us. We definitely want talent, need talent, but it still comes back to character and integrity and how they're sacrificing for the good of the team.”
Sams says, “We have a strong team anyway, with good players. But also we have been playing together for at least 6-7 years. In the end we became family. The added value is that we know each other well. For example, imagine you’re in the outfield and a ball is hit in your direction. You know if your teammate has enough speed, a good catch and arm to make the play or not. You just know his toolbox. Sometimes we only look at each other and we know what the other guy means.”
Janssen agrees, “It's how guys blend that talent and how well you become a team and work together. Sometimes you have to be okay not always showing your talent by, instead, putting the team before you.”
Sunday, September 18, 2016 in Hoofddorp at the European Championship: Local photographer Paul Stodart captured the essence of the Dutch Men’s baseball season in a single shot.
Photo Credit: Paul Stodart
Kalian Sams became a father during the European Championship. Around 3:45 pm his son was born. At the time of the birth, the final game of the European Championship was already underway. Sams stayed for half an hour with his girlfriend and their newborn son after the birth, cutting the chord, before leaving for the ballpark. Everybody was supportive of his decision to both attend the birth and play the final on the same day. Sams told baseballEBM, “Coach Janssen told me to take my time. My girlfriend had attended every game of the European Championship except for the semifinal and final. She knew I wanted to play and immediately said, ‘Just go.’”
His roommate, and teammate, packed Sams gear and brought it to the stadium, placing it in his locker. When Kalian finally arrived, his brother and two friends helped him get dressed and on the field in record time. “Everything was so much more special. Your first child is born on the same day you win the European title. Unimaginable,” Sams reflected.
Before entering the field in the 4th inning of the Championship game Sams held up the onsie with his newborn son Dean’s name on it. The hometown crowd responded with a standing ovation and teammates lined up in the dugout to congratulate him. “It was hectic but beautiful. One of the finest moments in my career”, Sams said.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Sams hit the most homeruns in the tournament and still there was more. Shortstop Stijn van der Meer was named Most Valuable Player of the European Championship and teammate Yurendell De Caster received the best batter award. What a week!
The Women finished the year ranked #8/12 after a 9th place finish at the Women’s World Cup. In Cup games they had to beat Canada (#2) and Japan (#1) just to make it out of the first round of three games. Coach Eddie Dix said, “The fact that we scored the tying run against Canada, who lost in the finals to Japan, and that we played the whole seven innings against them, indicates we have a lot more potential as a team.”
The women’s team, the only ranked national women’s baseball team in Europe, is not a part of the KNBSB. The players join their male counterparts on local teams to get practice time, meeting regularly to train and scrimmage against men’s teams across the country.
“The World Cup is an unbelievable and incomparable experience, one that we worked very hard for,” Dix said. “The gap between the top teams, and those behind them, in our opinion, closed. We are equally strong and that fact was acknowledged in the two individual awards that the team took home.” Esther Maliepaard had the most stolen bases in the tournament, going 9/9, and Famke Gildemacher was awarded the title of Most Outstanding Defensive Player. “Those prizes make me, and the whole team, extremely proud of the achievements of the girls! Not just these two but each and every one of them.” Dix said they are looking forward to competing again in the next Cup.
The European Premiere Cup Women, where the national champions from the top 10 countries compete, was won by the Sparks Haarlem of, you got it, The Netherlands. At the European Cup Winner’s Cup it was Olympia Haarlem that grabbed the gold.
Coach Janssen remarked, “It was an exceptional year for Baseball and Softball in the Netherlands. That 4th place for softball was huge!” He was talking about what happened in Surrey, Canada at the WBSC XV Women’s World Softball Championship. Out of 30 teams, the Netherlands placed 4th, best of any European nation in the tournament’s history.
Only three European teams made it to the final 16 – Italy, Great Britain and The Netherlands. While Italy and GB were each 2nd in their respective pools heading into the finals, the Netherlands entered undefeated, including two wins against the Czech Republic.
To advance to the top 8 they beat both Brazil and Cuba. Neither Italy nor Great Britain made it out of the semi-final round. In their first game of the championship, The Netherlands beat New Zealand and, in doing so, tied their team’s best record of 6th place; but they weren’t finished. Venezuela was the next nation to fall to the Dutch. With Japan and the USA guaranteed spots in the final, the Netherlands had to make it through Canada for a medal.
“A European team making the top four in the World is definitely one of the highlights for European Softball 2016,” the European Softball Federation told baseballEBM.
PC: Sascha Schneider
Ranked #16/22 in the world, the men’s softball team finished the European Championship in 4th place (field of 9), which is not their best year on record but still plenty strong. Quick Amersfoort represented the land well however, taking gold in the ESF Cup, a 20 team, round robin event.
The Future Looks Bright
Based on a number of factors including, no doubt, the 2016 seasons all around, the Dutch National Olympic Committee has decided that baseball and softball are qualified as "top sports" and will, therefore, be receiving extra funding every year until 2020 for Olympic preparation.
Next up the men’s team has an automatic bid to the World Baseball Classic. March 7-10, 2017, the Dutch play in Pool A in South Korea. Their opponents include Chinese Taipei, South Korea and Israel. The bid was awarded based on the 2013 WBC tournament results. In early December it was announced that several MLB players would be joining the Dutch roster for the tournament. They’ve already proven, no matter who is on the field, they remain a team any opponent should prepare diligently to face. No matter their lineup this past season, their record was wholly unaffected.