The Netherlands Senior baseball team has turned what was already a positive year for European baseball into a great one.
In the early hours of Sunday morning European time, the Netherlands defeated Cuba 2-1 in Panama to win the Baseball World Cup for the first time.
Technically this is the second time a European team has won the event, as the records show that the inaugural staging of it in 1938 was won by Great Britain.
However, and without wishing to downplay the achievement of that team, the 1938 version was simply a series between Great Britain (actually England) and a U.S. Olympic team.
The England team won the series 4-1 and the International Baseball Federation decided to crown the team as the first World Amateur Champions after the event, as explained in the excellent ‘History of the Great Britain Team’ available as a pdf on the Project COBB website.
The Netherlands’ triumph is therefore the first time that a European team has won the World Cup in its format as a truly international competition.
Cuba are, of course, the great powerhouse of international baseball. They have won the World Cup 25 times and this was their twelfth consecutive appearance in the final. After a run of nine straight titles, the Cuban team entered the 2011 final having been runners-up in the previous two (in 2007 and 2009) to the United States.
With the Americans having to settle for a bronze medal game against Canada this time around, the Cubans may have felt that the path was clear for them to regain their crown once they reached the final. However, the Netherlands had defeated Cuba 4-1 two days prior to the final and they proved that result was no fluke second time around.
Rob Cordemans has been considered for several years now to be arguably the best pitcher on the European baseball scene. I was fortunate enough to watch him flirt with a no-hitter in Rotterdam back in 2009 and he was on similar form against Cuba.
Cordemans gave up only two hits and one run over 7.1 innings, combining with Juan Carlos Sulbaran and David Bergman in relief to ensure that the two runs the Netherlands scored in the bottom of the fourth inning were the only ones they needed to win the game.
The Netherlands’ tournament success is a tremendous achievement. It follows up their impressive showing in the 2009 World Baseball Classic where they shocked a star-studded Dominican Republic team twice and gained many plaudits from a North American audience that generally pays little attention to baseball outside the Major and Minor League system.
Since the 2009 WBC, the Netherlands have lost their title as the European Champions. They won the European Baseball Championships five times in a row between 1999 and 2007, but were defeated 8-4 in the 2010 final by Italy.
Italy and the Netherlands have long been the two dominant countries in European baseball and as a consequence there is a fierce rivalry between the pair. The Italians have been able to bask in the glory of their 2010 triumph recently and Italian baseball gained a significant publicity boost when Alex Liddi, an Italian national who was signed as a 16 year old by the Seattle Mariners in 2005, was promoted to the Major Leagues this season.
You can be sure that the Dutch will see their World Cup triumph as a reminder to all that they are still the preeminent force in European baseball. That is something they will be keen to demonstrate next year when they look to regain their European Championship crown on home soil.
The Dutch will be hosting the European Baseball Championships in September 2012 and the fact that they will enter the event as the reigning World Cup winners is a great testament to the calibre of ballplayers that will be on show.
If you needed an extra incentive to consider making a trip over the North Sea next year for the tournament, getting the chance to watch the World Cup winners is as an appealing one as you can imagine. Add in their rivalry with the reigning European Champions and the presence of Great Britain and it should be an event well worth attending.