Bernadina in the Big Leagues
Last Sunday was another memorable day in the history of Dutch baseball. Roger Bernadina made his Major League debut for the Washington Nationals, becoming just the sixth player to make his way from the Netherlands Hoofdklasse to the pinnacle of the sport. The feat was celebrated by his countrymen, such as baseball writer Pim van Nes, but the rest of Europe can also take heart from this achievement, including the Great Britain national team.
Bernadina was hitting .323/.398/.474 in Double-A before making the two level jump up to the Big Leagues. It has been the culmination of over six years of hard work and development within the Nationals’ minor league system (the Expos’ system up until 2005, of course), with the centrefielder having begun his career in America at the age of eighteen. Prior to the season, Baseball Prospectus described him in their 2008 Annual as “a fifth outfielder who can play center well, but has that wee bit of pop that might create better job security”. With his ability to play in a number of fielding positions and above average speed on the bases (he had already stolen 26 bases at a 74% success rate for the Harrisburg Senators this year), the Nats believe he will be a competent substitute for Lastings Milledge while the former Met nurses a right groin injury on the DL.
Bernadina’s rise through the baseball ranks is nothing new for the Netherlands. Pim van Nes notes that there are now forty Dutchmen playing professional baseball in America, ranging from Rookie league participants to the likes of Jair Jurrjens, Andruw Jones and Sidney Ponson at the Major League level. The first two both come from Curacao, as does Bernadina, which is an island off the coast of Venezuela that falls within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. That they were not born and bred in the land we know as Holland rightfully makes little difference to the Dutch fans; however the fact that Bernadina is a product of the Hoofdklasse, their top domestic league, is clearly a source of great pride.
Bernadina was not expected to make the majors so soon, with Washington’s GM Jim Bowden admitting that he “would not have been able to tell you that he would have developed this quickly” after being “overmatched” in Spring Training. His dramatic rise is exemplified by the fact that just ten months ago, he was starring for the Netherlands’ national team in the European Baseball Championships. As you would expect from a top player, Bernadina really came to the fore when it mattered most. Unfortunately , that meant leading his team to a final day victory over Great Britain.
Team GB and the Netherlands matched up in what was effectively a ‘gold medal’ contest, after both teams had gone 4-0 in their first four games of a six team round-robin tournament. Bernadina led off for the Dutch in the bottom of the first with a double, before scoring the first run of the game. They added another run to their total in the second inning before Bernadina led off in the third. He promptly hit a solo home run over the right-field wall to make it 3-0 and the Netherlands didn’t look back from then on, winning the game 6-1. The Great Britain pitcher who was victimized by the now Major Leaguer was Brian Essery. The right-hander can currently be found plying his trade for the London Mets in the National Baseball League, where he sports a 7-0 record and a 1.47 ERA. Earlier this season, Essery struck out fifteen when facing the Croydon Pirates in a seven-innng complete game. If the Pirates were feeling bad about their performance, they should remember that the person who struck them out had recently been facing a guy who is now playing on the biggest stage of all.
Two other members of the Netherlands team that played against Great Britain are in the Minors at the moment. The British pitchers held Yurendell DeCaster to an 0 for 4 performance that day, but Baseball Prospectus claims that “there are worse utility players in the major leagues” and he is currently on the Nationals’ Triple-A roster, hoping for a chance to prove himself. Team GB had less luck in containing the Angels’ Double-A prospect Hainley Statia, who went 3 for 4 and batted in two runs. BP states that “Statia may be the best glove man of the Angels’ many shortstop prospects” and highlights him as a player capable of supplementing his impressive defense with a decent batting average, plate discipline and speed. Team GB is also represented in the Minors, most notably by Mike Nickeas who is currently playing for the Mets’ Triple-A team. Nickeas was born in Canada and isn’t a product of the British league, but his father is British and that makes him more of a local than some of the stars on our other national sports teams.
So the next time an ill-informed Brit tries to tells you that baseball is just an American game, let them know that us Europeans are more involved with the sport than they think.
Note: a PDF copy of my scorecard from the Great Britain-Netherlands game can be found here.
Week 14 wrap-up
There may be people out there waiting for the Rays to fall apart and for normal order to be restored in the AL East. If so, they’re going to have to keep on waiting. The Rays (54-32) have won six in a row (and nine of their last ten) to take a four game lead over the Red Sox and they now have the best record in all of baseball. The Twins have won four in a row to keep within one game of the White Sox (50-37) in the AL Central, while the Angels (52-35) took two from three in a mid-week series against the A’s to extend their lead in the West to five games.
In the National League, the D-Backs (43-45) hold on the top spot in the West may be about to come to an end. Despite a thrilling come-from-behind 6-5 victory against the Brewers on Thursday (having been 5-0 down entering the bottom of the ninth), they have been unable to keep the Dodgers from closing to within 0.5 games. The Cubs (52-36) lead the Cardinals by 2.5 games in the Central, while the Phillies (48-40) have stretched their lead over the Marlins in the East to 3.5 games.