Commentary

Welcome to the Netherlands

Updated: March 4, 2009, 1:54 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

Quick Holland (aka Netherlands, the country) Facts

Most known (outside baseball) for its … Serious about dykes; hash and marijuana availability; and making some great beer, including Heineken.
Holland location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between Belgium and Germany.

Holland size: 16,033 square miles, or slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey.

Holland population: 16.25 million

Holland people:83% Dutch; other 17% (of which 9% are non-Western origin, mainly Turks, Moroccans, Antilleans, Surinamese, and Indonesians).

Holland language: Dutch (main language); also Frisian (official), English.

Government: Constitutional Monarchy.

Holland capital: Amsterdam (population: 730,000); The Hague is the seat of government, however

Holland's dependent areas: Aruba, Netherlands Antilles (includes Curacao)

National anthem famous verse: "Dispelling the tyranny that wounds my heart."

Quick Aruba (The Island) Facts

Most known (outside baseball) for its & idyllic wintertime climate for a Caribbean island vacation (and to a smaller extent, its reference in the Beach Boys song, "Kokomo").

Aruba location: Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, north of Venezuela

Aruba size: 29 square miles, or slightly larger than Washington, D.C.

Aruba population: 71,500

Aruba people: Mixed white/Caribbean Amerindian 80%.

Aruba language: Dutch (official), Papiamento (a Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English dialect), English, Spanish.

Government: Parliamentary Democracy (note: full autonomy in internal affairs obtained in 1986 upon separation from the Netherlands Antilles; Holland responsible for defense and foreign affairs).

Aruba capital: Oranjestad

National anthem famous verse: "Your beaches so much admired, with palm trees all adorned."

Quick Netherlands Antilles (Curacao, The Island) Facts

Most known (outside baseball) for its & Orange-flavored liquor that makes your lips turn blue, or its other exporters, Amstel Light (beer) and Tumba (music).
Netherlands Antilles location: Caribbean, two island groups in the Caribbean Sea -- composed of five islands, Curacao and Bonaire located off the coast of Venezuela, and St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius that lie east of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Curacao size: About 40 miles from southeast to northwest, and 10 miles wide at its widest point.

Netherlands Antiless population: 219,000 (Curacao's population is about 140,000)

Antilles language: Papiamento 65.4% (a Spanish-Portuguese-Dutch-English dialect), English 15.9%, Dutch 7.3% (official), Spanish 6.1%, Creole 1.6%, other 1.9%

Government:Parliamentary (note: full autonomy in internal affairs granted in 1954; Holland responsible for defense and foreign affairs).

Curacao capital: Willemstad, on Curacao, which is the largest of the Antilles islands

National anthem famous verse: "Let us raise our voice to sing about the glory of Curacao."

Quick Netherlands Historical Baseball Facts

Most known in baseball for: Producing Andruw Jones, Jair Jurrjens and Hensley "Bam-Bam" Meulens (from Curacao), Sidney Ponson (Aruba) and birthplace of Bert Blyleven (Holland).

Netherlands' baseball debut: Early 1900s.

First Holland-born player to play professional baseball: Rynie Walters (born in Schantz) played in the National Association, 1871-1873.

Best baseball towns in Netherlands: In Holland, a tie between Haarlem -- "Honkbal City" -- and Rotterdam; on Curacao, Willemstad; On Aruba: Oranjested.

Netherlands baseball hotbeds: In Holland, baseball has a strong, niche following in Amsterdam and Eindhoven. On Aruba, baseball is popular in and around the districts of San Nicolaas, Santa Cruz and Amsterdam-Noord.

Netherlands' baseball weather: Located off the North Sea, Holland can be windy and cold. But Aruba and Curacao are nice and warm.

Biggest sports competitors: Soccer.

Distinctly Dutch: A public transit trolley whip by the ballpark within short foul ball distance (in Holland only) & Do baseball players get knighted: in 2004, a trio of Arubans who've played MLB were knighted by Queen Beatrix: Eugene Kingsale, Calvin Maduro and Sidney Ponson.

Quick Team Netherlands And Player Facts

Biggest international rival: Italy

Biggest international successes: The Dutch have long dominated the European Baseball Championship, winning 20 times, including the past five. In fact, the Dutch have finished first or second every year they have participated. Their rival, Italy, has won eight times, and finished second 15 times -- all at the hands of the Dutch. The Netherlands has also dominated the European Cup, which pits the top professional team from each league in Europe. The Dutch lead the way with eight European Cup titles. Unlike Aruba, Curacao often competes on its own in international competition. In 2002, Curacao won the Senior League World Series (ages 16-18) and was the runner-up in 2008. In 2004, a team from Pabao Little League in Willemstad won the Little League World Series (LLWS). Curacao was a LLWS runner up in 2005.

2006 WBC showing: 1-2, failing to advance to the quarterfinals.

Back from the 2006 WBC team: Hainley Statia (Angels prospect); Alexander Smit (Reds prospect).

Gone from 2006 WBC team: Shairon Martis (threw a no-hitter)

Now on WBC team: Greg Halman (Mariners prospect), Sidney Ponson

Missing in action from the 2009 WBC team: Jair Jurrjens, Andruw Jones, Wladimir Balentien

Play Ball! -- The Netherlands

Dutch Major League overview: Eight teams play an approximate 40-game regular season from June to mid-September. The top four teams make the playoffs, which features best-of-five semifinals followed by a best-of-five Holland Series. Each team also has one minor league team that plays an approximate 40-game season. The league employs the designated hitter. Each team usually allows one or two foreign-born players, always pitchers. Three umpires call the games (home plate, first base, third base).

Most successful franchise: Rotterdam's DOOR Neptunus won seven consecutive titles from 1999-2005, a Dutch baseball record. Its farm team has also won consecutive championships. Neptunus is also one of the best teams in Europe.

Biggest rivalry: Neptunus vs. HCAW.

Notable alums, with MLB ties: Rikkert Faneyte; Calvin Maduro; Evert-Jan't Hoen.

Best ballparks: The best ballpark for players and fans is Neptunus Family Stadium, located in the Delfshaven area of Rotterdam. Home of DOOR Neptunus, it also hosted games during the 2005 amateur World Cup, as did the country's second-best ballpark, Pim Mulier Baseball Stadium in Haarlem. All ballparks playing surfaces are natural grass.

Ballpark atmosphere: Decidedly low key, the U.S. equivalent to a high school baseball crowd. Weekday games start at 7:45 p.m., somewhat late because many of the players work full-time during the business week. Weekend games are held in the afternoon. Tickets cost about $5 (U.S.) and pets get in for free.

Ballpark food and drink: A fan favorite is a Frikandel (minced-meat hot dog). While at the ballpark in Rotterdam you can try a Moroccan dog, a Broodje Kebab, Broodje Shoarma or Broodje Merguez. These dogs are homemade, with pure meat and no fat. Top it off with curry sauce (U.S. citizens read ketchup; Aussies read tomato sauce), which is a bit spicier.

Uniquely Dutch: Haarlem Baseball Week -- or "Honkbal Week" -- is one of the biggest baseball weeks in Holland as fans pack the ballpark all week long to watch tournament games featuring invited international teams … Every other year, the invitation-only World Port tournament in Rotterdam also draws big crowds …Dutch majors switched back to wood bats from aluminum in 2000.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.