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Schoop, Netherlands aim high03/04/2013 5:35 AM ET
By Jonathan Raymond / Special to MLB.com
Jonathan Schoop, born and raised on the Dutch island of Curacao, has a lot of family in Holland, but before last year, he'd never been to Europe to visit them.
The impetus for his journey was a result of probably the most important victory in Dutch baseball history, the one that ushered in the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a player in international baseball, one that gives them credibility as a sleeper in this year's World Baseball Classic.
Schoop was a part of the gold medal-winning 2011 Baseball World Cup squad in Panama. The tournament, run by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), can sometimes be a mixed bag -- the U.S. team, for instance, was without any Major League stars.
Still, the Netherlands went 11-1 overall during the tournament, beating the likes of Venezuela, Panama and, yes, the United States.
The most impressive victory, however, came in the final, a 2-1 nailbiter against Cuba, an international powerhouse that brings it's A-team to nearly every international tournament. Schoop figured rather importantly in that game, driving in the second run of a two-run fourth that proved to be the decisive tally.
In the process, he earned his first trip to Europe. "I went to Europe twice last year," Schoop said. "It's cold out there, but it's nice. I have a big family that lives there, in Rotterdam. It was the first time I had ever been there because they asked us to come for the ceremony, because we won it all in Panama."
If the Baseball World Cup was the first step toward international legitimacy for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, than surely a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic would consolidate those gains. Schoop admitted that his team is viewing this year's tournament as a big chance to take the development and exposure of the Dutch game to another level, four years after the Netherlands twice defeated the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic before falling in the second group stage.
"For me right now, it's big. We look forward to this cause every time we play in this tournament we do a pretty good job," he said. "And then the scouts go to Curacao and Aruba and see those guys and see if we can't get more guys in the USA to play baseball."
The World Cup team even drew some fans to Panama, a development that wowed Schoop.
"Those fans are great. In Panama, we didn't know where they came from, but a lot of Netherlands fans were out there cheering for us. It was real nice."
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For about a generation now, baseball has been the sport of choice in the Dutch Antilles. The ABC islands -- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- situated off the coast of Venezuela have been the hotbed of Dutch growth in the sport.
"Everyone wants to play baseball in Curacao -- they look up to Andruw Jones," said Schoop. "Every kid wants to go to the Little League World Series, every kid wants to be a pro one day and make it to the big leagues.
"The thing I can remember back then [playing as a kid] was that it was a lot of fun. You go to the field, practice, play, stay out there for a game after practice, just stay all day at the field. It was just baseball, the best thing to remember."
The current generation of potential Dutch stars, including the likes of Schoop, the Braves' Andrelton Simmons and the Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts have followed the trail that Andruw Jones -- practically a national hero -- blazed.
"You play with Wladimir Balentein, Andruw Jones -- you've seen them play since you were a kid and now you're playing with them. It's awesome. Like a guy you've seen since you were a kid and look up to, now playing as a teammate -- I can't explain it."
Schoop, the Orioles' fourth-ranked prospect by MLB.com, is one of the key players for the Netherlands. He's manned second base and hit in the two-hole in each of the first two Pool A games for the Dutch, a 5-0 win over Korea and an 8-3 loss to Chinese Taipei.
The 21-year-old from Willemstad has been a quick advancer in the Baltimore system, moving from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2010 to Double-A Bowie, where he played 124 games with the Baysox last season.
Despite his youth, Schoop managed to hold his own in the Eastern League, hitting .245/.324/.386 with 14 homers, 24 doubles and 56 RBIs. The year before, split between Class A Delmarva and Class A Advanced Frederick, he hit .290/.349/.432 as a 19-year-old.
Perhaps one of his most impressive showings came following the 2012 season, when he batted .270/.446/.429 in 21 games with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands will play its final Pool A game Monday night at 11:30 p.m. ET, against Australia, and a victory will likely send them to the second round of the tournament in Tokyo. The mission, according to Schoop, is to advance at least as far as the World Baseball Classic Semifinals.
"We have a good team, and I think we can get pretty, pretty far. The team is coming along good. We've played since we were kids, and now we're together here. It's been good -- we're playing the game the right way.
"It's a business still. We're serious. We've got good veterans, good young guys, it's a good mix. The goal is for us to go to San Francisco. We'll see what happens."