The Virtues of Honkbal

| March 18, 2013 | 1 Comment

On the islands that used to be called the Netherlands Antilles, the natives play a game they call honkbal. I won’t bore you by trying to explain the rules and customs of the game, but know that it is the passion of these small islands in the Caribbean. Kids from Aruba and Curaçao grow up playing the game of honkbal, occasionally well enough to win world championships on the youth level. Some will end up plying their trade in the Netherlands, where Honkbal Hoofdklasse is the highest professional league in the country. Isn’t Dutch a beautiful language? A lucky few, the very best players the islands have to offer, might one day play honkbal not far from our campus in Fenway Park.

Honk means base in Dutch. Guess what bal means.

The game needs no translation.

The game needs no translation.

Last Thursday, as snow fell outside my window, the warmth of baseball was on my laptop. Important baseball. The USA was playing the Dominican Republic in Miami, and the winner would move on to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. The Netherlands had already qualified. The Netherlands, whose team consists mainly of minor leaguers, had defeated baseball powerhouse Cuba and 2009 runner-up South Korea in order to reach the semis. They’re beating Cuba in the above video, as announced in Japanese. Most of their players hail from the islands in the Caribbean, but some are from the Netherlands proper, where baseball is, if I had to guess, the fifth most popular sport at best.

Now, there’s something to be said for the nature of the tournament; no one’s at the top of their game in March, and you need at least a series to properly determine the better team. I didn’t even recognize all of the players for the Dominican Republic, and that’s a country that could fill a line-up with all-stars. A lot of critics tend to scoff at the WBC, for all of the above reasons.  This is a tournament that Daisuke Matsuzaka dominated in 2006 before being average at best with the Red Sox, so don’t expect a flood of Dutch players in MLB anytime soon. But enough cynicism.

The idea that baseball, once thought of as America’s game, can garner a mention (no matter how small) in newspapers from Tokyo to Amsterdam makes me feel all warm inside, even in March. The best league in the world plays its games here in the US, but we no longer produce all the best players. This is a good thing. International competition is a constant reminder that the world is smaller than it used to be, and that the games we play are capable of bringing together people with nothing else in common. Tell the thousands of Dominican fans who blared horns and shouted their lungs out as their team beat the US that this tournament doesn’t matter. I only wish that we could see honkbal, yakyu, and béisbol more than once every four years.

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Category: featured, Sports

Ryan Brister

About the Author ()

Ryan is studying journalism in the college of communication. He hails from Rochester, New York, and is slowly growing tired of explaining that it's really quite far from NYC. He watches far too much sports and likes to think of his life as a really long (and occasionally boring) book. His guilty pleasures include most of the music from the 1980s and every movie Sylvester Stallone ever starred in.

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