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A tiny nation with roughly 150,000 citizens on an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, Curaçao holds the keys to the production of baseball’s most talented players. Over the history of the sport, fifteen Curaçao natives have stepped foot onto a Major League diamond, this is a rate of one out of every 10,000 residents. Curaçao surpasses any other nation in this category, truly making the island one of a kind.

When venturing around Curaçao, Baseball isn’t a top or even the top sport on the island. If you walk into a restaurant, turn on the television or speak with locals, they will most likely be discussing Football (or in the U.S, “Soccer”) rather than America’s pastime. As this is the main talk of the town, the question rises: How does Curaçao produce the best Major League talent from the Caribbean?

In July 2018, Curaçao signed an ‘Official Destination’ sponsorship with Major League Baseball, promoting the sport and the players throughout the country. This joint agreement endorses the island as “an ideal destination for emerging players and baseball fans” in the Caribbean, stated by Curaçao Tourist Board (CTB) officials. Spreading and growing the game, a native to the land, Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, is a contributing reason into why Baseball is an emerging and rising sport on the island.

The former Major Leaguer and current New York Mets’ Bench Coach, Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, gives back to his native home on an annual basis. His passion and drive towards the game inspires the youth of baseball in Curaçao. In the off-season, Meulens and other former and current Curaçao native big leaguers help their country by providing camps, equipment and guidance that were unavailable when Meulens was a youth player.

The current Mets’ Bench Coach is the first Curaçao born to reach the big leagues, and the path towards stardom was filled with perseverance and hard work. Muelens’ rise to the Major League level was influenced and sparked by a scout who signed one of the game’s best players: Derek Jeter. New York Yankees scout Dick Grouch had a personal connection with Muelens’ godfather who helped push his game to the next level. Grouch often visited the island starting at Muelens’ age-15 season. Each year after that, Grouch would revisit to critique and further improve Muelens’ gameplay. By the time he was signing eligible at age 18, Grouch was at the front of the line with a contract in hand. Rooted by a deeper bond, Muelens went on to sign with the New York Yankees for $50,000 in 1985. Though not having the strongest career in the big leagues, Muelens set the tone for future and current Curaçao native baseball players to follow.

Ever since Muelens’ signing with the Yankees in 1985, Curaçao has been an international signing hotspot. Breeding some of the best players in the game, Andruw Jones was the next big-star to come out of the island. The 5x All-Star and 10x Gold Glover is one of the proudest products from the island. Current stars in today’s game include Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop, Padres utility man Jurickson Profar, Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius (who moved to the island when he was five years old), Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies and World Series Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen. Not only is the future bright in today’s game, but Curaçao holds a pair of top 2020 International Prospects, according to Shortstop Gedionne Martin and Karim Ayubi are both expected to sign with Major League ball clubs this offseason.

As time progresses, Baseball in Curaçao is becoming more and more ingrained into the culture of the island. What started with “Bam Bam” Muelens has turned into a revolving door of rising prospects and the influx of thousands and thousands of new players entering the sport. Baseball in Curaçao has never been stronger and Major League Baseball will continue to benefit from this dynamic.

Photo: Hunter Martin / Getty Images