The profile of Dutch baseball is rapidly gaining prominence. In addition to just beating Cuba in the 2011 Baseball World Cup, more and more players from the Netherlands are signing professional contracts to play in the United States. There are only two current Dutch players in the major leagues, Seattle Mariners outfielder Greg Halman and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Rick VandenHurk, but more are on the way from the minors, as baseball has made big gains in popularity in the Netherlands, where soccer is king.
One of the Dutch minor league players is pitching prospect Swen Huijer. The lanky 6’9 right-hander was signed by the Boston Red Sox as a free agent in 2008. He has been groomed slowly thus far, pitching in the Gulf Coast League his first three seasons, and playing for short season Lowell in 2011. It was a successful campaign at Lowell, as he went 2-2 in 14 relief appearances, with a 2.43 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. He has pitched effectively in each of his professional seasons, and it will be interesting to see how he does in 2012.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the soon to be 21 year ould Huijer and found out a little more about his experiences playing baseball professionally in the United States, what he does to prepare to take the mound, and his involvement with Dutch baseball.
What do you feel you improved upon most in 2011?
From December on, when I started playing catch, I tried to work on my off-speed a lot since these where very raw. During extended spring I seemed to start to get the hang of it and got more feel for my change-up. My curveball wasn’t as loopy as it was before because I gained a couple miles velocity.
During the off-season, is it difficult to find a balance between relaxing and keeping up on your conditioning?
From the moment I come home I take a couple weeks off from baseball. I try to give the body at least four good weeks rest before I start working out again. Once October comes I’ll run six or seven miles, at least three times a week. Next to that I’ll spend four days a week lifting weights and doing lots of agility.
Prior to signing a professional baseball contract, you went to cooking school and were going to be a chef. Do you find time to cook in the off-season? What are your specialties?
In my first off-season I worked a lot in the kitchen where I finished my internship. After that, I really wanted to focus on baseball. So I started giving baseball clinics throughout the Netherlands. Last year I got a job offer as a pitching instructor for the MLB Baseball Academy in Amsterdam for the time that I’m home. This way I can help raise the level of baseball in the Netherlands by teaching them what I’ve learned in the last five years in the States. It’s a lot of fun and I get to work with the best talent that we have in our country. So all I do right now is cook at home for friends and family, and experiment with recipes. One of my favorite ingredients to work with is duck. No matter if you want it classic with an orange sauce, or maybe smoked on top of a salad, duck is always tasty!
Talk about your status with the Dutch National Team. Will you be playing for Netherlands during the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
A lot of people know that the Dutch won the World Championships in Panama two weeks ago. It proves that beating the Dominican Republic twice in the previous WBC tournament wasn’t just luck. It shows that we do know what were doing even though were not able to play the game as much as you do in the States. I still practice indoors with the squad during the winter to get my arm in shape for spring training. Hopefully I’ll be able to fight for a spot for the WBC in 2013.
Who has been the most influential person for you in the Red Sox organization in terms of giving coaching you or providing advice?
I think everybody in the organization has had a huge impact on my life; from coaches, to teammates, to people that work in the front office. You learn a lot from everybody that is around the game. Two people that really helped me adjust to my new life in the United States were Goose Gregson (pitching coach) and Dave Tomlin (manager). They really looked after me and kicked my ass into the right direction where needed.
How much contact do you have with the Red Sox organization during the off-season?
Since I live in the Netherlands during the off-season it’s hard for the Red Sox to check up on me. It’s my own responsibility to follow the program they give you and be ready when March comes. In the end that’s the reason why you’re a professional athlete, right?
What do you think about more: Wondering if you will make it to the major leagues or thinking about what it will be like when you do make the major leagues?
At this point it’s not even crossing my mind. All I want to do is get in the best shape possible for spring training, pitch in a league where the Red Sox put me, and whatever happens, happens. It’s a long way to the top, but I’ll do everything that’s in my own control to get there.