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Curaçao Reaches the Big Leagues as a Baseball Destination
Do you know what country leads the world in producing the most Major League Baseball players per capita? It’s not the United States or Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. To experience the nation that arguably possesses the most passion for America’s pastime you would have to travel to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. But not Amsterdam or Rotterdam in Europe. Curaçao is an independent Dutch Caribbean island that is still part of Holland’s colonial empire. Its citizens hold passports from the Netherlands, speak Dutch, and honor King Willem-Alexander each April 27th with a festive holiday called King’s Night. When it comes to sports, it’s a New World game that rules the island of 160,000 people. Curaçao produces more major leaguers as a percentage of its population than any other country. According to one database, its rate of “MLBers per million” people is 46.49, a whopping 30-plus points more than the second-place nation, the Dominican Republic, and far higher than the United States’ rate of 2.69. The New York Yankees’ Didi Gregorious has established himself as a star in the major leagues. He was born in the Netherlands but grew up in Curacao. The Atlanta Braves’ Ozzie Albies (top photo) is from Curacao’s capital of Willemstad. (Wikicommons photos) Entering the start of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Curaçao has six players on rosters. By comparison, Canada, a nation with approximately 35 million people, only has 11 players in the big leagues. The history of Curaçao’s affection for baseball dates more than eight decades, when visitors from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela — which is about 60 miles away — imported baseball to the island known for its namesake liqueur and European stylishness. Interest began to spike when Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens debuted with the New York Yankees in 1989, becoming the first player from Curaçao to make it to The Show. Baseball fever became an epidemic after Andruw Jones achieved superstardom with the Atlanta Braves, inspiring legions of Curaçaoan youth to follow in his footsteps. Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen is one of six players from Curacao currently playing Major League Baseball. (Wikicommons photo) In 2004, Curaçao won the Little League World Series with a team featuring future major leaguers. Since Meulens broke in with the Yankees, Curaçao has sent 14 more players to the major leagues. While spring training draws spectators to Florida and Arizona each winter to catch baseball games in an intimate setting, fans have many reasons to plan a trip to Curaçao. In 2018, the nation’s tourist board signed an “official destination sponsorship agreement” focused on attracting baseball fans to the island, helping them understand why the game is so loved there. Each November, Baseball Week takes over Curaçao as young players practice their skills while former and present major leaguers interact with fans and residents. Activities take place at Daou Ballpark and Blue Bay Resort (a Trippzy partner). A visit to Curaçao also has the large bonus of experiencing one of the finest and most unique Caribbean islands. Curaçao is noted for its Dutch culture, intimate beaches, and colourful and historic capital, Willemstad. Baseball fans will certainly think they’ve scored big when they vacation on the island.