Baseball Journey Far From Over for Dutch, Closer Leon Boyd
For the most part, the Dutch pitcher seems much less surprised by these upsets than the typical fan. Still, it's clear in talking to Boyd that the Dutch players are still in awe of what they've done. In fact, when it comes to Pedro Martinez, Boyd sounds more like a regular baseball fan than a guy that saved one of the biggest games in the history of Netherlands baseball and won the other.
"I went up and talked to him, actually, before our last game," Boyd said, "I went and introduced myself to him in the outfield while they were doing some running and I was shagging for BP. He's a really nice guy.
"The first thing he says, because the night before we played Puerto Rico and I gave up the hit to Yadier Molina [that gave Puerto Rico the lead] was, 'Hey, man, one bad pitch, it's OK, just get after him next time, you have a very bright future.' I'm like, 'Wow! He knows who I am! Holy s---t! Pedro!'"
Boyd's baseball journey -- which he's documented on a personal blog -- has taken him from a junior league in his home country of Canada (his mother was born in Holland, which is how he's able to play for the Dutch), to college in Oklahoma, to Belgium, to the Netherlands.
From April to August he pitches for Neptunus in Honkbal Hoofdklasse (that's Dutch for Major League Baseball, a league that Boyd describes as being "good baseball" somewhere between Single-A and Double-A). The Dutch National Team, which he's been a part of since 2006, practices year-round and with only a couple of players coming from America for the WBC, it creates a different dynamic than on the more traditional powerhouses, where the players have really only practiced together since March 1.
In talking to Boyd, it quickly became obvious how close the Dutch team is and that the real ultimate experience in this tournament for him isn't meeting Pedro Martinez, but rather the historic upsets he's been a part of. The importance of the team was clear when I asked Boyd to compare getting the final out of their first upset win against the D.R. to one of his own personal career highlights, a no-hitter he threw for Neptunus last summer.
"[The no-hitter] was great and the team played great behind me," Boyd said, "But to save that game out in the World Baseball Classic was definitely above that ... I don't even realize it yet, really. I think it'll probably set in in a couple of months when I have some down time and start looking back at it and realize what actually happened and who we actually beat and how big it is for baseball, for myself and for our team and our country."
After that win, the Dutch didn't stop. They nearly upset Puerto Rico and then shocked the Dominican Republic and the world again in a second, validating upset. When I began to ask Boyd about the second win, he cut me off. "Oh, that was sweet."
And that second win is the most impressive part of this run by the Dutch team. One surprise win is a fluke, but it doesn't count for much. I'm sure the Australian team will vouch for that. But to go out and repeat the same feat? To beat the Dominicans again in a stadium filled mostly with their fans? That's an experience Boyd still has a hard time putting in to words.
"Coming down to the end of the game, zeroes all over the scoreboard, it's tough to describe it. ... In the last inning everybody was up, everybody was on the top step of the dugout, every single pitch everybody was, 'Ohhhh!' you know, just waiting for something to happen. ... And then when we actually won it ... that moment, where we got that last run, I mean, that's the best it gets in baseball. It felt like winning the World Series for us."
This isn't the Netherlands' first time shocking the international baseball world, though. Though Hoofdklasse plays only weekend games and most players have full-time jobs in fields other than baseball, the Dutch upset Cuba at the 2004 Sydney Olympics and Boyd says that caused quite a spike in the popularity of Dutch youth baseball. With every game being televised and their two upsets making front page news, he expects a similar effect as a result of the run he and his teammates have put together in the WBC.
He's not satisfied with advancing to the second round, either. When I noted how tough their second round draw is, with Venezuela on Saturday and either the U.S. or Puerto Rico on Sunday, he dismissed any thoughts of his team being intimidated.
"I think the Dominicans are probably just as tough as any one of these teams," he said.
"I expect us to go out there and put up a good fight and hopefully our offense can come through. Hopefully our offense can come through for three or four or five runs and our pitching can keep doing what they're doing and I think we have a chance at moving on or winning a few games here, surprising some more people."