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March 17, 2013

Dutch eager to play semis

SAN FRANCISCO — Most of Hensley Meulens’ pitchers for the Netherlands hail from Holland, the position players from three Dutch islands.

It has become quite the winning mix in the World Baseball Classic for the tournament’s unlikely semifinalists.

“It will be a very special thing for the Netherlands,” Meulens said Saturday. “It’s a soccer-based country, and for the first time I think the biggest TV stations have come out to cover us in the middle of soccer season in the Netherlands. But we’re turning heads. They can’t believe that we’re getting this far, but that’s fine. They’re getting used to us getting better.”

So is the baseball world.

Team Netherlands will play in a Monday night semifinal against the Dominican Republic, which beat Puerto Rico 2-0 on Saturday in Miami. Top-seeded and two-time defending champion Japan will face Puerto Rico tonight at AT&T Park.

Ballpark workers scurried around putting the finishing touches on the field in sunny conditions in the Bay Area on Saturday before Meulens led his team through a workout on the same field where he is hitting coach for the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Japan also held practice, but the workout got pushed back to late Saturday after the team’s equipment was delayed getting to town.

“I have been feeling the pressure from the first pool,” manager Koji Yamamoto said, “and I have survived up to here.”

While Meulens speaks mostly English with his players, the guys are often heard in the clubhouse conversing in Papiamento — the common language of the Dutch “ABC” islands — as they play cards and prepare.

The club has a chemistry Meulens insists is much like what the family-oriented Giants had in pulling off another surprising championship last fall.

“I think it’s a great honor just to be able to be the manager of this team,” said Meulens, sporting familiar black and orange gear. “Moving into the final round here, into our park here where I work, where we won a championship two out of the last three years, wearing the same colors. I think that winning one more championship in the same color, that will be great.”

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