USA's Johnson proud of Dutch team
Skipper held bench coach position for The Netherlands in 2004 Olympics
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Even in his current job as the manager for the United States team, Johnson hasn't forgotten the path that got him to the helm of the All-Star-packed American club.
That road went right through the Netherlands, as Johnson explained in a lengthy press conference Wednesday.
"I had retired in 2000, I was completely burned out from baseball," Johnson said.
"And I got a call from an agent and he told me the story about [former Netherlands national team manager and current Classic team general manager] Robert Eenhoorn and they were entering this big tournament for the European championships and Olympic qualifying event [in 2003] and that his son was dying and that they needed a manager.
"And I couldn't say no. I don't know anybody that could say no under that circumstance. I remember going over there and the next day his son died and I attended the funeral."
Eenhoorn, who played for the New York Yankees and Anaheim Angels in the 1990s and is the only player born in Holland to ever hit a Major League home run, suffered a great personal tragedy but has built a strong tradition of baseball that Johnson was excited to be a part of.
After Tuesday night's 2-1, 11-inning stunner by the Dutchmen, he said he was even more excited.
"I managed them in the European Championships, which we won; we were 9-0," he said. "[We] qualified for the Olympics, then went on for the Olympics. I was the bench coach for the Olympics in Athens [in 2004] for the Dutch team. So I know them real well.
"There's some new players, but there's still a lot of the same guys that I had. And to see them pull off two great wins against the Dominicans, I was real proud of them."
Johnson's shortstop on Team USA, Derek Jeter, was really surprised, just like most of the rest of the world.
"To beat any team twice in a short period of time is difficult to do, especially when you are talking about how much talent is on the Dominican team," Jeter said.
"As you say time and time again, anything can happen in a short series. I'm sure it was pretty exciting for them."
The U.S. team advanced to the second round of the Classic, where the Americans will meet Puerto Rico in their first Pool 2 game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. Before they play, they'll get to watch the Dutch team take on Venezuela, which beat the U.S. on Wednesday to win Pool C in Round 1.
That means the American team will eventually face The Netherlands, and Johnson knows from experience that the Dutch club will be prepared.
"Every time they entered an event, a lot of events they entered, Cuba is always there," Johnson said. "So their backs are always against the wall. They've learned how to compete against good teams, good hitters.
"So ... when they went up against the Dominican team, I'm sure they didn't feel intimidated or [anything]. They felt like they could find a way to win, being the underdog."
Johnson said he used current Dutch player Sidney de Jong as a cleanup hitter and wasn't surprised to see de Jong lead off Tuesday's 11th-inning rally with a double.
He also respects Gene Kingsale, a player he formerly managed, and said he believes Dutch infielder Yurendell de Caster, who spent most of last year with the Washington Nationals' Triple-A club and won Tuesday's game with a sharp RBI single off Dominican first baseman Willy Aybar's glove, "has some talent."
Most of all, Johnson said, the Dutch team takes the game seriously and works hard at it but knows how to have fun.
Still, he added, he will have no problem whatsoever with his Team USA players taking it right to the feel-good team of the tournament.
"I want to take the mercy rule to them," Johnson said to laughter.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing them and congratulating them, and then playing them."
Doug Miller is reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.