MANCHESTER, N.H. – In the last eight years, the Netherlands’ national baseball team has seen something of a youth movement, with players like Andruw Jones, Gene Kingsale, and Sidney Ponson retiring, and players like Andrelton Simmons and Kenley Jansen become leaders. The next wave of talent is already on the way, and Jiandido Tromp is the latest in a growing number of Dutch Caribbean players to reach the high minors.
Tromp signed with the Phillies in 2011 when he was 17, and began play the following year in the Gulf Coast League. By 2013, he was a New York-Penn League All-Star, hitting .299/.353/.430, and repeated the feat the following season when he hit .266/.325/.498.
Despite the two previous All-Star selections and the raw tools he has flashed throughout his minor league career, it was not last season that Tromp started to truly tap into his talents. Between two levels of A-ball, the outfielder hit .258/.313/.483, adding 14 stolen bases.
This year, however, has seen the Aruban native truly break out. Tromp earned the promotion to Double-A after his solid 2016 and has rewarded the Phillies’ vote of confidence with a huge season. Including a three-game stint in Triple-A, the now 23-year-old is slashing .293/.343/.521 while showing excellent range at both corner outfield positions.
As a result, Tromp was tabbed to his third All-Star Game, but first in three seasons. Tied for twelfth in home runs and No. 13 in slugging percentage for the Reading Fightin’ Phils, the young Aruban was also asked to suit up for the Game’s Home Run Derby.
We had our first look at Tromp in Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. For more on the event, check out our recap. Tromp, standing at 5-11 and 175 pounds, looked relaxed and confident as he stepped to the plate wearing his red socks up to his knees and only a Reading cap on his head.
Showcasing a line drive swing and a lithe body, Tromp’s attempts saw multiple balls stroked into the gaps, mostly to the right-hander’s pull side, with plenty up-the-middle. In two minutes, Tromp availed himself well, ripping five out of the park, but was eliminated by Gabriel Quintana, who slugged the most longballs of any player in the derby. A day later, he started for the Eastern League’s East Division as the designated hitter, batting fifth, and played five innings, going 0-for-3, playing a few frames in left.
Afterwards, we spoke to the thoughtful and focussed Tromp while he signed autographs. He was happy to discuss baseball in Aruba, the World Baseball Classic, and his season, and our chat is worth a listen on our Soundcloud station or below.
Gabriel Fidler: We’re here with Jiandido Tromp at the Eastern League All-Star Game, just finished the Home Run Derby. Jiandido, you got selected to play in the Home Run Derby, and it looked like you were having some fun out there.
Jiandido Tromp: Yeah, it was fun! It’s an honour, it’s a big field with no fun, but it was definitely fun.
GF: Did you feel relaxed out there or did you feel like you needed to put on a display?
JT: Not really, I was just going to have fun, it’s still baseball and whatever you do in baseball, you gotta have fun. So, whatever happens, happens.
GF: You’re originally from Aruba, and with the success of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the last couple World Baseball Classics as well dating back further to the Baseball World Cup, baseball in Dutch-speaking nations is really on the rise. Can you reflect on what your place is in this growth of baseball in the Dutch Caribbean and in the Netherlands?
JT: In the Caribbean and with the Dutch we have a lot of young talent, a lot of good young players that are coming up, and what I will say is, expect more from us—not just to get to the semis in the Classic, but we might have a team to win the whole thing in a couple years.
GF: I was speaking with Andrelton Simmons in LA a couple months ago (link), and we were talking about just the same thing. It’s almost like the tip of the iceberg right now with the young talent. He mentioned that you all grew up watching Andruw Jones and he was really the first after Hensley Meulens to really make it big. Is it easier now growing up in Aruba and playing baseball?
JT: Yes, because just like [Andrelton] said, he grew up watching Andruw Jones, and we now have more players to look up to, and that’s what the young players are doing and they’re doing their best to get to professional baseball and keep progressing. I believe in the coming future, we will be pretty good.
GF: One of the main concerns, as I understand it, in the Dutch-speaking islands in the Caribbean is funding. Kenley Jansen was telling me (link) that a lot of places still don’t have great facilities and things like bats and balls are mostly donated by players. Can you talk about baseball fields and equipment in Aruba?
JT: He’s right. All that he said was right, but hopefully, we can get more facilities down there in Aruba and Curaçao so we can develop more young players and more future stars.
GF: And what do you think is the significance back home for events like the World Baseball Classic for fans and for people who don’t follow baseball as much back home?
JT: It means a lot when you have someone from your country playing for your team and reaching that far, it’s a promotion to your country, too. The people from Aruba and Curaçao are just happy to see their native players play on that stage.
GF: And do you think as a result of that it’s become more normal to think of baseball as an Aruban and a Curaçaoan sport?
JT: Hopefully it does so we can get more promotion, but I believe it will.
GF: This year the Netherlands came so, so close to advancing to the finals for the first time in the WBC. It was really just one hit, one play away, but that’s not to say that they didn’t play well enough. They played incredibly against a team that hadn’t even lost. What were you feeling as you were watching this?
JT: I was hyped! I was watching that at the house, and I got excited. A part of me felt like I wanted to be there to witness that, but that’s not all. You can see right there that we are progressing, and I think we will win the whole thing one day!
GF: Your confidence is echoed by a lot of your potential future teammates that I was speaking to, and watching guys like Wladimir Balentien hitting that massive home run early in the game to get the Dutch on the board and the entire exploding out of the dugout—I’m guessing you, just watching from a television, felt your heart filling with excitement and pride.
JT: I got a chance to meet [Wladimir] in person two years ago, and he is a big guy! I know what he’s capable of and he showed it in this World Baseball Classic. It was a pretty cool experience!
GF: Now back to you, you’ve got a nice little moment here yourself. This is your third All-Star Game, your first at the Double-A level, and you’re really starting to progress up the ladder early in your career. What are your thoughts about the All-Star Game tomorrow?
JT: I’m just going to try and have fun with it—I’ve been here before—that’s baseball and you’ve gotta have fun doing it while you’re still capable of doing it. I’m just going to keep progressing and just try to help my team win as many games as possible and see what happens.
GF: And what are your goals for the rest of the season?
JT: Just try to stay consistent and try to help the team win.
GF: Good luck tomorrow, I’m looking forward to seeing you play and maybe, potentially, if things are breaking right, might see you playing with a Dutch jersey across your chest, which I’m sure would be a thrill for you.
JT: Yeah, it would!
GF: Thanks very much.
Not long after the All-Star Game, we broke the news (link) that the Red Sox had signed Brandon Rincones, an Aruban shortstop that, if he reaches his full potential, may one day replace another Aruban at the position, Xander Bogaerts.
Most of your writing is so enjoyable.
So, it is unfortunate to see you contribute to the myth of “Dutch” baseball excellence.
It is a myth because Aruba and Curacao are the last vestiges of Dutch colonialism. The Arubans and Curacaons carry Dutch baseball on their backs. Take away these gifted Caribbean players and Dutch baseball (playing with only people from the Netherlands) probably wouldn’t be among the top 20 programs in the world — while Aruba and Curacao would probably be in the top 10.
You mentioned Aruba and Curacao are “Dutch-speaking islands”. Wrong. Barely 8% of them speak Dutch. Again, that’s part of the colonial myth. Which if I may say so, you should not promote.
People in the Netherlands (Holland) do not consider people from Curacao and Aruba to be Dutch. Neither do they. The interview with Tromp clearly shows he considers himself to be a Caribbean and his home country to be Aruba and Curacao.
Those two islands are mere protectorates of the Netherlands; the Dutch provide foreign policy and military, but Aruba and Curacao are self-governing states in every other respect. “The Kingdom of The Netherlands” is an creation to perpetuate the colonial tie. It must be considered that the lack of facilities — even balls, gloves, spikes — appears an artifice to keep the islands’ baseball dependent on the European masters. Surely an economic power like the Netherlands could provide decent facilities and equipment to their brown brothers if they wished.
I make this point because it’s past time they set Aruba and Curacao free. It would be far better for them to compete primarily with other Caribbean nations, rather than do The Netherlands’ competition for them in Europe and worldwide. Though they would never see the benefit now, it would also make Dutch baseball — true Dutch baseball — stronger eventually. As it is now, native interest in the game declines in Holland; it has for years, as the natural result of the KNBSB relying on Aruba and Curacao to do their competing. Everything in the Netherlands is dominated by the visiting Caribbean players and the teams which have the most of them (e.g. Rotterdam Neptunis Curacao), so there is no parity. Consequently, Dutch players are losing interest. Playing the-king-who-has-no-clothes, the KNBSB is willfully blind to this. But it is so.
Always enjoy your work, Gabriel
Thanks for another thoughtful response to my article, and I am very glad you continue reading and commenting. Dialogue is one of the most enjoyable parts of journalism, and I am always keen to hear criticisms as well as compliments.
I appreciate the points you have made about colonialism, and as a Brit (and referenced in my reply to your other recent comment), something I am keenly aware of. I agree wholeheartedly that Curaçao and Aruba should have their own teams (though, confusingly, they do have teams, but do not compete in some continental and all global championships); however, they are Dutch citizens and, as a result, are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Let us also not gloss over the fact that, as a result, they achieve tax benefits (e.g. tourism, national park funding, etc.) and promotion that they would not otherwise. And, while I can understand that you feel the Netherlands ought to be funding baseball in its Dutch dependencies, it’s worth noting that baseball in the European Netherlands also does not receive funding (or, if I am incorrect, it is a pittance). In Britain, we receive virtually no money from the government.
Now, as to the people, while it may be true that only 8% speak Dutch (I have not done research and, therefore, cannot comment, other than to say that every ballplayer I have interviewed does speak Dutch), Tromp above and every other player from the Dutch Caribbean references how proud they are to put on the Orange jersey. Tromp was practically screaming at the television when Balentien (yes, fair enough, another Caribbean player) homered, but there was no doubting the pride. Would he and others be more proud to support an Aruban or Curaçaoan team? Probably.
I agree wholeheartedly with your point regarding the Netherlands’ National Team and baseball in the country. It is taking the Czech Republic and Germany longer than expected to grow the game using only native players, but the standard has continued to rise, and countries that are more reliant on imports will suffer should rules/attitudes change.
I was careful in this article to frame this as a ‘good for Aruba and good for the Netherlands’ NT’ because Tromp will, in all likelihood, have no impact for the Netherlands unless he develops into a superstar. I have been thinking about doing an Aruban and Curaçaoan statehood piece through the eyes of ballplayers, but have found it difficult to get them to speak in specifics. Your comments do make me want to push a bit harder, though!
Feel free, of course, to offer further thoughts on this and other pieces. I enjoy that you understand that far more is at stake than just baseball, and recent pieces about life in Venezuela and the Dominican through the eyes of ballplayers are very much the pieces I wish to write.
Very best wishes,
As usual, your reply is well thought and cogent. It is so refreshing to communicate with you because you are most willing to rationally discuss any critique, whereas the first response of baseball people on the continent is to fly into an indignant huff that their game have been criticized, or respond with inane personal jibes which have nothing to do with the subject. (“You find fault with our baseball, well your mother wears army boots.”)
Colonialists always take the attitude that they give the colony more than it deserves, as a cover for stripping the colony’s resources. My experience is that Dutch people seem to think this about baseball. (And, by way of ancient history, Americans recall this exact attitude from the Crown and its ministers when we raised similar complaints which led to the Revolution and our independence.
We have since been guilty of the same sins in Indochina, Central America and the Middle East)
One point: You noted that baseball in Britain receives almost no government money and, therefore, you believe the same is true on the Continent. My experience is that the opposite is true for Continental European baseball. I daresay the KNBSB would fold (as it always seems on the verge of doing) were it not for funds from the government. Germany and the Czechs rely heavily on government funds. When I managed a team in the Czech extraliga, the club president told me the majority of their funds came from the local government — which apparently included national government funds. I am told by folks in German baseball that government money is also their primary financial resource. It has always been my understanding that most federations rely on national governments and MLB for operating expenses.
This dependency, I’m afraid, is a principal impediment to the sport’s growth on the continent.
On the one hand, they get very little money because other sports are vastly more important (not only soccer but skating and gymnastics and field hockey, etc). This is why European baseball is so keen for baseball to be in the Olympics: their government funding often has been tied to Olympic participation. Most baseball people (fans & participants) in the US & the Caribbean could not care less about the Olympics.
On the other hand, dependent sports are deprived of the independence and self worth which come with having largely contributed to their own revenue. It is true everywhere. In California, one of the reasons junior college baseball is in decline is each team’s dependence on their schools for most of their funds. This is not so for many of the dominant junior college teams outside the State, which do raise their own funds.
The thusfar insurmountable barrier for European baseball has been competition. It seems to be known by everyone but the Europeans. Every American who has coached in Europe, and with whom I’ve talked agrees on this A few years ago, I sat in the offices of MLB International and their executives were most concerned about two things in Europe: lack of competitiveness and a failure to grasp the game beyond basics kids learn in USA 13 year-old ball.
We need to forget about substantially changing the number of games played. There are too many strong reasons embedded in European culture (and in a lack of incentive to play minor-league ball or college as US players have) to go from 30-35 games to 60 games in a season. We American coaches (and MLB) need to respect that, and to begin packing intense learning into practices and increasing the level of play in games.
Sadly, the European response to this problem is often to pretend it no longer exists. When Max Kepler joined the Twins (and has since become the first player in the 100-year history of European baseball to actually play for an MLB team a full year), German baseball authorities invented the fable that their academies and clubs now provided more baseball experience than an American teen had. In Montana, maybe. But every American teen in every US city of any size can play 100 games a year, plus the off-season activities. What German kid plays 100 games a year? None — including Kepler.
This summer, I heard Tim Collins (who does a tremendous job) quote a Czech player’s claim their championship teams will play 75 games this year. I’ve coached in Europe and coached this player and I can tell you that claim is pure manure. They might play 50 or so games in playoffs and a 36-game regular season.
At the same time, European clubs and federations will spend money for an American rookie ball player, but will no longer hire American coaches to teach them the game. The do not want to invest in the humility and sweat to learn the game and thus become stronger from top to bottom over the long term. When the rare club does, as Mainz did with US NCAA Division-III coach Don Freeman, the growth is phenomenal. Mainz, of course, won the national championship.
The problem with European baseball has always been that they will only invest in foreign players to hopefully get them a trophy this year — but nothing significant for long-term growth. Consequently, all European baseball is top-heavy: the same few teams win their national leagues every year. No parity. Which means kids at the other clubs lose interest and drift away. Look, for instance, at the rah rah they gave to academies 5 years ago and now many of them are struggling to find participants. Why? an inability to teach the game which local coaches, themselves, little understand and focusing the academies on building up the same top-heavy clubs at the expense of everyone else.
Gawd, I didn’t intend this to become a rant! But it is a subject I’m passionate about. I’m a Europhile and I long for baseball to be marked by the strengths of European cultures rather tha by their weaknesses. If baseball in Europe is ever to leap forward, the Europeans must replace the pretense with passion and the Americans must replace unrealistic expectations with a realistic view of the game in Europe.
OK (pant pant), I’m done. As always, I look forward to your thoughts. By the way, you mentioned your response to my comment on the baseball exhibition in Hyde Park. I haven’t received it. If you sent it, could I ask you to re-send?
Take care of yourself!