I’ve never been great at memorizing baseball stats, but I can tell you that Hensley Meulens (45) is the first major league baseball player to come from Curacao (1989 – 2000) and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that baseball has trumped soccer as our main sport since Meulens first got scouted in 1985. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve always had exceptional baseball talent, but Meulens’ buzz elevated things to another level, producing 12 MLB players, including Andruw Jones, Jair Jurrjens, Randall Simon, Jurickson Profar, drawing stronger coaches and baseball clinics to hone our local talent, resulting in our extremely impressive and world-famous Little League team (2004 World Series Champs).
Meulens still goes by his childhood nòmber chikí “Bam-Bam” (inspired by the Flintstones character), but it’s Sir Bam-Bam to you, he was rightfully awarded the Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau (equivalent to knighthood) by Dutch Queen Beatrix in 2012. He holds two World Series Championship rings as hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012)… Crazy enough, he won his first ring during his very first year as MLB hitting coach. Now you might be wondering how a .220 lifetime hitter becomes coach to a world championship-winning team…
I had the distinct honor of catching up with Bam-Bam during the off-season while he was coaching Venezuelan Winter League. He was gearing up to spend Christmas in the Dominican Republic (where his mother emigrated from) and New Year’s in Curaçao, where he grew up and still considers “home”. Bam-Bam speaks Spanish, Dutch, Papiamentu, English fluently as most other yu’i Kòrsou, and Japanese conversationally, occupational hazard of playing in Japan for 3 years. (My interview notes are mostly in Papiamentu and Dutch.)
“35-40% of MLB players are international and don’t speak English fluently,” says Bam-Bam. Needless to say, his 5 languages and cultural versatility have served him well in his major league career as player and, more recently, as hitting coach. He can watch a video with Miguel Tejada, Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres and provide pointers in Spanish, then switch to English when addressing Pat Burrell or Buster Posey. Though MLB players aren’t judged based on their English language skills, Bam-Bam is convinced some tend to stay behind (despite having great potential) if they don’t learn to communicate effectively.
Undeterred by potential language barriers or cultural differences, Bam-Bam played professionally in the US, Japan, Korea and Mexico, he’s the first player ever to participate in all four Caribbean Winter ball leagues (DR, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela) “It’s a personal thing,” he said. “Some might prefer resting. But I enjoy making friends. I like being in different places. I like understanding different cultures.”
“I can go to the ballpark and as busy as it is, he’s still going to wink or smile or say hello,” said Dick Groch, the former Yankees scout who was largely responsible for signing Meulens as a non-drafted free agent in 1985, in a 2011 interview with MLB.com writer, Jenifer Langosch. “What he had more than anything was he was very charismatic and very outgoing. His positive attitude carried him a long way.”
Bam-Bam has been around the MLB for almost 30 years and is notorious for – and exceptional at – remembering faces, recalling conversations, making a genuine effort to sustain connections. He’s beyond generous with his time (even when it comes to phone interviews!) Goes to show, you can take a true yu’i Kòrsou out of Kòrsou, but you’ll never take “Kòrsou” out of a true yu’i Kòrsou. I suspect we’ll be seeing more Championship rings on Bam-Bam’s fingers in the near future!