Welcome to The Netherlands

Quick facts

The Kingdom of the Netherlands includes Holland, located in Western Europe (and also referred to as The Netherlands), plus the Caribbean island of Aruba and the "Netherlands Antilles," which includes Curacao. Let me briefly introduce you to each place:

Quick Holland facts
Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea between Belgium and Germany
Size: 16,033 square miles, or slightly less than twice the size of New Jersey
Population: 16.25 million
People: Dutch 83%; Other 17% (of which 9% are non-Western origin, mainly Turks, Moroccans, Antilleans, Surinamese, and Indonesians)
Language: Dutch (main language); also Frisian (official), English
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Capital: Amsterdam (population: 730,000); The Hague is the seat of government
Dependent areas: Aruba, Netherlands Antilles (includes Curacao)

Quick Aruba facts
Location: Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, north of Venezuela
Size: 29 square miles, or slightly larger than Washington, D.C.
Population: 71,500
People: Mixed White/Caribbean Amerindian 80%
Language: Dutch (official), Papiamento (a Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English dialect), English (widely spoken), Spanish
Government: Parliamentary democracy (note: full autonomy in internal affairs obtained in 1986 upon separation from the Netherlands Antilles; Holland responsible for defense and foreign affairs)
Capital: Oranjestad

Quick Netherlands Antilles (Curacao) facts
Location: Two island groups in the Caribbean Sea: Curacao and Bonaire located off the coast of Venezuela, and St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius, which lie east of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Size: 66 square miles, or more than five times the size of Washington, D.C.
Population: 219,000 (Curacao's population is 170,000)
Language: Papiamento 65.4% (a Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English dialect), English 15.9% (widely spoken), Dutch 7.3% (official), Spanish 6.1%, Creole 1.6%, other 1.9%
Government: Parliamentary (note: full autonomy in internal affairs granted in 1954; Holland responsible for defense and foreign affairs)
Capital: Willemstad, on Curacao, the largest of the Antilles islands

Baseball (and other interesting) notes
Most known for: Producing Andruw Jones and Hensley "Bam Bam" Muelens (from Curacao); birthplace of Bert Blyleven (Holland)
Quotable: "To my left was Willie McGee. To my right was Barry Bonds. And I was stuck in the middle," Holland-born Rikkert Faneyte, on playing center field for the San Francisco Giants in his MLB debut in 1993
Netherlands baseball debut: Early 1900s
Baseball hotbeds: In Holland, baseball has a strong niche following in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Almere, with the port city of Rotterdam and Haarlem -- "Honkbal City" -- the two biggies. On Aruba, baseball is popular in and around Oranjested, and in the districts of San Nicolaas, Santa Cruz and Noord. On Curacao, baseball is most popular around Willemstad but spreading.
First Holland-born MLB player: John Houseman: Holland (Chicago Cubs, 1894); Rynie Walters (born in Schantz) played in the National Association, 1871-1873
First Holland-born and raised MLB player: Win Remmerswaal
Dutch-born players under contract with MLB organizations: 34 (includes minor leaguers, of which 12 are from Holland; the rest are from Curacao and Aruba).
Notable current MLB exports: Andruw Jones (Curacao), Sidney Ponson (Aruba)
Ones to watch in the future: Vince Rooi and Lorvin Louisa (Washington Nationals); Gregory Halman (Seattle Mariners); Alexander Smit (Minnesota Twins)
Greats from the past (born in Holland, but raised in U.S.): Bert Blyleven (Zeist)
Weather: Bundle up, kid. Located off the North Sea, the Netherlands can be -- brrrr -- windy and cold. Aruba and Curacao, however, are nice and warm.
Biggest sports competitors: Soccer
Best baseball museum: Netherlands Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame, Pim Mulier Baseball Stadium, Haarlem
Only in Holland: Will you find Europe's most densely populated and geographically flat country. ... Can you visit a sewer museum, erotic museum and a hash museum -- in the same day. ... Is prostitution, same-sex marriage and euthanasia legal. ... Is more than half the country below sea level, protected by dykes that threaten to give way at any moment.
Only in the Netherlands Antilles: Do more people per capita watch baseball on television in Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire and the rest of the Netherlands Antilles than in any other part of the world.

Amateur and international competition
Dutch playing organized baseball: 30,000 (approx.; reflects Holland only)
Amateur highlights: Numerous European championships; first team to beat Cuba in Olympic competition, 2000 (also beat U.S. team in pre-Olympic tournament); Curacao won 2004 Little League World Series, the island's first world title of any kind.
Biggest international rival: Italy
Wood/aluminum bat use/rules: Dutch Major League switched back to wood bats from aluminum in 2000.
Other important notes: The Kingdom Tournament, featuring teams from Holland, Aruba and Curacao, takes place every two years and features the top 16-17 year olds. Of the Kingdom's top baseball properties, look no further than Curacao. Before Andruw Jones made his MLB debut, most knew Curacao for the orange-flavored liquor that makes your lips turn blue, or its other entertainment exporters, Amstel Light and Tumba (music). T-ball has been around for only 20 years, but because of Jones' success, kids can start from four years old and little leagues are brisk with new signups and loads of talent. Curacao has reached the Little League World Series international championship game in four of the last five years. The Curacao Baseball Federation celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2004, when Pabao Little League from Willemstad, Curacao, captured its first Little League World Series championship (12 and under).
Contact information: Netherlands (Holland) Amateur Baseball and Softball Federation
Perkinsbaan 15, 3439 Nieuwegein
Tel: (+31-30) 607 6070
Fax: (+31-30) 294 3043
E-mail: baseball.softball@knbsb.nl
Web: www.knbsb.nl

Aruba Amateur Federation
Sabana Grandi 39, Sta. Cruz
Tel: (+297) 582 1100
Fasx: (+297) 583 5171
E-mail: arubabaseball_2000@yahoo.com

(Curacao) Netherlands Antilles Amateur Federation
c/o Giovanni Atalita, Kaya Rakeliou 41
Schelpwijk, Willemstad, Curacao
Tel: (+599-9) 510 3227
Fax: (+599-9) 433 3101; + (599-9) 736 8465
E-mail: kgijsbertha@refineriaisla.com

Dutch Major League
Teams play roughly a 40-game regular season from about June to mid-September. The top four teams make the playoffs, which features best-of-five semifinals, followed by a best-of-five Holland Series. Each team also has one minor league team that plays a 37-game season. The league employs the designated hitter. Each team is allowed two foreign-born players. Three umpires (home plate, first base, third base) call the games, which are often low scoring or blowouts. The Dutch League hitters lack power. For example, entering the final weekend of the 2004 season, DOOR Neptunus, the best team, had combined to hit just nine home runs as a team. Nine! Much of this has to with the switch to wood bats in 2000. Good pitching rules: Neptunus' best arm, Eelco Jansen, had an 11-2 mark with 1.70 ERA through 100 innings in 2004.
Teams: From Little League on up, players participate with private clubs. Here are some of the notables: Bussum's Mr. Cocker HCAW; Rotterdam's DOOR Neptunus and Sparta/Feyenoord; Hoofdoorp's Konica Minolta Pioniers; Haarlem's DPA Kinheim; The Hague's Hypotheekzeker Tornado's; Amsterdam Pirates; Almere's Ubink en Co; Oosterhout, Noord-Brabant Twins gedegradeerd.
Most successful franchise: Rotterdam's DOOR Neptunus has won seven consecutive titles, a Dutch baseball record. Its farm team has also won consecutive championships and its Little League has also won championships. Neptunus is one of the best teams in Europe. In 1947, New York Yankees general manager Norman C. Mac Phail sent the Rotterdam club catchers equipment and a letter that said "in the hopes that they will meet your needs and help you to win your championship."
Biggest rivalry: Neptunus versus HCAW
Famous alums (with MLB ties): Rikkert Fanyete (San Francisco Giants); Calvin Maduro (Baltimore Orioles); Jan't Hoen (played in 1999 MLB All-Star Futures Game as an Angels prospect)
MLB talent-level comparison: Double-A (on a good day); Single-A (on a bad day)
Show me the money: Paid monthly, with foreign-born players receiving free housing from their team during the season.
Best ballparks: For players and fans, it's Neptunus Familie Stadion, located in the Delfshaven area of Rotterdam. This ballpark is the home of DOOR Neptunus and also hosted games during the 2005 amateur World Cup, as did the second-best ballpark, Pim Mulier Baseball Stadium in Haarlem. All playing surfaces are natural grass.
Ballpark food and drink: Standard American, Dutch and even Morrocan fare. Have a hamburger, hot dog (Broodje), bratwurst (Rookwurst) and some French fries, although they don't call them fries here like in the U.S. If you ask for patat met (chips with), you'll get them with mayonnaise, just like a real Dutchie. So choose your words carefully. A fan favorite is a Frikandel (meatball croquet). While at the ballpark in Rotterdam you can try a Moroccan dog, a Broodje Kebab, Broodje Shoarma or Broodje Merguez. These dogs are homemade, with pure meat and no fat. Top it off with curry sauce (U.S. citizens read ketchup; Aussies read "tomato sauce"), which is a bit spicier. If you desire a Dutch ham and cheese on a roll with eggs, tomatoes and cucumber, ask for a Gezond.

When it comes to beer, do what Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery does: Have a "Heiny, baby." Heineken's brewery is located in Amsterdam, but other popular brews include Grolsch and Belgian beers, with double and triple the strength. You can also have a smoke in the stands, but it has to be cigarettes, not grass or hash, dude. Dutch gin (jenever) can be downed with a beer chaser; the combination is known as a kopstoot, which in English means, head butt.
Ballpark atmosphere: Weekday games start at 7:45 p.m., somewhat late because many of the players work full-time during the business week. Weekend games are held in the afternoon. Tickets cost about 4 euro for adults and two euro for children. Pets get in free. What musical entertainment do you get in an open society between innings? Try expletive-laden rap music! No one sings during the seventh-inning stretch.
Dutch speak: Where's Charlie Brown and Linus with his blanket? Little League is called "Peanut League" in Holland.
Unique traditions: Haarlem Baseball Week is one of the biggest baseball weeks in Holland as fans pack the ballpark all week long to watch tournament games. Every other year, the World Port tournament in Rotterdam also draws big crowds. Haarlem is covered by the world's oldest newspaper, the Haarlem Dagblad. The Dutch League employs the international amateur "mercy rule," so if one team leads another by 10 or more runs after seven innings, that's the ballgame. Games tied after 12 innings are determined a draw.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.