Andruw, Profar provide treat for Dutch
Veteran, top prospect sharing spotlight on Team Netherlands
SAN FRANCISCO -- What was Andruw Jones doing in 2004 and 2005?
Let's check the record books.
Star player for the Atlanta Braves. Averaged 157 games per season over the two years. Hit 80 homers, including a league-leading 51 in '05. Led the league in RBIs that year, too, with 128.
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What was his Kingdom of the Netherlands teammate, Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar, doing back then?
He was playing in a high-intensity tournament, watched by millions around the world, having the time of his life on a national stage.
The Little League World Series.
Yes, Little League.
Profar is 20, touted by many experts as the very top prospect in all of baseball. He's probably barely old enough to remember the first Harry Potter book, but now, the spotlight has been firmly planted on him since he was a late arrival to Team Netherlands.
And Profar is sharing the attention with Jones, a fellow countryman who was slightly younger -- 19 -- when he broke into the big leagues with the Braves in 1996.
Profar and Jones were the darlings of the media contingent that gathered to watch Team Netherlands work out at AT&T Park on Saturday, in advance of its World Baseball Classic matchup with the Dominican Republic Monday (9 p.m. ET on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes).
Profar heaped praise onto Jones, whom he admired as a little kid growing up in Curacao.
"He had a lot of influence," Profar said. "We all grew up watching him play. He was the only one there when I grew up. So everyone was watching him and everyone wanted to be like him."
Jones won 10 Gold Glove Awards, hit 434 home runs and logged 1,289 RBIs during his 17-year Major League career that concluded in 2012. He's signed on to play for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball's Pacific League this season, but first, he'll serve as the headliner of a young and relatively unknown Netherlands team in the World Baseball Classic.
Manager Hensley Meulens credited Jones for helping compile this roster, one that upset Cuba to advance to the championship round.
"Andruw has pulled this since August of last year," Meulens said. "Calling guys, texting guys, having guys play because he wanted to play with them -- and they want to play with him."
But forgive them if they're a little awestruck as well.
"If you see him move around, you see everybody's following," Meulens said. "And not only that, he's done it on the field. He's been our most consistent hitter in this tournament and he's leading by example. The camaraderie that he brings to the clubhouse, it's unmatched."
Jones downplayed any elder-statesman talk when asked about his role on this team. The focus is simply on winning, regardless of who's driving in the runs. Jones also made it clear this isn't a happy-to-be-here situation. While many are looking at Team Netherlands as the feel-good story of the Classic, count Jones as one who's not surprised they've made it this far.
"When you sign up, we don't play this game just to play, we play to win," Jones said. "That's our mindset all the time. We're not going to win all the time, but when you put you a uniform on and you get on the field, you play to win. That's what we do. We lost a game in Taiwan and lost a couple of games in Japan, but we stick together, we have each other's backs and we made it here."
Jones was enjoying the prime of his career with the Braves when Profar and others his age were playing in the Little League World Series, so there's no way the parties could have crossed paths way back in the day. But Jones remembered watching Profar as a Little Leaguer, and he feels that there's an advantage to the youngsters on Team Netherlands having such a history with each other, dating back to when they were tots.
Jones hopes familiarity among teammates will help them against the Dominican Republic on Monday, and, the next day too, if all goes well.
"I think it's what's makes it more fun for them," Jones said. "It's more fun now, for them to play on this high level stage together. It's almost like an All-Star type of game. That's the motivation. They all grew up together, played with each other in Little League in Curacao. I'm really proud of all the guys."