By Ross Forman
Hensley Meulens has had a worldwide baseball career, including Major League Baseball, dating back to his debut with the New York Yankees on Aug. 23, 1989. He has also played outfield professionally in Japan, Korea and the Dominican Republic.
Plus, he was the first to play for all four of the major Caribbean winter leagues.
And Meulens is best known as the first Major Leaguer from the island of Curacao.
Not surprisingly, Meulens speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento and Japanese. And his trading card link dates back to his 1990 Topps rookie card (No. 83).
Meulens was signed by the Yankees in 1985, and his minor league career included being named the Carolina League Player of the Year by Baseball America.
He played third base in his major league debut – against Boston, going 1-for-3 with a run scored and his first major league hit coming off Mike Boddicker.
Meulens moved to the outfield in 1990, and was the International League MVP.
In 1991, Meulens was with the Yankees for the full 1991 season, hitting .222 with six home runs as the team’s fifth outfielder.
He was back in AAA for the majority of the 1992 season, and released by the Yankees after the ’93 season.
Meulens took his spikes overseas for several seasons before returning briefly to the majors. After retiring, he was a minor league coach and even a coach in the 2004 Olympics.
In 2016, Meulens was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame, noted for his 1990 MVP season and 1992 home run title.
But being the first Major Leaguer from Curacao has long been Meulens’ legacy. The island has produced such major leaguers as Jair Jurrjens, Jonathan Schoop, Randall Simon and others.
Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers is certainly one of the most noteworthy from Curacao. But the top honors goes to Andruw Jones.
Jones was a five-time All-Star during his illustrious Major League career, which launched Aug. 15, 1996, and it didn’t end until after the 2002 season. Jones was a .254 lifetime hitter who smacked 434 home runs and drove in close to 1,300 runs. Jones was a 10-time Gold Glove award-winner in the outfield who had, arguably, his best season in 2005, when he was the MLB home run leader, the National League RBI Leader, and the Silver Slugger Award-winner.
Jones played for Atlanta from 1996-2007, then spent time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees before playing his final two season, 2013-14, in Japan.
Jones will be eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018, along with newcomers to the annual ballot such as Johnny Damon, Chris Carpenter, Chipper Jones, Hideki Matsui, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and others.
“He did a lot in baseball; he’s No. 1” of all major leaguers who were born in Curacao, said Reginald Offerman, who was born in Holland, raised in Curacao and still lives on the Caribbean island, where he works as a popular DJ, radio host and late-night TV talk-show host.
Offerman also is the brother-in-law of Dodgers’ pitcher Kenley Jansen.
When I first met Reginald, one of my first questions was, are you related to Jose Offerman. Yes, naturally – that’s his nephew.
Offerman the baseball player played 15 years in the major leagues, compiling a .273 batting average with 57 career home runs and 537 RBI. He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets.
Offerman the DJ and sports fan grew up with Jones, and noted that he “definitely was determined to play major league baseball.”
Now that Jones is retired, he definitely is “an icon of Curacao,” Offerman said. “When he’s here on the island, everyone looks up to him, everyone wants to talk to him.”
Offerman said Jansen is a quiet guy, who spent last November and December in his native Curacao.
“He’s a family man who is willing to help everyone,” Offerman said. “When I’m with him, we normally never talk about baseball. He likes to talk about history and music.”
Especially older music, such as Marvin Gaye.
Offerman said many local youngsters in recent years are looking to baseball so they can someday, one day, maybe, make it to the major leagues – thanks to the path paved by Jones, Jansen and others.
There are no high school or college baseball teams in Curacao.
Nor is there a shop in Curacao that sells sports memorabilia.
The most popular major league teams among the locals are, the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox.
Soccer is, quite possibly, the most popular sport in Curacao.
As for football, Offerman said locals in Curacao are only hooked on the NFL before, during and just after the annual Super Bowl.
“That’s when everyone is talking about the NFL,” he said.
What about ice hockey in Curacao?
Ugh, next subject. There are no hockey fans in Curacao, Offerman said. After all, there are no ice rinks.
Basketball, though, is another story. Basketball is hot in Curacao. He said the most popular teams among locals are the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat.
Offerman said Stephen Curry and LeBron James are popular among locals, and yet Michael Jordan is still No. 1, probably worldwide, not just in Curacao. Jordan is Jansen’s favorite too, Offerman said. “He is a lifelong Jordan fan.”
Offerman said WWE has had a wave of popularity in Curacao and he said the most popular wrestlers of all-time among locals are Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, The Undertaker and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
Locals in Curacao are hooked on MMA, he said.
Offerman said his collection of relics related to Jansen include game-worn jerseys and hats, plus bobbleheads, pictures and more.
And what does Offerman want from Jansen?
His All-Star Game ring, he said laughing.
He hasn’t figured out yet how to get that.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.