Dutch youngsters a testament to Jones' influence

Dutch youngsters a testament to Jones' influence

SAN FRANCISCO -- Think of a child from the Bronx in the 1950s getting to meet Mickey Mantle, then multiply that excitement by a thousand.

Players for the Kingdom of the Netherlands know the feeling.

Andruw Jones made it cool for youngsters on the island of Curacao to be baseball players, and the Dutch National Team is now reaping the benefits.

To teammates who idolize him, Jones is a living legend sitting in the dugout at AT&T Park.

"If you see him move around, you see everybody following," Dutch manager Hensley Meulens said.

Jones broke into Major League Baseball at age 19 with the Atlanta Braves and became an instant sensation after hitting home runs in his first two plate appearances of the 1996 World Series, the youngest player to homer in the Fall Classic.

Jones used his star status to help his homeland, organizing tournaments and giving kids opportunities that he did not have.

There was a spike in baseball's popularity in Curacao as Jones became a star in the United States, nearly 2,000 miles away.

"He was very popular," said Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar, who has made a name for himself as one of the game's future stars. "Everybody was following him."

Players such as Profar and Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop took the platform Jones provided and moved baseball to a higher level when they starred for the Caribbean team that won the 2004 Little League World Series.

That year, Jones led the National League with 51 home runs and 128 RBIs and finishing second to Albert Pujols in the voting for the National League MVP Award.

At age 35, Jones is not the same player he was then.

He is no longer in the Majors, having signed a one-year contract with Japan's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in December after struggling with the Yankees last season. But he is still a five-time All-Star with 434 homers and 1,933 hits in 16 Major League seasons, the player revered by new teammates who all want to become the next Jones.

"Growing up, I looked up to him as a role model, and now I am on the same team as him," first baseman Curt Smith said.

Jones has matured into a leader for a club that needed one for the World Baseball Classic.

"The first time [Jones] was with us in 2006, he was a little different," said Meulens, a former Major Leaguer who Jones cited as an influence on his own childhood. "He was a superstar at the time, at the top of his game. Now he's a little older, more mature and more of a leader."

Jones has been the most consistent hitter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, hitting .348 in the Classic entering his club's first semifinal appearance on Monday at 9 p.m. ET against an unbeaten Dominican Republic team in a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.

"All I am trying to do is go out there and lead by example," Jones said. "Do the little things to win."

Jones realizes his star power has diminished. That's why he's playing in Japan and why he has been on four Major League teams in the past five seasons after playing his first 12 years with the Braves.

Though he won't admit it, Jones has taken on a mentoring role while enjoying this ride for a country not many expected to make it this far.

"He is kind of like a big brother," said Randolph Oduber, currently a Minor Leaguer in the Nationals' organization. "He is big in the world. Everybody knows him. It's good to have him on the team, because he makes the team better."

To his team, he's still the old Andruw Jones, and that might be enough to turn a few more heads this week in San Francisco.

Sam King is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.