Zair Koeiman, I’m pretty sure, is the only player in National Baseball Congress World Series history to have played four years of baseball in the Netherlands.
He’s probably one of a select few to speak four languages – English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento, spoken in his native Curacao, a small island off the coast of Venezuela that is starting to produce big-league players.
Andruw Jones, who played 17 years in the majors, put Curacao on the baseball map. And young stars such as Jurickson Profar and Andrelton Simmons are making sure it keeps a place.
Koeiman is in his second season as a second baseman for the Hays Larks, one of eight teams remaining in the 79th World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Hays, trying to win its first title, will meet the El Dorado Broncos on Wednesday night.
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Koeiman, who played at Eastern Oklahoma College the past two years, is headed across town to Wichita State after the tournament. He committed to play for the Shockers in the spring and could be a boon to WSU’s offense.
He has some pop, having hit seven homers for Eastern Oklahoma and seven more this summer with the Larks. Koeiman isn’t a big guy and has played in some hitter-friendly parks.
“I don’t mind hitting anywhere in the lineup,’’ he said. “To me, that doesn’t matter.’’
Koeiman grew up playing catch in the backyard with Profar, his cousin, who is a rookie with the Texas Rangers and one of the top prospects in baseball.
At the age of 12, though, Koeiman moved to Amsterdam, where two older brothers attended school. One of his uncles played for the Amsterdam Pirates and was able to get Koeiman a tryout. He eventually played for the Dutch national team.
He was later spotted at an Italian showcase event by a friend of Eastern Oklahoma coach Craig Price. In 55 games this spring, Koeiman batted .265 with seven homers.
For the Larks, he’s batting just over .300 and is prone to streakiness.
“I want to learn more about myself as a player,’’ Koeiman said. “And about how to stay consistent at the plate. I’m a streaky hitter, yes. Whenever I’m hot, I’m really hot. But when I’m not hot, it’s really a struggle.’’
Koeiman wants to complete work on a sports administration degree at Wichita State.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of Division I baseball,’’ he said.
Hays coach Frank Leo, in his 31st season with the Larks, thinks Koeiman has a high upside.
But he worries about that offensive streakiness, too. Leo thinks there are times when Koeiman tries to be the kind of hitter he probably isn’t.
“He does have some juice in his bat, but at times he tries to get a little too big,’’ Leo said. “But he’s been a guy for us for two years now. And he’s a guy you can always count on. Sometimes his at-bats don’t look so good, but when we’ve needed Zair, he’s stepped up for us.’’
Koeiman has driven in a team-high 39 runs for Hays and his seven homers are tied for the team lead. He’s also been hit by a pitch five times after being hit 18 times this season at Eastern Oklahoma.
“I don’t really crowd the plate, so I’m not sure why I get hit so much,’’ Koeiman said. “I’m trying to figure out why it is that I get hit so much. I led the league in junior college in getting hit by pitches. Usually it’s on the thigh or the hamstring.’’
Koeiman drew 22 walks at Eastern Oklahoma, but has walked only nine times for the Larks. Leo thinks Koeiman would benefit by being a more selective hitter and has most often used him in the No. 6 spot in the lineup.
“We talked to Zair before we came to Wichita for this tournament about this being a big ballpark,’’ Leo said after a Hays win Monday night. “In a lot of the summer parks, the home run is going to work for him. But here he has to try and stay in the gaps. He falls in love with his power sometimes and takes a big-guy swing. When he stays compact, he’ll do what he did for us tonight and get that big hit into right-center field.’’
Koeiman’s experience helps. He’s played baseball in a lot of places and been a part of the game’s boom in Curacao. He is inspired by his younger cousin, Profar, and intent on helping Wichita State.
“I still have a lot to learn,’’ he said. “But I think I can bring something, too.’’