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August 18, 2009 at 1:02 PM

Q&A with Swen Huijer

The Red Sox signed Swen Huijer as a 17-year old out of the Netherlands in April 2008, after Huijer had received interest from four other major league teams. A 6'9" righty, Huijer has pitched fairly well in two seasons in the GCL, showing excellent control and command. He's presently 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA, sixteen strikeouts and no walks through 20 innings in the Gulf Coast League. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Huijer about growing up in the Netherlands, baseball in Europe, and his experiences in the Red Sox organization. Thanks to Swen for taking the time to share his unique story.

Mike Andrews: When did you start playing baseball?
Swen Huijer: I started playing baseball when I was five years old. I played in Hoofddorp, which is 30 kilometers outside of Amsterdam. I started with T-ball, and after that I played baseball in the juveniles, cadets, and juniors. I developed as a catcher, but when I was twelve, I suddenly grew a lot and catching became a problem because of my length. My coach converted me into a pitcher when I was thirteen. I also played first base, and I was a pretty good hitter back in those days. After that, I played for a higher level team in a league called the A-Line, where we trained twice a week and played double-headers on weekends. We always played in the annual Fourth of July tournament at Ramstein Airbase in Germany. We stayed with American host families, who took care of us during the week. As a junior, I played in the European Little League championships in Italy, and that same year I also played in the Youth Friendship games, which were hosted by my club, the Hoofddorp Pioneers.

MA: Growing up in Europe, what influenced you to take up baseball?
SH: My father played baseball as a pitcher on the recreational level, and he always took me and my brother Lars with him to the games. We loved to watch his team, and we played with the equipment as young children. It’s funny, but he also spent a lot of time when we were young pitching wine corks to us in the garden, teaching us the basics of baseball. When I turned five, he signed me up for the Hoofddorp team and became one of my coaches. We were undefeated our first year of T-ball, and some players on that team are still playing at very high levels and on the national team.

MA: Is the sport growing in popularity over there?
SH: Well, soccer is the most popular in The Netherlands, but the popularity of baseball is growing due the success of the Dutch team in the Olympics and the WBC. Also, Robert Eenhoorn, the national coach, developed a good youth program, and we now have six MLB Baseball Academies in The Netherlands. Players can join these Academies to practice and play under better conditions and with better coaching. The most talented players are brought together in regions, and the regions play against each other every weekend. Altogether, the quality and quantity of Dutch Baseball is increasing.

MA: What was the scouting process like for you? Did you receive offers from a lot of teams?
: I have been through many growth spurts, which changed my position on the field and affected and challenged my ability when it came to agility and coordination. Suddenly in August 2007, Bill Froberg, coach of the Dutch Triple-A team, scouted me and offered me the opportunity to come to spring training with his team in 2008. During that time, we played in an academy tournament in Tirrenia, Italy. That’s where I had my first outing for the Dutch squad against Italy. Around that time, my name was mentioned to scouts for the Yankees and the Mets, and I eventually did some tryouts for them in the Netherlands. The Yankees wanted me to go to Instructional camp in the Dominican Republic in the spring of 2008. The Mets thought I was too raw and wanted to follow me for a year. Following up on the tournament in Tirrenia, I also received interest from the Cubs, Red Sox, Mariners, and Twins.

MA: What made you decide to sign with the Red Sox?
SH: The Red Sox are well known for their great farm system and organization, and I had a lot to learn about the game. I was a raw player and the Red Sox were the first to offer an official contract. For my parents, it was important that I would play in the United States and not in the DSL or VSL, so the offer from the Yankees to go to an Instructional camp in the Dominican Republic was not good enough for them. For me, it was because I wanted to follow my dream to become a professional baseball player, no matter where it would take me. I really just wanted to start my adventure overseas, and the Red Sox offered me that opportunity.

MA: Was it difficult adjusting to life in the United States?
SH: Actually, no. Only the first few days were difficult. I arrived on a Thursday and the next Sunday was Father’s Day, so that was a day of missing my family and friends and being kind of homesick. I called my father and he talked to me, and he said "you have to make friends there so when you leave the U.S. in a few months you need to be looking forward to seeing those guys again in spring training." From that moment, I totally adjusted.

MA: This past off-season, the Netherlands team was quite impressive in the World Baseball Classic. Did you follow the games closely? Do you have aspirations to participate with the team in the future?
SH: The Dutch team did a great job and it was good advertising for Dutch Baseball. They played a really good defensive tournament. I watched some games, but I had to focus on getting in shape myself, and I was playing for the junior national team in Canada at the time. I am too old for that team now, so the next logical step for me is the Dutch A-team. Rod Delmonico selected some young players in the last international tournament - the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam. Some older players will probably stop now due of the fact that baseball is not an Olympic sport anymore, so the youth will have a chance. I really hope they give me the chance to join the winter program with the A-team - that would be amazing! That would give me the opportunity to learn from the best coaches and players in the Netherlands - the ones with international experience.

MA: The 2009 Gulf Coast Red Sox team is quite the melting pot, with players from eight different countries. What has that experience been like?
SH: Well, it is great to be a part of having so many nationalities on one team. There are quite some differences between the players, and you certainly spend a lot of time learning each other's cultures and languages.

MA: You appear to have impeccable control, having not walked a batter in 36 professional innings pitched through today. What are your other strengths as a pitcher?
SH: To me, it’s really important for a pitcher to attack the strike zone. I'm always trying to get ahead in the count. Being ahead in the count makes pitching so much easier, because it gives you the chance to throw your secondary stuff. My secondary stuff is still really raw, but we've worked on it a lot this season.

MA: How do you use your height to your advantage? What areas do you need to work on?
SH: My height is an advantage, but I still have to grow more in to my body and work on my mechanics. My velocity will hopefully come in the next couple years once I get bigger and stronger. My curveball and changeup need some more improvement, and I will have to keep working on that.

MA: What one teammate has impressed you the most since you joined the organization?
SH: Since day one I’ve had a lot of guys that helped me get around. I made a lot of good friends and they feel kind of like family. One person that really impressed me is Pedro Perez. After three years of hard work in Fort Myers, he finally graduated from the Gulf Coast League and he’s doing well in Lowell with the Spinners.

MA: What do you do for fun in your free time?
SH: Before I came over to the States, I finished my culinary education to become a chef, so in the off-season I spent a lot of time back in the kitchen experimenting with ingredients and turning them into good tasting dishes. Down in Fort Myers, I like to watch television, play video games with the guys, chat on the internet with the people back home, and on off-days I really enjoy the Florida sun by the swimming pool!