Each August, there's a common sight around the major leagues. Players watch the Little League World Series on clubhouse televisions and comment on the young players' idiosyncrasies.
Few of those little leaguers will make it to the majors, but Jonathan Schoop did.
Thirteen years ago, long before the Baltimore Orioles second baseman became a major league All-Star and pal of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, then-12-year-old Schoop was the star shortstop on Willemstad, Curacao's 2004 championship team.
Curacao, a Caribbean island nation of about 160,000 people, defeated Southern California's Thousand Oaks for the championship. Schoop went 2-for-3 with an RBI and moved from shortstop to the mound in the final inning to get the save in the 5-2 win.
"It was really important for me because we were a small island," Schoop said. "No one expected us to be there, and we won it all."
Willemstad won its three games in the international pool in Williamsport, Pa., and beat Taiwan and Mexico to advance to the championship game.
"It was a tough game," Schoop said of the matchup against Thousand Oaks. "The whole crowd was behind them, cheering for them. … It was so loud. We were like scared. It motivated us, too, to get going."
Jurickson Profar, who has played parts of four seasons with the Texas Rangers and is currently with Triple-A Round Rock, hit a two-run home run in the game, and Schoop recorded the final two outs, allowing one hit.
"I always was a control guy, throw hard, too. I had curve balls from all angles," Schoop said. "That last inning, I didn't even feel my hands. The crowd was screaming ‘USA!' I couldn't feel my fingers. I [thought I] was throwing hard, [but] I was throwing slow because I couldn't feel my hands. The crowd was so loud, I couldn't hear myself."
Playing in the United States was a bit of a culture shock for Schoop.
"After the game, [we would] go talk with media," Schoop said. "We didn't know much [English], but we had a [translator]."
These days, Schoop speaks four languages: the native island dialect of Papiamento, Dutch (the official language of Curacao), Spanish and English. But back then, Schoop wasn't as sure of himself.
"I didn't want to talk. I got nervous in front of people," Schoop said. "I didn't know much. I knew a little bit."
Fourteen major leaguers have come from Curacao, most of them debuting in recent years. In 2004, Andruw Jones was the player Schoop and his teammates looked up to. Jones won 10 Gold Gloves as a star center fielder for the Atlanta Braves from 1996-2007. He was one of the first players in the majors from Curacao and by far the best known.
Schoop and his teammates used Jones as a motivator.
"We went there with our mindset to go in there and show the world that we can play baseball," Schoop said. "At that time, Andruw Jones was a big leaguer, and everybody was looking up to him. We want to make him proud to watch us because we know he was watching the game."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball
Before Schoop came to Williamsport, he didn't see himself as a big leaguer, but that soon changed.
"I didn't think it right away [that] I can play in the big leagues, but after that I [took] baseball more serious," Schoop said. "We were all serious, but we had fun, just play the game. We would play other sports, play soccer, but after that moment, [I] pay more attention, work harder, try to be the best I can be."
For Schoop, the highlight of the experience was returning home as a champion.
"It was the best. All of Curacao was waiting for us," Schoop said. "We had everybody outside. We had a parade. They gave us a lot of things -- one year [of] McDonald's for free, they gave us haircuts.
"They gave us anything you can imagine -- laptops, we got phones, we got everything. We were like kings. It was so fun coming back. … I remember it like yesterday."
Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson has known Schoop since Dickerson came to the Orioles' organization in 2010. Schoop's Little League accomplishments were no secret.
"In the minor leagues, we talked about it all the time," Dickerson said. "If you think about it, for a little kid, and especially knowing Jonathan now, for a little kid representing his country like that, there was already pressure in a way in those levels.
"As much fun as I'm sure they had, I'm sure there was a lot of pressure on them to beat the Americans. He used to bring it up all the time, talk about it all the time. We picked on him and said, ‘You're never going to win a championship other than that one in your life.'"
Dickerson said he grew emotional last month when he learned the second baseman he mentored would be an All-Star. He knows what representing Curacao means to Schoop.
"[Curacao is] very, very proud of what he was and still is, I'm sure," Dickerson said.
Last year, Curacao, which had represented the Caribbean in the Little League World Series from 2001-2009, returned to Williamsport. It was an exciting time for Schoop
"Of course, if Curacao is in there, I'm following it," he said. "Even if Curacao is not in there, I'm following it."
When Curacao came to Williamsport, Schoop and New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who moved to Curacao from the Netherlands when he was 5, arranged a visit to Yankee Stadium, where the little leaguers watched the Orioles play the Yankees.
Gregorius arranged for tickets, while Schoop hired a bus to bring the team to the Bronx. After the game, Gregorius and Schoop hosted the team on the field.
"I was so proud," Schoop said. "I can't imagine how they feel when they were watching a big league game. Maybe it motivates them a little bit and teaches them to play hard. If I can get there, and you work hard, you can get there, too."
Issue 236: August 2017