Modern Dutch Heros: Xander Bogaerts

When people talk about baseball, they usually think of Major League Baseball in North America or even the leagues in Japan and South Korea. But you usually don’t think of the Netherlands producing the best of the best baseball players in the world. In the 1970s and 80s there was Bert Blyleven who was born in the Netherlands, then moved to Canada when he was two (then later to the United States). More recently, Rick van den Hurk from North Brabant, the Netherlands, pitched in the MLB and currently plays for Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. And the Dutch Caribbean has produced a dozen or so players, some of whom have made it all the way to “The Show” (the nickname baseball players have for the Major League).

But none of them have had near the impact that one player from Aruba has had. This is Xander Bogaerts, shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. Bogaerts was first signed to the Red Sox franchise in 2009 and played in their minor league teams until he was “called up” to play at the end of the 2013 regular season and throughout the postseason, helping the Red Sox win the World Series that year. It was a special year, as well, with the Boston Marathon bombing happening just after opening day in Boston. The event, that shook the city and the subsequent Red Sox baseball season, coined the term “Boston Strong”. Bogaerts certainly lived up to that moniker when he was called up to finish off the season and helped the team take the championship. This would not be his first World Series with the Red Sox, as he was also a part of the 2018 team when the Red Sox won again.

Xander Bogaerts was born in San Nicolaas, Aruba, in 1992, and from a young age he and his twin brother, Jair, were playing baseball on the island and throughout various youth leagues in the Caribbean. He came from very humble beginnings: his mother raised her sons by herself after their father left at a very young age, and though it was very difficult, she instilled a sense of responsibility, accountability and maturity in her twin sons that helped them become mature athletes. When the duo were in their teens, a Boston Red Sox scout spotted Jair playing and was interested in his skills. Jair actually told the scout that if he liked what he saw in his own abilities, he should check out his brother. The scout followed Jair’s advice and – long story short – signed Xander to a contract that included a $410,000 sign-on bonus. Jair also signed with the Red Sox but was traded to the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2012 season.

There have been four other baseball players from Aruba to have made it to the Major Leagues, but none have been as successful as Xander Bogaerts. Not only has he won two World Series with the Red Sox, but he was also a part of four All-Star Games, a part of the All-MLB Team (an honour given to the best players across both the American and National leagues at each position during the season) and is a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner – an award given by coaches and managers to the best offensive player at each position. It’s also said that his impact with his teammates is so good that he is often called team captain, though he prefers his nickname X-man! He also played for the Dutch national team in the 2011 Baseball World Cup, helping them win the tournament.

Being an excellent baseball player from the Caribbean is a feat unto itself, but what makes Xander Bogaerts a hero is his commitment to his home island of Aruba. He is a hero on the island and in his birth town of San Nicolaas, where an elementary school has been named after him. Additionally, with the outbreak of Covid-19, Aruba’s tourism was hit extremely hard. In November 2021, Bogaerts teamed up with CEDE Aruba to launch the Happy to Give Back relief initiative in response to the outbreak and economic hardships that ensued. The program aimed to provide food, shelter and financial support to the island’s most vulnerable people, who had lost so much during the pandemic – many of them their livelihoods in tourism, with the drastic drop in visitors to the island. It was estimated that around 25% of Arubans lost their jobs when the estimated 1.2 million annual tourists were not able to visit this beautiful island in the Dutch Caribbean. It is estimated that the program raised over half a million dollars before the end of 2021.

Locals on the island have said that Xander Bogaerts is a down-to-earth person when he visits, and is their true hometown hero, having come to Aruba’s need during the pandemic, even building a state-of-the-art baseball field in his hometown. The governor of Aruba also awarded Xander with a Knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau, one of the highest civilian distinctions in the Netherlands.

Written by Marla Thomson