Inside Pitch Magazine, Spring 2015

Inside Interview: Butch Thompson

Recognizing and deploying a pitcher's role is key for success

By Robert Spoelker

Hensley Meulens• He was the first Curaçaoan to play in Major League Baseball and the first player ever to suit up for all four major Caribbean winter leagues

• He speaks English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento and Japanese

• He’s nicknamed after a Flintstones character, Bam-Bam, thanks to his hitting prowess playing softball as a teenager

• He’s been awarded with the Order of Orange-Nassau by Queen Beatrix, which is a chivalry order of the Netherlands that is the equivalent of knighthood

• He’s currently in his sixth season of Major League coaching in 2015, serving as the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants
And his teams don’t always win the World Series, but they’re three-for-five so far.

He is baseball’s most interesting man, and his name is Hensley Meulens.

Prior to joining SF's organization, Meulens led the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, served as a triple-A hitting coach for the Indianapolis Indians (in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, 2005-08) and with the Fresno Grizzlies (San Francisco, 2009). He also coached at rookie-level Bluefield in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, for the Peoria Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League (2005) and for the Honolulu Sharks (2006 offseason).

In addition to his duties with the Giants, Meulens runs the Dutch Antilles Baseball Academy back home in Curaçao, where it all began. Inside Pitch managed to catch up with Meulens to break it all down.

Inside Pitch: Summarize your career as a player in 100 words or less.

Hensley Meulens: I was on the Dutch International team as an amateur and was assigned to the Yankees academy in the Dominican Republic. It was nice to be a top prospect but I ended up going up and down a lot. I played seventeen professional seasons and was first player from Curacao to make it to the major leagues, in 1989. I also played in Japan, Korea and Mexico. I learned a lot, playing all over the place like I did, and have been able to take that into coaching now.

IP: What best prepared you for your coaching career? What are the key factors to your philosophy?

HM: Having good coaches in my playing career prepared me for my coaching career. Getting to experience what it’s like as a player to ask for help and then go out and produce, you use some of that for your own [coaching] style. I try to be very patient and very energetic. I want our guys to be energized; it’s very easy to be lackadaisical in our game, it’s very easy to lose focus and not be into it. My goal is to get our guys to have 100 percent concentration and energy, so I try to bring that to the ballpark everyday myself.

IP: How about coaching hitters? What are some of the specifics?

HM: My philosophy is different for every hitter. Every player is different, so every philosophy has to be different. I try to teach our players nowadays that even though there is a lot of technology in the game, you still have to have that ‘feel’ aspect to improve performance. I like to mix it up- I use some technology and data, statistics- but all and all I feel like if guys can create feel for everything they do, they’ll have success. That’s the main thing I try to do.

IP: You’ve been the foremost ambassador for baseball from your country. What is the driving force behind the Dutch Antilles Baseball Academy?

HM: When I was coming up there wasn’t a lot of help in terms of coaching. People back home just didn’t know what it took to become a major leaguer because we didn’t have any!

I’m teaching guys to make sure that school is the highest priority- go to school and study and get an education. They need to be student-athletes so if they don’t get drafted, they’ll still have an education. We have plenty of examples of how hard it is to play in the major leagues, how many guys have failed along the way. It’s not an easy proposition. I support parents who want to let their kids go to school in the states and let them play baseball. If they’re good enough they’ll get drafted and if they’re not they’ll have an education.

I also like to work with our guys that have already been drafted and teach them what it really takes to become a Major League player, how hard you have to work, how well you have to eat, how to get your rest. I bring mental training into everything once a week; that’s part of the game that can be taken for granted because guys don’t know. I’d say 80-85 of the game is mental. If you don’t have that mental strength you never get everything out of your physical abilities. Professional baseball takes a lot of hard work – it’s not for everybody.

IP: What’s your goal as a coach?

HM: The goal is always to win. There’s no other goal. You don’t prepare to lose, you prepare to win. And we are preparing to win another championship. We want to get back to the World Series, we want to win, and that never gets old. We have a bunch of guys back that understand that and that have won it a couple times.

IP: Do you want to be a big league manager someday?

HM: I think it’s in the making. You have to be really patient...somebody has to trust you. There are only 30 teams out there so it’s not easy. [Giants manager Bruce] Bochy is an advocate for me to become a manager, but the process is what it is, you've got to wait and you have to be patient. Hopefully somebody will give me a chance to do it someday. You have to trust God's plan for you and I've always done that, as a player and as a coach. The path is decided for you, you just have to have faith. I have to say things have been going pretty good lately, but it's not without a lot of help from God.

IP: What’s your advice to youngplayers and coaches?

HM: Stay patient and work. Always have energy. Always continue to better yourself by reading, watching, asking questions about the game, being around people who know the game. All these things will give you more wisdom on the history of the game, which is so large that you can never learn enough of it. You never stop learning. I’m still learning, our players are still learning, the rest of the coaches are still learning. Watch games, talk to baseball people, those are the things that are going to take you a long way.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.