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Dutch team gets in some early work

Manager Robert Eenhoorn has his team in Florida for minicamp

The Dutch team will face off with team member Andruw Jones' Atlanta Braves. (David J. Phillip/AP)

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Netherlands manager Robert Eenhoorn understands that the inaugural World Baseball Classic will be the premiere showcase for his country's fledgling baseball program.

With that in mind, the former big leaguer decided that it would be best to have his squad leave the frigid Holland winter behind and pack its bags for a two-week pre-tournament training camp in Florida.

"We knew we had to get our guys in playing shape," said Eenhoorn. "Some of the teams participating in this tournament have all big leaguers who start early. Most of our guys are Minor Leaguers and guys from Holland. We needed to make sure they are in playing shape."

Eenhoorn decided to hold his camp in Bradenton, Fla., at Pirates City, the winter home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, because of his relationship with Pittsburgh GM Dave Littlefield and player development director Brian Graham. It also didn't hurt that Hensley Meulens, the Pirates' Triple-A hitting coach who is serving as a bench coach for the Dutch team, knows the facility quite well.

The Dutch team has full access to the Pirate City complex, which includes four full fields, four pitching mounds, indoor batting cages and training facilities.

"It worked out well. But it's killing me, these two-a-days," joked Meulens, who has just enough time each afternoon between the Pirates and Netherlands practices to change uniforms.

The Dutch team's minicamp began Saturday and will conclude March 3. They will then head to Orlando for a full-squad camp and an exhibition game against Netherlands star Andruw Jones' Atlanta Braves before traveling to Puerto Rico for tournament play.

"[The WBC] is a very important tournament for the Dutch," said Muelens. "It's the first time we get to use our best players. It's essentially that we bring the guys together and let them work for a couple of weeks before a tournament like that."

Though the Netherlands has had international baseball success in recent years, including two European championships (2003 and 2005), a berth in the 2004 Summer Olympics and a fourth-place finish in the 2005 World Championships, which were held in Holland, the underdog Dutch players know that they will be facing an entirely different level of competition during the WBC.

It's a challenge that they readily accept.

"We're looking forward to competing on the highest level," said Mike Duursna, who played college ball at Purdue University. "It's going to hopefully be a good experience to play against very good competition and see where we stand."

"It's going to be a good experience for a lot of guys. Hopefully we can do well," added infielder Vince Rooi, a Pirates farmhand. "It's going to be hard because we have a lot less experience than some other teams, and they've got more talent than we do. But I think the effort that we put in will make up for a lot of that."

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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