Hensley Meulens one of many passing on the "Yankees way" in San Francisco"Bam Bam" one of several ex-Yanks working in Giants organization
Signed as an 18-year-old international free agent in 1985, Meulens left his home in the tiny island principality of Curacao for Rookie ball in 1986; he quickly rose through the Yankees’ system and would make his MLB debut in pinstripes on August 23, 1989, playing third base at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox.
Meulens would spend the rest of 1989 and the next four seasons shuttling between the Bronx and the Yankees’ then-top farm club in Columbus, hitting .221 in 159 total games with the Yanks. He was released that winter and went on to play nine more professional seasons – with stops in Japan, Korea, Mexico, and the independent leagues among them – but most fondly looks back at his limited time in New York.
“I feel fortunate. It’s been 28 years since I started playing and 24 since I made it here in New York, and it’s a great city,” Meulens said during All-Star Week at Citi Field. “I have a lot of family and history here, and I appreciate every time I get a chance to come back – especially here in this setting with the best players in the Big Leagues at the moment in a game that means something.”
These days, Meulens is the hitting instructor for the San Francisco Giants, and knows just how important winning the All-Star Game can be – after all, even though they haven’t needed to go past five games in either one of their recent World Series wins, the Giants would’ve had home field advantage for Games 6 and 7 in both 2010 and 2012 thanks to NL victories in the Mid-Summer Classic.
“It’s meant something to us, having won two out of the last three years in San Francisco…we didn’t have to go that far, but still, we don’t take it for granted,” Meulens said, before adding in a caveat to the conversation held prior to 2013’s game: “I like to win every time I come to New York anyway, so we’ll be pushing hard for four in a row!”
That prediction didn’t come true, but Meulens still knows a lot about winning, something he says was cultivated from being brought up as a Yankee – and continues to this day as he works with ex-Bombers like pitching coach Dave Righetti and first base coach Roberto Kelly on Bruce Bochy’s staff.
“No disrespect to any organization, but we like to think we got the best foundation coming from the Yankees system, and we talk about it all the time,” Meulens said. “It was a no-nonsense style, and it started with being groomed the right way as youngsters – and once you got to the Majors, you had to deal with George (Steinbrenner); if you messed up he let you know, but if you were playing well he’d also let you know.”
Meulens credits the import of the Yankees culture to the west coast to Giants general manager Brian Sabean, who began his career in pro baseball as a Yankees scout in the 1980s – but despite being the most visible, “Bam Bam” revealed that Sabean and the three on-field coaches aren’t the only pinstripe alumni in the organization; Steve Balboni is an advance scout for the Giants, while Joe Lefebvre, who was a teammate of Sabean’s in high school and college before spending 1977-80 in the Yankees system, is now a senior scouting advisor and also serves as Meulens’ assistant hitting coach.
“It started with Brian Sabean at the helm, he brought us all back here, but there are a couple guys you don’t see on the field who help us put together a winning product,” Meulens said, “and it’s a great feeling to have grown up in the Yankees system and now be working together with a couple guys who were in the trenches with me. Obviously I’m a little younger than them – I came up as Righetti was leaving and Balboni was almost gone, so Roberto and I had a little more time together – but still, we cherish it every day and know that we can pass that knowledge on to our guys.”
Beyond his Giants hitters, Meulens also has a few more potential charges to pass that knowledge on to: those on the Netherlands’ national squad, who “Bam Bam” skippered to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic this past spring.
“I was coaching in winter ball to kind of get ready for it, and I had no idea we’d get to the semifinals,” Meulens admitted, “but the guys did a great job. We had a group of talented young guys like (Red Sox prospect) Xander Boegarts, Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar and Kenley Jansen, and Andruw Jones played his heart out. All these guys came out to play, and that’s why we got that far.”
He looks forward to returning in 2017, and with one Final Four in his pocket, Meulens is reaching for the big prize next time.
“We fell a little short, but I think Netherlands baseball is on the map to stay,” he said. “Our guys are all having good seasons, and there’s more coming up soon, so I’m looking forward to doing it again in 2017 and trying to win it this time.”
Meulens also looks forward to his first chance to return to the Bronx, which will come when the Giants visit Yankee Stadium in September – and if the timing was ever right, he’d love to come back for a certain day much earlier in the summer, too.
“I haven’t been invited yet for some reason,” he laughed when asked about Yankees Old-Timers Day, “but it would be nice to be part of one. I did one for the Diamondbacks last year, which was weird because I only played there for three weeks, but I’ve talked to Kevin Maas, who lives in the Bay Area, and he said (Yankees Old-Timers’ Day) is a blast. I have an important job right now with the Giants, but I wouldn’t mind coming back and putting on the pinstripes and reliving some of those good times I had.”