Sir Didi keeps Netherlands smiling at World Baseball Classic

by

Staff Writer

Mariekson Julius Gregorius is a knight. For real.

After helping the Netherlands win the 2011 Baseball World Cup, Gregorius and his teammates were inducted into the Netherlands’ Order of Orange-Nassau. So he’s a knight — Sir Mariekson Julius Gregorius.

But you can just call him ‘Didi.’ Or maybe, ‘Sir Didi.’

Gregorius lets out a laugh at the suggestion. He’s not much for such formalities. He also doesn’t like to brag about it and besides, Didi is just so much more simple. So aside from his username on Twitter, “Sir Didi Gregorius,” he’s just Didi, except when his teammates in the majors want to have a little fun.

“Oh yeah, a lot of guys do,” he laughed. “I had some coaches do it too, every time they come up to me, they take their hats off and say ‘Sir Didi.’ But it’s just for fun.”

Sir Didi has been a big contributor to the success the Dutch are having during the World Baseball Classic. He’s played in all six of the team’s games, going 8-for-23 with four doubles a home run and eight RBIs heading into the semifinals. He’s doing it mostly while serving as the designated hitter, while Andrelton Simmons plays shortstop, despite Gregorius being the regular shortstop for the New York Yankees.

“There’s a lot to be said about Didi,” said Netherlands manager Hensley Meulans after the Dutch’s second-round finale. “He’s a trooper. He’s a pro. You know, he’s not playing defense. He didn’t care. He’s contributing out of the DH slot.

“Essentially it’s like pinch-hit at bats every time he goes up to hit because he’s not playing defense, and you can be really cold when you do that.”

Gregorius hasn’t even given his role a second thought.

“It’s always been like that since we were little,” he said. “He (Simmons) has always played shortstop, since we were like 6 years old. I told him, whenever he needed a day off, I was in there. I still take my groundballs during BP, I’m still doing the work that needs to be done. I’m taking everything seriously and then having a little bit of fun.”

The WBC experience itself has been a lot of fun for Gregorius, who missed the tournament in 2013 after injuring a ligament in his right elbow.

“I was still cheering,” Gregorius said of the last WBC. “It’s guys I’ve been playing with since we were young. So I always gotta cheer for them, no matter what. I wasn’t there, but I was still there in spirit.”

He’s taking the journey with his teammates this time and soaking up the experience. Making it even more special is the bond he shares with the some of the players in his generation, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop and Simmons, a group who all grew up together.

“We played all the sports together (as children),” Gregorius said. “We played some soccer and some basketball. There’s nothing that we haven’t done. We did almost everything.

“Soccer, I would say Scoop, Simmons and Profar are the best. But in basketball, I got them,” he adds confidently.

One thing that stands out about Gregorius is his infectious positivity. He’s always seems to be having a good time during the WBC, ready with a joke or something else that usually results in a dugout full of smiling faces.

“He’s not faking it,” Schoop said. “He’s like that, happy every day. We all are. We’re all happy to be here playing with each other. We’ve known each other since we were kids. This tournament is really good for us.”

Gregorius can’t help but be positive when he thinks about what the game has done for him.

“For me, it all starts at home,” he said. “My mom played softball, dad played baseball and my brother played baseball. They gave me an option to do any sport that I wanted. I did all those sports at the same time, but decided to stick with baseball.

“For me, it helps you be a better person. Because it’s not just one guy on the team, it’s everybody on the team. The chemistry has to be there, everybody has to work together to win the game. You can have 1,000 All-Stars on a team, but if no one works together, you’re not going to win.

“If everybody is happy with each other, you’ll be fine. It makes you been a better person. You appreciate more stuff. That’s what I think I’ve learned from it, and hopefully I’ll learn more.”