Special Feature on Didi Gregorius in Curaçao — 2017 New York Yankees Official Yearbook

March 13, 2017 — In mid-January, I had traveled to Curaçao to spend two days with Didi Gregorius for a special story of in the 2017 New York Yankees Official Yearbook. The Yankees shortstop has lived on this tiny island, located 40 miles north of Venezuela in the Caribbean, since he and his family moved there from the Netherlands when he was 6 years old.

During the time I spent with Gregorius in Curaçao — which is part of the Netherlands but became an independent territory in 2010 — he could not have been more excited or prideful about where he grew up.

On my first morning in Curaçao, I attended a workout at the island’s main baseball stadium. The island’s greatest collection of players were on the field that humid morning, as they are three days a week in the winter. Among the 30 players out there that day were Gregorius, Baltimore Orioles star second baseman Jonathan Schoop; Andrelton Simmons, who won two Gold Glove Awards at shortstop with the Atlanta Braves before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2015; and highly touted infielder Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers.

Being at this working really shed light on the pride that these players take in the fact that Curaçao has the most big leaguers per capita in the world. According to the New York Times, there were seven players from this 171 square mile island in the majors in 2014, and in 2016, there were another eight in the minors.

As impressive as that statistic is, it’s even more awe-inspiring when considering that until 1990, no player from Curaçao had ever had a major league at-bat. The first player from Curaçao to break into the majors was former Yankee third baseman-turned-outfielder Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens. To this day, no one does more to grow the game on the island, and we will be publishing a sidebar on Meulens in the April Issue and in the Yearbook (see blog entry above).

Later that same afternoon, I had lunch with Gregorius at Restaurant Komedor Krioyo, located high atop the plush green landscape of Curaçao. During the meal, the shortstop, who had called the restaurant, “the most local place on the island,” ate a few bites of Madame Jeanette peppers, widely regarded as one of the spiciest peppers in the world. Showing his tolerance for hot flavor, Gregorius only laughed after swallowing the peppers.

From there, we traveled to a small gym, where Gregorius began working out when he was 10 years old. At that time, Gregorius’s mother taught a late afternoon aerobics class in a room above the gym. While her class was in session, Gregorius would wait for her, sitting on a wooden bench on a patio outside the gym.

Toward the end of Gregorius’s hour-long workout in January, I spent some time with Romeo Coenraad, an older gentleman who has trained the shortstop since he first showed up at the gym.

“One day I saw this little guy sitting out here,” Coenraad says from the same bench. “He caught my attention because his eyes were following me without his head moving a millimeter. I approached him and said, ‘Do you play baseball?’ Before I finished the sentence, he said, ‘Yes.’ I told him to come into the gym, and I gave him two little dumbbells. He started his first workout with those dumbbells.”

From that moment on, Gregorius and Coenraad have worked together, and the trainer has kept the dumbbells in his office.

“I just had a feeling that Didi was going to be special,” Coenraad said. “I can’t explain exactly why I felt that way, but I just knew it.”

Before we left the gym, Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht snapped a photo of Gregorius and Coenraad on the bench — each holding one of the little pink dumbbells.

To read the entire story, which is full of great anecdotes about Gregorius’s life, be sure to grab a copy of the 2017 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.

The Yearbook will be on sale at Yankee Stadium and on newsstands throughout New York City and the surrounding areas, beginning on April 10.

You can also purchase the Yearbook by visiting www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. Additionally, our long-form content can be found online at www.yankees.com/magazine.

— Alfred Santasiere III