1 of MLB's top closers made name for himself at '09 Classic as catcher

March 1st, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Was it really 14 years ago that Kenley Jansen had his coming out party as a baseball player?

For Jansen, who is entering his first season with the Red Sox, the memories from the 2009 World Baseball Classic never fade far from his mind.

Long before he established himself as one of the best closers in MLB, Jansen was the catcher for a Netherlands team that pulled off upsets of a loaded Dominican Republic squad twice in the first round.

On that international stage, Jansen got a chance to show off the cannon arm that would ultimately be responsible for the 391 career saves he takes into the 2023 season.

Back then, Jansen’s job was to erase baserunners. One of those speedsters he cut down was Willy Taveras of the Dominican Republic, who stole 68 bases for the 2008 Rockies.

“My best memory will forever be throwing out Wil Taveras at third. That was a big out,” said Jansen. “You’re talking about bottom of the ninth inning, we’re up by one, if I’m not mistaken. He got a good jump on our pitcher and I was quick and made that throw right on the money spot and luckily we got him out. That changed the whole momentum. That’s my best memory. That changed that whole narrative of the game. We punched out the next guy and won the ballgame.”

For Jansen, it was more than just winning a ballgame.

“It showcased myself,” said Jansen. “You get to be known out there. I had a great arm, but my hitting wasn’t that great. I could catch and block. On the defensive side, I had no problems. I think the Dodgers already were talking a year before that about making me a pitcher.”

Though the Netherlands lost both of their games in the next round in Miami in 2009, Jansen had a personal highlight when he fired to second base from one knee and nabbed Ryan Braun of Team USA on a stolen base attempt.

“I threw Ryan Braun out. I made some highlight throws that changed my career, so thanks to the World Baseball Classic,” said Jansen. “It was a great opportunity for the Netherlands too, and showcasing myself on the big stage helped me become a pitcher.”

By 2010, Jansen had turned most of his focus to pitching. But every once in a while there are reminders of his catching past. Recently, there were some throwback social media tweets showcasing the video of Jansen throwing out Braun, putting the highlight back into the conscience of some fans who are perhaps too young to remember it.

“I saw that. It’s awesome,” Jansen said.

In 2017, Jansen added another chapter to his lore in the Classic when he fired a scoreless inning at his home field of Dodger Stadium in a 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico in the semifinal round.

This year, the semis are in Miami, which is less than two hours from Boston’s Spring Training camp. If the Netherlands advance that far, there’s a chance Jansen will join in on the fun, which he is eligible to do with his designated pitcher pool status.

But 2009 will always be when the international hype started for Jansen and the Netherlands.

“It changed everything. That whole tournament put the Netherlands on the map and we beat the Dominican [twice]. That’s a Cinderella story,” said Jansen.