Caribbean Island Goes Wild Over Andruw Jones’ Homers
WILLAMSTED, Curacao (AP) _ Every time Andruw Jones hits a home run, it lights the sky over Curacao.
The little Caribbean island went wild Sunday night when its favorite son hit two homers to lead the Atlanta Braves to a 12-1 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series.
``This town is crazy. ... He’s really a national hero,″ said Geovanne Viceisza, the local businessman who scouted Jones for the Braves.
He said people in Curacao keep fireworks at home for special occasions and each time Jones connects, they set them off.
``Everyone is buying T-shirts, lighting up fireworks with each homer,″ he said. Since the 19-year-old Jones joined the major leagues in August, the local little league has been inundated with 8- and 9-year-olds seeking to enlist.
People are gathering each night at homes and clubs and sports bars to watch Jones play. Sunday night’s performance sent them dancing into the streets, or speeding through town leaning on their car horns.
Curazao, a 38-mile-long island just off the coast of Venezuela, has a population of about 150,000, about three times a full Yankee Stadium.
Atlanta signed him as a 16-year-old on July 1, 1993, for a $46,000 bonus, the first day he was eligible to enter pro ball.
``It’s fabulous beyond anyone’s expectations that in one year a kid could do as much as this,″ Viceisza said. Jones started the season with the Class A Durham Bulls, moved up to Double-A Greenville in June, to Triple-A Richmond in July and joined the Atlanta lineup Aug. 15.
His mother and father weren’t in Curacao on Sunday night _ his mother was visiting in Venezuela and his father was in Haiti on business _ but Viceisza will meet them in Atlanta on Tuesday for Game 3.
Acting on the advice friends, including Henry Jones, Andruw’s father, Viceisza went to scout Jones when he was a 15-year-old playing senior league ball.
``You could spot this guy immediately,″ Viceisza said. ``He had this kind of body, attitude, action and baseball instincts that a scout looks for. You could see immediately that he was something special.″
Jones quit school, but promised his parents to go back if he didn’t make it as a professional, Viceisza said.
``He’s been playing baseball since he was 6 years old,″ said Cedric Kirinvongo, a family friend and baseball writer for La Prensa.
Kirinvongo said Jones was on a little league team that went to Japan when he was 10 and later played on the island’s little league and senior league selections in the Latin American Games.
Oddly, Jones was little known in Curacao until he made the major leagues, which are carried on cable television. Curacao schools don’t offer baseball.
Viceisza said because Curacao schools don’t have baseball teams, serious players are forced to make the decision ``to sign at 16 and run the risk.″
One other hometown boy recruited by Viceisza has made good, at a slower, but steady pace. Randall Simon, 20, who signed with the Braves at 17, played at the Double A level for the Braves last season and was sent to the Arizona fall league, where five players in the current World Series honed their skills.
Viceisza noted that was the traditional route to stardom.
``Andruw is abnormal,″ he said.