PORTLAND, Maine — His primary season just started Thursday, but it’s already been a monumental year in baseball for Sharlon Schoop.
The Willemstad, Curacao native is back in Maine this week, almost six years after leading his Curacao Senior League team to a second straight Pan-American Region title and back-to-back Senior League World Series appearances in Bangor.
Curacao won the championship with an 8-4 victory over Boynton Beach, Fla. in the 2002 title game but was eliminated by Hilo, Hawaii 3-2 in the semifinals the following year.
“Winning the championship against the Florida team in Bangor was the greatest,” said Schoop, whose Connecticut Defenders are being hosted by the Portland Sea Dogs in a season-opening series this weekend. “It is one of my best baseball moments and the biggest championship of my life.”
It also turned out to be one of the biggest breaks of his life.
“At my Senior League games, a couple scouts saw me and they liked me, so that’s how I got signed,” Schoop explained.
The 6-foot-2, 191-pound shortstop is starting his sixth pro season after signing with the San Francisco Giants as an undrafted free agent in March, 2004, but this is his first season at the Double-A level.
Normally, that would be quite an adjustment and reality check in itself, but when you’re coming off a preseason spent playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic with and against some of the best professional players in the world, it’s not quite as awe-inspiring.
“I can’t really explain how exciting it was for me to play. I was so happy when I made the team. It was amazing,” said Schoop, who turns 22 in three days. “My favorite players are Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, and I saw Chipper in the World games.”
And he was also part of a history-making team that may have single-handedly raised baseball to new heights in Holland after upsetting heavily-favored Dominican Republic twice and advancing into the second round.
“That was special for sure,” Schoop said. “It was a great experience for me and I played with a lot of big leaguers. I would watch to see what they do.”
After earning California League player of the week honors (May 19) and finishing last season with a .246 average, seven home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games with Single-A San Jose, Schoop was promoted.
“For sure, I can see the difference. Every year I keep getting better,” said Schoop. “I just do my best because I hope to play in the Major Leagues. It’s Double A, so you never know when you could get a call-up.”
The slick-fielding, right-handed shortstop knows defense is just one phase of the game.
“I have to keep working and improving on my hitting and keep playing defense. You have to stay consistent,” he said. “My hitting is a lot better.
“I know what I’m doing wrong when I do something at the plate. Before, I didn’t know what I did, but now I’m a lot better hitter. I feel a lot better.”
Schoop (pronounced SCOOP) still maintains regular contact with fellow Curacao native and former University of Maine standout Curt Smith, who is playing high Single-A ball for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Being back in Maine for the first time in a long time means Schoop will have a chance to sample a food he first tried on an off day trip to Bar Harbor when his Senior League team played in Bangor almost seven years ago.
“Lobster,” Schoop said with a smile. “Oh, I like it. I will have one here for sure.”
Schoop, who credits his Senior League experience for teaching him many fundamental skills, said he still feels like he is living a dream that started when he first picked up a baseball at age 4.
“I saw my dad play softball and I wanted to play,” Schoop said. “It’s a fun sport. It’s a difficult sport to do, but it’s fun.”