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ATLANTA, U.S.A. – It’s perhaps one of the best trades the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball have ever made.
In October 2007, the Braves dealt shortstop Edgar Rentería, a native of Barranquilla, Colombia, to the Detroit Tigers for Gorkys Hernández and a young right-hander named Jair Jurrjens.
Hernández is no longer a Brave, but the team doesn’t envision being without Jurrjens anytime soon.
Jurrjens, a native of Willemstad, Curaçao, has blossomed into one of the game’s best pitchers, as he was named to his first All-Star team this season. He’ll represent the National League against the American League in the annual Midsummer Classic in Phoenix, Ariz., on July 12.
Jurrjens, 25, leads the National League in ERA (1.87) and wins (12). He’s been so good he almost was named the starter for the National League in the All-Star Game.
But manager Bruce Bochy went with veteran Roy Halladay, a Philadelphia Phillie who leads the National League in innings pitched (143 1/3 innings) and complete games (six) and is second in strikeouts (138).
“JJ’s been great,” said catcher Brian McCann, a six-time all-star. “He’s been as good as any pitcher in baseball.”
Jurrjens won a combined 27 games in 2008 and 2009, but his rise to stardom hit a skid last season. Jurrjens was hindered by hamstring and knee injuries, which caused him to struggle in 2010, when he went 7-6 with a 4.64 earned-run average.
But his return to health has enabled him to return to prominence this season for the Braves, who entered the all-star break with a record of 54-38, just 3 ½ games behind first-place Philadelphia (57-34) in the National League’s East Division.
Jurrjens, who maintains an offseason residence in Curaçao, recently sat down with Infosurhoy.com at his locker at Turner Field – the Braves’ stadium – during the team’s series against the Colorado Rockies last week.
Infosurhoy: How much would it have meant to you to be the All-Star Game starter for the National League? The Braves haven’t had a pitcher start the game since Greg Maddux in 1997.
Jurrjens: It would have been a super honor, especially considering the pitching talent that is in this league. For sure, we have some of the best pitchers in the whole league, guys like Doc (Roy) Halladay. I’m not trying to think about it, but it would have been an honor to be named the starter. I’m just honored to be in the game.
Infosurhoy: You went from 14 wins in 2009 to 7-6 last year and now you are having the best year of your career. What did you specifically do to become one of the game’s premier pitchers?
Jurrjens: For me, I’m healthy – that’s the biggest thing for me. It makes it a lot easier when you’re not thinking about what is going to hurt when you release the ball. It lets you concentrate more on the hitter and just have fun out there.
Infosurhoy: Growing up, how much did you know about fellow Curaçao native and five-time All-Star Andruw Jones? Was he a role model for your country?
Jurrjens: I’ve known him since I was a kid. He and my brother played together on the national team. He opened doors for me and a lot of other baseball players from Curaçao. He really was the ambassador for all of the players from Curaçao. It is really difficult to put into words what he did for all the people in Curaçao.
Infosurhoy: Andruw’s nearing the end of his career. Are you trying to take his place as a role model for your country’s youth?
Jurrjens: I’m trying to embrace it and trying to put Curaçao on the map. I’m trying to represent my country as best I can. I hope I am doing a good job for the people back home. Hopefully, I can be a good role model for the young players there.
Infosurhoy: How has playing baseball in the United States enabled you to help your family in Curaçao considering you’ll make US$3.25 million this year?
Jurrjens: I’ve been able to do a celebrity home run derby to raise money for kids with disabilities. I’m not trying to go too big, too fast. I’m trying to do some smaller events here and there to raise money and help the community out as best as I can. It means a lot to me to help out there. It’s where I’m from and I want to help others there.
Infosurhoy: From where do you draw your inspiration?
Jurrjens: For me, it’s my family. I’m a family guy and I’m always thinking about family.
Infosurhoy: What’s your biggest regret?
Jurrjens: I don’t have one. Everything I’ve done, I’ve been happy with. I’ve been able to do what I’ve wanted to do. I don’t think I have a regret. I regret that I’m having to sit next to (fellow Braves starter) Brandon Beachy at his locker right now (laughing). That’s about it. No other regrets.
Infosurhoy: You can have dinner with four people, dead or alive. Who would they be?
Jurrjens: My grandma, for sure, because she took care of me. She really didn’t get a chance to see me bloom and become a baseball player. She’s special to me. She would be one for sure. I’d say all my family. My family’s so big we can cover all the four spots pretty easily. I’m really just a family person.
Infosurhoy: What’s your most cherished possession?
Jurrjens: Like an object? I’d say my puka shells. I always have my puka shells (the necklaces Jurrjens wears constantly, even while pitching). They’re in a box over there. I just got my new ones in. It makes me remember where I came from and it keeps me humble.
Infosurhoy: What do you miss most about Curaçao when you’re here?
Jurrjens: Everything – my family, my friends and the beaches. I’m just comfortable there and am around people that love me. It’s a great place for me to be. I always enjoy it there.