By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
Fort Myers, Fla.- The Dominican Republic opened up their first day of practice at the Minnesota Twins Hammond Stadium Lee County Sports Complex yesterday.
Manager Rodney Linares and general manager Nelson Cruz, who is still playing with the San Diego Padres, built a top-heavy team that has a chance to rule the baseball world with one of the best-built rosters in the history of the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican Republic will open up against Venezuela in the first game of the World Baseball Classic in Pool D at Loan Depot Park in Miami at 7 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.
The Dominican Republic held their press conference yesterday with manager Rodney Linares, general manager Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Jeremy Pena prior to their first practice.
World Baseball Network attended the press conference yesterday and asked Robinson Cano what it was like to play in last month’s Caribbean Series against Venezuela along with going up against the similar pitching staff Venezuela manager Omar Lopez will have for the World Baseball Classic.
The D.R. is coming off a victory in the Caribbean Series final over Venezuela, and while the rosters are different in the WBC, with more Major League Baseball players on each team, the rivalry is fierce.
“Well, we know the team we’re going to face that is going after us, everybody knows that we’ve got to be ready to do it,” said Robinson Cano, a veteran of 18 Major League Baseball seasons who played for the Dominican Republic’s Tigres del Licey in the 2023 Caribbean Series. “Playing in the Caribbean Series, that atmosphere in that ballpark 40,000 people. We have never seen that in the Caribbean, and seeing those two guys pitching there, they both pitched really good.”
Former Chicago Cub Erick Leal started the final for Venezuela against the D.R.’s Cesar Valdez at the Caribbean Series.
“The last game of the Caribbean Series, we faced Leal, and it wasn’t in our favor against him,” Cano said. “He was really good, and all of the guys, we know the talent they have with Miguel and Altuve. We just have to be ready by the first game.”
Nelson Cruz also feels confident on the team that he helped built with Rodney Linares.
“It;s going to be a great atmosphere. This is a big deal for us. As a Dominican, we know [what it means]as a manager and as a player, to play with the name of the country in front of us and we’re going to fight for it,” Cruz said. “We have what it takes to win the whole thing.”
Cruz is fulfilling a big obligation in what will possibly be his final major league season. To add a World Baseball Classic title to his resume will add so much to his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Linares, the manager, knows the depth of the Dominican Republic’s infield, with 2022 World Series Most Valuable Award winner Jeremy Pena, Willy Adames, and Wander Franco. Even without Vladimir Guerrero Jr. during the start of the pool round, the Dominican Republic has a fantastically powerful offense.
“Offensively, on paper, we’re pretty stacked, and its all about the guys that are going to have to play different positions with Vladdy out now,” Linares said. “But we’re confident that the guys are going to do what we ask them to do. We talked about how proud we are of the group and how being proud to be Dominican is going to help us.”
Having Manny Machado and Rafael Devers to platoon playing the infield or be the designated hitter on the lineup card is a good problem for Linares to have during the tournament.
The Dominican Republic will play two exhibition games. The first is against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. EST in North Port, Florida and then Thursday against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Florida at 1:05 p.m.
They’ll be traveling to Miami on Friday for the start of Pool D in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.