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MacArthur: Jays' Dominican contingent on pins and needles

Scott MacArthur
3/18/2013 12:55:53 PM
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DUNEDIN, Florida - Monday is an off day for the Blue Jays, one of the rare opportunities in spring training to get away from baseball to enjoy a day of leisure.

Not so for the club's Dominican-born players.

Baseball is top of mind as they prepare, nerve-wracked, to watch four Blue Jays teammates - Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Moises Sierra and Ricardo Nanita - and plenty more friends and fellow countrymen compete in Monday evening's semifinal against the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

"It's going crazy," said Emilio Bonifacio. "Even my friends just keep talking about the Classic, everybody. We have a lot of good players so that's what we expect (to do well.")

Reliever Esmil Rogers predicts Monday will be one of the least productive days of the year in the island country.

"Every time the Dominican is going to play people stop working," said Rogers. "That's why I say people right now are crazy, it doesn't matter if you have to work you're going to watch the game."

Like hockey in Canada, baseball is woven in to the Dominican Republic's cultural fabric. Players who've made it big in the major leagues are revered. Rogers cites the great Pedro Martinez as his hero - it's safe to say he's not the only young Dominican pitcher who feels that way. The Alou family; brothers Felipe, Jesus and the late Matty may as well be royalty. Moises, Felipe's son, is five years in to retirement and the current general manager of the Dominican Republic's WBC entrant.

Should the Dominican Republic advance to meet Puerto Rico in Tuesday's championship game, the nation may come to a brief, collective stall. There would be excitement from the row of lockers against the far wall in the Jays' room, where Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Bonifacio, Rogers and veteran pitcher Ramon Ortiz have previously gathered to watch the games.

What's more, there could have been as many as eight Blue Jays on the Dominican team. Bautista didn't go at the behest of the club as he recovers from wrist surgery; Cabrera wanted to integrate into a new team after his 2012 season was shortened due to a positive drug test; Rogers and Bonifacio initially committed to playing but backed out after they were acquired by Toronto in separate deals.

"I didn't want to go over there for two or three weeks and lose a couple of weeks of spring training," said Rogers. "I made that decision by myself and after that I called Alex (Anthopoulos) and said I'm not going."

"When they asked me I was with the Marlins so I just said 'yes' right away because I wanted to represent my country and I know how big it is, winning the WBC," said Bonifacio. "But when I got traded, I called the GM and explained my situation and he didn't have a problem with it because he played and he knows how things go."

Bonifacio admits the decision was difficult.

"It was hard, especially because I told my mom and my wife that I was going to be on the team," he said.

Both J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey commented on the noise the Dominican fans made during last Friday's second round game. Playing in Miami, home soil for the American squad, Arencibia equated the experience to a rowdy road atmosphere. Rogers wasn't surprised, suggesting that his countrymen and women would continue to board flights, now bound for San Francisco, to be in attendance Monday evening.

Japan won the first two World Baseball Classic tournaments; there won't be a three-peat. Puerto Rico is into the final and if the Dominicans win on Monday, the first all-Latin American championship would be set.

The competition, the atmosphere; it would be baseball at its finest.

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