Puerto Rico: This Is It !

Special For The Puerto Rico Daily Sun

For the past week we heard a lot from the players talking about such words as excitement, happiness, honor, passion and pride.

“There is not one experience, in the big leagues, than is bigger than playing for your country”, Beltran said.

The quote of Carlos Beltran almost resumes the words mentioned above. After all it is the motto of the World Baseball Classic “Behind Every Play, A Nation”.

For Team Puerto Rico all those nicey words are gone with the wind. Starting tonight the real passion have to be shown in the diamond at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Today starts the real and first competition against Panama.

“The way I look at it, we have to go out there and we have to execute since the first day”, Carlos Delgado said.

“It’s a short series, you have to start winning from the get-go. You have to start winning from Game 1”, Ivan Rodriguez added.

This second edition it’s double elimination format in the first two rounds. The winner from San Juan’s Pool D will meet the winners from Toronto’s Pool C in the second round at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium. Tokyo’s Pool A winners will face Mexico City’s Pool B winners at San Diego’s Petco Park.

“I think I have a pretty good team. I’m happy with the performance done at the exhibition games in Florida“, Oquendo said. ” I’m confident of what we can do”.

Manager Jose “Cheito” Oquendo he really knows they can win.

Fourteen of the 28 players on the team roster returned from the squad that participated in the inaugural 2006 Classic.

“The offensive is pretty solid. We have the experience and they know their job”, Oquendo said. “We have a good offense same as a good defense”.

“The lineup we’re going to put out there is going to be a competitive lineup and they’re going to compete”,Oquendo added.

Most probable as in 2006 in the offensive lineup the leadoff hitter will be Bernie Williams. The former number 51 Yankee in the Florida exhibition games shook off well the rust of two years inactivity by hitting several singles.

Williams, 40, besides the main designated hitter role could be used as a left fielder.

In the outfield Puerto Rico is set with All-Stars Alexis Rios (RF) and Carlos Beltran (LF). The left field will be platooned to start between the new team members Hiram Bocachica and Jesus “Motorita” Feliciano.

In the infield most probable starting roles in the corners will be veteran Carlos Delgado (1B) and Ramon Vazquez (3B). The new team’s double-play combination starting will be Felipe Lopez (2B) and Mike Aviles (SS). Last time around the horn was Alex Cintron (SS) and Alex Cora (2B).

“I know my job. I’m very happy to be here and I will do my best to contribute to win”, Cora said.

The new New York Met infielder will come from the bench this time as youngster Florida Marlins Andy Gonzalez.

Behind the plate Oquendo have “a happy problem”. The trifecta of Ivan Rodriguez, Yadier Molina and Geovanny Soto.

Oquendo to give playing time to the trio Pudge Rodriguez will start tonight for starter right-handed Javier Vazquez. Molina will start Game 2 and Soto will make the calls on Game 3.

“I was nervous with the pitching staff. Not anymore. I think it went in Florida pretty smooth”, Oquendo said. “They know they are a big key and they have to come hard on the hitters”,

Oquendo’s first round starting rotation after Vazquez will be in Game 2 right-handed  Ian Snell and Game 3 left-handed Jonathan Sanchez.

According to Oquendo the rotation could be the same in the second round in South Florida.

According to Oquendo he is also very satisfied with his relief crew. He mentioned he will not be tie up to a  set-up schedule and he will use his core according to game situations.

In the Florida’ s Gulf Coat exhibition trip from opposing managers to coaches, top scouts to mainland media all agreed Puerto Rico is a final four team.

If memory fades, Puerto Rico was 4-2 in the inaugural tourney and finished with the second best team ERA and third best team batting average. The only stepping stone was winning hungry Cuba.

“Fans are looking forward to seeing what we will do”,  Beltran said. “This year there will be higher expectations”.

As Yadier Molina told us the goal is to go to Hollywood. And to achieve it all the team knows they have to win the first two rounds in order to play March 21-23 at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium.

In the inaugural Classic the city of San Diego was the finals home when Japan defeated Cuba to win the Classic Championship.

Japan is the favorite squad to win it all again.

“It’s up to us now to demostrate we can wit it all this time”,  Beltran said.

PUERTO RICO, THIS IS IT !

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