ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – Eddie Rosario remembers racing back to the left field wall at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan in 2013, making a difficult catch to save a critical hit, and basking in the roar of a packed house of his countrymen. "Everybody was like 'Aaaaaaaaa,'" Rosario said, hands in the air, imitating a cheering crowd. "It was awesome. I've never had that feeling — everybody so happy, everybody so together."
Rosario had not played at a level higher than Class A Beloit at the time, so that experience playing for Team Puerto Rico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic is one of his favorites, and it's one he looks forward to savoring again. Rosario has already committed to play for his homeland again next spring — and he'll have plenty of company on the Twins.
"When I got traded [last week], someone on Instagram called us 'Los Twins,'" said new Twins lefthander Hector Santiago. "I said, oh man, I didn't know there were so many Puerto Ricans here. It'll be great to have so many teammates when [the tournament] starts."
Four Twins, in fact, have tentative plans to wear Puerto Rico's uniform when the 2017 WBC begins in March, including potentially half of the team's four-man starting rotation. Santiago told the island's baseball federation he wants to play, and Jose Berrios, a veteran like Rosario of the team that advanced all the way to the championship game four years ago, plans to play again. And Kennys Vargas said Saturday that he's been contacted and is planning to represent his homeland.
For Santiago, whose parents and wife are Puerto Rican and who played six seasons in the Puerto Rican winter league, it's a second chance he's been looking forward to ever since the White Sox denied him permission to take part in the 2013 WBC.
"I was invited the last time, but the White Sox didn't let me go. I was just coming up and was fighting for a rotation spot at the time, and they didn't want me to be away that long," Santiago said. "If everything had worked out the same and I had gone, I think I might have been starting that championship game against the Dominican Republic," which Puerto Rico lost 3-0.
The winning pitcher in that title game was another Twin at the time: Samuel Deduno.
The Twins are assured of having other players in the WBC next March, too. Byung Ho Park has tentatively committed to South Korea's team, and Ervin Santana says he hopes to be asked by the Dominican Republic. Eduardo Escobar recently told the Venezuelan team that he will play.
One of the stronger lineups in the tournament might be Team Netherlands, which will have major league shortstops playing all over the diamond in Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, Andrelton Simmons of the Angels and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox, all natives of the Dutch Caribbean constituent country of Curacao. The Twins' connection? Bert Blyleven will serve as pitching coach again.
Team USA, which will be managed by former Tigers manager Jim Leyland, has not begun gathering commitments from players, but Brian Dozier has expressed interest. The team will have Cleveland's Jason Kipnis and Boston's Dustin Pedroia to choose from at second base, too.
The Twins had 13 players from their major and minor league rosters take part in the 2013 tournament, and it could be a similar number next spring. That's OK with manager Paul Molitor, though with so many absent for weeks at a time, it might make roster decisions tricky.
"It's more challenging when it involves people who are trying to make your team," Molitor said. "But we'll try to make it work because I do think it's a good opportunity for those guys."