Hanley Ramirez is leading off for the Dodgers today against the Seattle Mariners and tomorrow he’ll be wearing the uniform of the Dominican Republic. Today, Ronald Belisario is a middle reliever; tomorrow he becomes a closer for Venezuela. Nick Punto will be wearing the colors of Team Italy.
The Dodgers’ five World Baseball Classic participants might be gone for eight days. They might not be back for another 18. It’s a weird time to stage a major international baseball tournament with major-league players, but that’s another topic for another day: It’s here and Cruz has been gearing up for the moment for a while.
“For me and Adrian, we’ve been talking, waiting for this,” he said. “I think all our country has been waiting for this. We’re ready, man. I think everybody at this time is ready. Me and Adrian have been training since January 11. I think we’re ready mentally.”
Cruz equated a WBC game to a regular-season game, a big shift from a Cactus League game in which “you play to get ready” for the regular season.
He seems ready. Of his five hits (in 12 at-bats), two have been doubles and two have been home runs. If Cruz were 0-for-12 it wouldn’t be cause for concern for the Dodgers, but it offers at least some indication that his hard work in the off-season is paying off early.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I think all our Mexico, everybody’s waiting for it. I just wanted to start feeling good, getting good at-bats, and I’ve been doing that the last couple days. I think it’s very important. It gives me confidence. I felt really bad when I got sick because now I have a shorter time to get ready. … I didn’t have a goal, I just wanted to be ready.”
Cruz said his timing in the field isn’t where he wants it to be but, unlike Ramirez, he’ll at least be playing the same position in the WBC that he plays for the Dodgers. Cruz was charged an error in the Dodgers’ split-squad game Friday in Tempe when he got handcuffed on an in-between hop going for a ball to his left, then threw late to first base. It was a tough play. For Cruz to get square to the ball when he fielded it wasn’t easy, and he the play at first base was close. If you’re picking nits, sure, his timing could have been better.
“I’m practicing on that too,” he said. “I think I’ll be good.”
When he isn’t fielding grounders, Cruz has been fielding calls from friends and family in Mexico looking for WBC tickets. Mexico has games next Thursday, Friday and Saturday against Italy, Mexico and Canada, respectively.
Another big difference between MLB and WBC: Players don’t get a stash of tickets to hook up. Cruz has only gotten about six calls, “but they don’t ask for one,” he said. “They ask for like three or four.”