By Robert Dominguez
They couldn’t conquer the Caribbean, but now the Dominicans are out for World domination.
As the World Baseball Classic kicks off on Sunday, March 6, all eyes will be on the powerhouse Dominican Republic team as it looks to repeat as WBC champion four years after winning the international tournament that pits some of the best players on Earth — mostly Major Leaguers taking a break from spring training — competing for their native countries.
This year’s Dominican team is hardly the same squad that got steamrolled in the annual Caribbean World Series in February, which lost all four of its games and watched as Puerto Rico defeated Mexico for the championship.
While that Dominican roster was comprised mostly of MLB no-names and minor leaguers, the team representing the country in the WBC is stacked with an assortment of all-stars and likely Hall of Famers.
Among the players are Cooperstown-bound third baseman Adrian Beltre of the Rangers (whose sore calf may keep him out of the first round of games) and second baseman Robinson Cano of the Mariners; sluggers Jose Bautista (Blue Jays) and Nelson Cruz (Rangers); plus rising star Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles.
The pitching staff features the likes of starter Johnny Cueto and Yankees reliever Dellin Betances.
Even without the Red Sox’s Hanley Ramirez, who bowed out of the series due to injury and was replaced with heavy-hitting Mariners shortstop Jean Segura, the Dominicans are seemingly the WBC favorites. The team, which is in Pool C this year along with the U.S., Colombia and Canada, opens the tournament against the latter on March 9.
But excitement is already building for the big showdown on Saturday, March 11, when the Dominican Republic takes on the U.S. in Miami’s Marlin Park — a game that was sold out nearly two weeks beforehand.
The U.S team isn’t made up of slouches, either — the roster includes Buster Posey, Giancarlo Stanton, Daniel Murphy, Adam Jones and reliever Andrew Miller.
Yet it’ll be the Dominican team, which beat Puerto Rico in the last WBC in 2013 for the championship, that look like World beaters this year.
Robert Dominguez, a senior editor at the New York Daily News, is also the managing editor of Viva, The News’ Latino lifestyle magazine, and is the co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls.” firstname.lastname@example.org