Classic was a point of pride for Santana

Catcher and battery-mate Jimenez appreciate impact on Dominican Republic

Classic was a point of pride for Santana

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The world was introduced to Carlos Santana during the Dominican Republic's recent run to the World Baseball Classic crown.

Dominican closer Fernando Rodney stole the spotlight with his magic plantain and his postgame celebrations on the mound, but go look back at the photos and videos from the international tournament. While Rodney pointed to the sky after each save, there was Santana, crouching next to the pitcher on the mound, pointing at the moon, too.

Santana wanted in on all the fun his fellow countrymen were having in the Classic.

"That was great," Santana said of the tournament, and of his side-by-side celebrations with Rodney. "He was doing that and I followed him. He's a lot of fun."

Santana rejoined the Indians on Thursday, but has been reveling in the Dominican Republic's victory since it defeated Puerto Rico in the championship game on Tuesday night in San Francisco. The title meant a lot to Santana and to his family -- his parents were in the stands for most of the Classic -- but it meant so much to his country as a whole.

Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who is also from the Dominican Republic, said the win is something he and all the fans back in their homeland will cherish for years.

"Everybody is proud," Jimenez said. "Everybody is proud of being Dominican and having the Dominican flag wherever you go. Baseball is everything in the Dominican. Baseball is the No. 1 sport and everybody follows baseball, even little kids and even girls right now.

"That's something you didn't see probably 10 years ago. It was only guys following baseball. Right now, it's something crazy."

Jimenez pitched for the Dominican Republic in the last Classic in 2009 and set a tournament record with 10 strikeouts in his lone start. Four years ago, though, the Dominican Republic lost twice to the Netherlands in the first round and was unexpectedly ousted from the tournament.

This time around, the Dominicans ran the table, winning all eight games they played en route to hoisting the trophy.

"This means a lot," Jimenez said, "Especially after the last one. We weren't supposed to lose against the Netherlands and we did. Everyone in the Dominican felt disappointed. They didn't want to listen to anything about baseball after that. We lost to the Netherlands. You don't want to take credit away from them, but the team we had, on paper, we weren't supposed to lose."

Santana played a key role for the Dominican in its run to the title this spring.

The 26-year-old catcher played in all eight games, hitting .273 (6-for-22) with two home runs, three RBIs, five runs scored and nine walks. Santana served as the starting catcher, helping lead a pitching staff that was highlighted by Rodney's scoreless run as the team's closer.

It was probably more action behind the plate than Santana would have received had he stayed in camp with Cleveland, but he was ready and willing to take on that kind of workload.

"I worked hard for that," Santana said. "That's why I played winter ball and came early here. I was preparing because I knew I'd be playing every game. And I didn't want a day off. I don't like that. I like to keep playing. It was fine. I liked it. If they offer me the opportunity again, I'm going."

Santana -- who hit .252 with 18 home runs, 27 doubles, 72 runs, 76 RBIs and 91 walks in 143 games for the Indians last year -- believes playing in the World Baseball Classic will benefit him this season.

"This helped me a lot," Santana said. "I was with players who had patience with younger guys like me. Robinson Cano helped me a lot. My manager, Tony Pena, talked to me a lot. It helped me a lot. It was a good experience for my career."

Jimenez remained with the Indians this spring to focus on getting ready for the regular season. The pitcher paid close attention to the World Baseball Classic, though. On a few occasions, he and some of Cleveland's Minor Leaguers got together for dinner to watch the games.

When the Dominican Republic beat Team USA, Jimenez and the other players got a few strange looks as they cheered inside a restaurant.

"I was their No. 1 fan," Jimenez said with a wide grin. "I went out with my brother-in-law and some of the guys from the Minor Leagues, and we were just yelling every time they scored a run. The American people, when we played the United States, every time we scored, we'd be shouting and yelling, and everybody was looking at us."

Jimenez hopes that four years from now the Dominicans can try to defend their title against Team USA.

"That would be the No. 1 thing," Jimenez said. "The United States has the most baseball players in the Major Leagues. We're a little island. For the next Classic, everyone is going to be expecting the Dominican against the U.S.A."

During the Classic this spring, a friend of Rodney's in San Francisco handed the closer a plantain, which the pitcher stuck in his belt for good luck when he was not pitching. The banana-shaped piece of fruit -- prevalent in the Dominican Republic -- was deemed magical as the team continued to cruise.

Asked if plantains actually have magic powers, Jimenez laughed.

"They're magical to us," Jimenez said. "That's all we eat. At breakfast, at night, even at lunch sometimes. That's pretty much what you eat. It's part of our culture. That was fun. It was fun to see that, when he got it, it was all green. By the time the Classic was over, it was ripe, it was yellow."

Santana rolled his eyes when asked about the lucky fruit.

"That was crazy," the catcher said with a smile.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.