Ah, Puerto Rico! The beautiful beaches, the music, the women, the...catchers. The nation that has produced such backstop luminaries as Pudge Rodríguez, Jorge Posada, and Javy López heads into Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic with recent National League Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto joining Rodríguez behind the plate. Soto was also the first rookie catcher to start in the All-Star game, and he's been known to hit a home run here and there, too.
At first base is Carlos Delgado, who holds the home run and RBI records of players from Puerto Rico and after 15+ years is still slugging away effectively in the MLB. The rest of the field is thoroughly serviceable (Carlos Beltrán, anyone?) and the bench full of promising young minor leaguers and a few reserves from the League. Of note to the hometown fans attending games at Dolphin Stadium is the inclusion of former Columbus High and Miami Hurricanes right-hander Carlos Gutierrez, who became the first player selected to Team PR without having played winter league ball in that country. He pitched a scoreless 9th in Puerto Rico's first game of WBC play, a 7-0 victory over Panama.
Team Puerto Rico, who went undefeated in pool play at the inaugural WBC in 2006, dropped their second game to The Netherlands 3-1, but as anyone who watched the Dutch shock Dominican Republic -- and the world -- knows, that's not too shameful all of a sudden. They redeemed themselves in the final first round game, beating The Netherlands 5-0 in front of a home crowd in San Juan to clinch the high berth with help from Yadier Molina's 8th inning double. According to Molina, the play even topped his homer in the 2006 MLB playoffs: "I would like to say I think this here in front of you people and in front of my family [is his favorite play]" Molina said. "It's one of the greatest moments of my life. Definitely I would pick here. The double that I hit is going to be in my heart all my life."
Heart-tugging home field plays aside, it's been stellar pitching that's propelled Team PR, allowing only one run and 8 walks in 27 innings, and what they'll rely on going into Round 2.
"Something we have to do is give a lot of credit to our [pitching]," said Delgado. "In three games, we only had one run against us. And before that, there was talk about batting, batting, batting, but pitching is what loaded us...we're going to keep on playing hard."
Puerto Rico will meet USA Saturday evening at 8pm in Dolphin Stadium to open second round play.
Janie Campbell is a Florida native who believes in the pro-set and ballpark hot dogs. Her work has appeared in irreverent sports sites around the internet.