Despite falling to Team USA in the championship of the 2017 World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night, Puerto Rico’s national baseball team has already established itself as the best team in Latin America. While a championship would have been nice, Los Nuestros accomplished a great deal in this year’s WBC. But first it’s even more important to note how far this team has come since the first WBC back in 2006. And believe me it’s been a long journey…..
How They Began
The 2006 and 2009 Puerto Rico squads were much different than the last two WBC teams. The first two units leaned heavily on superstar veterans such as Carlos Delgado (who missed most of the ‘06 tournament due to injury), Ivan Rodriguez (who was in the latter stages of his career), and Bernie Williams (who was preparing for retirement) among other aging players. Both teams failed to make it out of the second round.
The tide started turning in 2013 when Puerto Rico started shifting away from older players, and used slightly younger veterans still in their primes like Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Yadier Molina, and Alex Rios just to name a few. PR made it to the finals that year but were shut out by the Dominican Republic 3-0. Long heralded as a strong hold for baseball, Puerto Rico by this point was finally starting to live up to its global reputation.
Where They Took It
This year Los Boricuas finally found the perfect balance for their roster. It was a strong mixture of experience (Beltran, Molina, Pagan, etc.) and youth (Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Seth Lugo, Hector Santiago, and Carlos Correa among others) that gave them power and speed on offense, efficiency on defense and strong pitching. Aside from the talent, there’s also the team chemistry, which was stronger than ever this year.
The most obvious team bonding moment is the squad dying their hair blonde. It’s been reported that this has encouraged the fan base to do the same thus leading to a shortage of hair dye on the island. The video of the team’s pre-game prayers have gone viral on social media, Yadier Molina and Javy Baez throwing and tagging out the Dominican Republic’s Nelson Cruz at second base became a popular GIF, and team celebrations after every home run became routine.
All of this powered Puerto Rico to success as they became the first Latino team to reach back-to-back WBC Championship games and only the second country overall to do so. They swept through the first two rounds with a record of 7-0. The only other team do the same was the Dominican Republic four years ago. Their all-time WBC record of 20-9 is the best among all Hispanic teams, their 55 total runs this year were the most out of all 16 participating countries, and Puerto Ricans showed up in masses to every stadium they played in.
What the Future Holds
With every pitch, with every run, and with every moment, this energetic team provided a much needed distraction to the Caribbean island of roughly three million people that’s currently dealing with several political and social crises. They may not have won it all this year, but the future looks bright and they’ve created plenty of anticipation for 2021.