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Representing Mexico fills Dodgers' Cruz with pride

LOS ANGELES -- From the cheers of "Cruuuuuz" to the tweets of support in Spanish, Luis Cruz understands he's more than a Major League Baseball player.

He's a Mexican Major League Baseball player, and he relishes the distinction.

"I think it's huge," said the Dodgers infielder. "A lot of fans support me since the first day I got here, even if they didn't know who I was. It feels good.

"I'm representing people from Mexico. A lot of people here, Latins, they make me feel good to be here and play and show what I can do."

Cruz has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season for the Dodgers. Overlooked by management and bypassed the first half of the season, he finally got the callup in May, and was the starting third baseman during a stretch drive ahead of veterans Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy.

"I just count on him," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He just took the job and I really couldn't take him out."

After a dozen years toiling in the Minor Leagues with four organizations, Cruz is pleased that his success story is being celebrated along with Hispanic Heritage Month.

"It's very special for every Mexican guy to play in the States," he said. "A lot of Mexican people are here. They are real fans, they always cheer for you. I started a Twitter account open two months ago. I have like 10,000 followers. Maybe 9,000 are Mexicans. The tell me to keep it up. They make me feel good and play with more confidence and relaxed."

Cruz said the baseball part hasn't been a problem, but there was one assignment that had him rattled. That's when the Dodgers asked him to be the catcher for the first-pitch ceremony on Fernando Valenzuela Bobblehead Night, with you-know-who throwing out the first pitch.

"I was nervous that day. Don't know why," Cruz said. "I just felt there were a lot of people watching Fernando. Any time he's here, they cheer for him. It means a lot to me to be here and catch his first pitch. He's big. We've had many big league players from Mexico, but he's the one they remember. When he came up, he won everything the first year. Everybody recognizes him in Mexico. He's one of the big heroes to everybody in Mexico.

"It feels good to be from the same hometown and I play for the team he used to play for. People cheer for me in L.A. since the first day I got called up. A lot of them are Mexican fans who are cheering for me because I'm Mexican and that makes me want to be better. They make me feel comfortable instead of nervous."

Cruz has responded to the support. He said he acted on suggestions from fans who asked through Twitter that he select walk-up music from his homeland.

"I use a few banda songs from Sinaloa, where I'm from," he said. "A lot of people write on Twitter that I should use something they can remember Mexico by."

Cruz's father, Luis Sr., is a hitting coach in the Mexican League. Cruz said in June there were inquiries about his willingness to play in Japan, but after talking to his father, he decided to stay, and Cruz got the callup two days later.

"Now he says to me, 'You see, you can play.' He's the one that didn't want me to go to Japan," said Cruz. "He said, 'You're going to make it.' I never quit. I always tell myself, I can play there. I had a couple friends visit me that I played winter ball with. They say they feel proud, we all started together and they couldn't make it, but they were happy for me because I never quit.

"I always thought in my mind I could play in the Major Leagues. They didn't want it that bad, but I didn't want to be one of those guys. I wanted to be somebody. A lot of guys, they want to get here for a month. I wanted to have a long career."

Los Angeles Dodgers, Luis Cruz