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Proud of heritage, Bonifacio revered back home

MIAMI -- Like so many kids in the Dominican Republic, Emilio Bonifacio grew up on baseball. The sport was ingrained in him at an early age. But when he first picked up a bat and glove, he wasn't envisioning big things.

Bonifacio participated for the most basic of reasons.

"I was just playing baseball at that age to have fun," Bonifacio said.

Blessed with blazing speed and athleticism, Bonifacio was able to turn his passion into his profession.

"When I was, like, 14, that's when I started really thinking about [pro ball]," Bonifacio said.

Hispanic Heritage month began on Saturday and runs through Oct. 15.

To Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, a Venezuela native, it's important for players to understand the most influential players from the past and present.

"I think it's very important, because a lot of Latin players have come through and have played in the big leagues," Guillen said. "And we've forgotten who they are and where they came from. Now, we have a chance to see more Latin players come through here, especially in Miami."

On Dec. 27, 2001, at age 16, Bonifacio was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Six years later, he was in the big leagues.

"He's as intriguing a player as we have because of his sheer athleticism," former D-backs director of player development A.J. Hinch told reporters in Arizona shortly after Bonifacio's debut in 2007.

Now 27, Bonifacio is an established big league regular and a core player whom Guillen has called the "glue to the team."

Unfortunately for the speedster, his 2012 season was cut short due to injury.

On Friday, Bonifacio was transferred to the 60-day disabled list with a right knee sprain.

Even though the Santo Domingo native is out right now, he remains a big part of the team's plans for 2013. The Marlins anticipate Bonifacio leading off and playing either center field or second base.

In the offseason, Bonifacio will continue to call Santo Domingo home.

His early experiences with baseball revolved around rooting for hometown heroes.

"As a kid, we saw a lot of Dodgers games," Bonifacio said.

The reason?

Dominican Republic native Raul Mondesi was a member of the Dodgers in those years.

"I saw players like Neifi Perez," Bonifacio said of the former big league infielder, who last played in the Majors in 2007. "He was from my hometown, Santo Domingo. I'd see him walking around there."

Jose Reyes, one of Bonifacio's teammates, is from Santiago, D.R. The veteran shortstop understands the importance of baseball in his country.

"In the Dominican, baseball is big," Reyes said. "Baseball there is the No. 1 sport. Every kid there wants to play baseball and tries to make it to the big leagues one day. That was the dream of every kid I've known. That was the dream I had."

As a fan, Bonifacio would go to see Dominican Winter League teams, and he'd go to the ballpark and see Luis Castillo, the former Gold Glove Award winner and All-Star second baseman of the Marlins.

Bonifacio has been compared to Castillo, one of the all-time great Marlins. Both wear No. 1.

Both are speedsters who are switch-hitters. And the two have played for one of the most storied teams in the Dominican Republic, the Licey Tigers.

Founded in 1907, Licey has a long list of accomplished players and managers, including Manny Mota and Rico Carty. Bob Gibson once pitched for them, and Mike Piazza was later a catcher with the Winter League squad.

In 1973, Tommy Lasorda managed the club to the Caribbean Series title.

"That team is like the Yankees," Reyes said. "A lot of people want to play for that team."

Bonifacio isn't the only baseball star in his family. His younger brother, Jorge, is an outfielder in the Royals' system. According to, Jorge is the 16th-best prospect in Kansas City's farm system.

"I've known Boni since he's came to the big leagues, with Arizona," Reyes said. "Boni and Castillo play similar games, bunting a lot, using their speed. They've got some similarities."

Miami Marlins, Emilio Bonifacio