'Like a dream': Santander returns to Orioles camp after Classic

March 21st, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- In his first World Baseball Classic at-bat on March 11, jacked a solo homer into the second deck in right field at loanDepot park. He celebrated with his Venezuelan teammates when he made it to home plate, and again later that night when they closed out a statement victory over the Dominican Republic.

It was the start of a memorable eight days in Miami for Santander, who returned to Orioles camp Tuesday morning with high praise for his time at the Classic.

“Like a dream. Unbelievable experience,” Santander said. “Very grateful and happy for the opportunity. That’s something that I’ll never forget. Being there, playing like a kid but in big situations -- oh my gosh, it’s amazing. It’s something really, really good.”

On a Venezuelan team loaded with stars such as , , , and others, Santander may not have been the biggest name on the roster entering the World Baseball Classic, especially to fans outside of Baltimore or his hometown of Margarita Island. But the 28-year-old outfielder earned himself plenty of attention on the national stage.

Over the four games of Pool D play, Santander went 6-for-13 with one double, one triple, two homers, four RBIs and four runs scored. The Venezuelans went 4-0 -- notching victories over the Dominican Republic, Israel, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico -- to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.

“So proud of him,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Super happy for him and his family, to do what he did on a big stage like that, get national exposure. He’s earned it.”

Venezuela’s Classic run ended as soon as the single-elimination portion of the event began. On Saturday night, Santander went 0-for-4 with a walk as the Venezuelans lost 9-7 to the United States, which has fellow Baltimore outfielder on its roster.

Even though Venezuela didn’t capture its first World Baseball Classic championship, Santander enjoyed spending the time with his countrymen and coming together with them to play in an electric atmosphere.

“I feel really proud to be able to wear that jersey, representing the whole country, family, my hometown,” Santander said. “That’s something that as a player you never forget that big moment. The most important thing is that we brought some happiness to our people back there.”

During the fifth inning of Saturday’s quarterfinal, Santander was standing in the on-deck circle when Altuve got hit by a pitch on the right hand, fracturing his thumb. The Astros’ second baseman is scheduled to undergo surgery and is expected to miss an extended period of time to open the 2023 season.

Santander doesn’t think the risk of injuries should prevent players from participating in future World Baseball Classic events, noting the same type of things occur in Spring Training games.

“I think the World Baseball Classic is good for baseball, and it’s something that you always want to be proud to represent and give everything you’ve got for your country,” Santander said. “So I think that you should continue doing that stuff, because like I said, anything can happen anywhere.”

Now, it’s time for Santander to refocus on preparing for his seventh season with the Orioles. He’s coming off a 2022 campaign in which he set career highs in homers (33), RBIs (89), hits (138), on-base percentage (.318) and games played (152), and he’s aiming to build on that success in ‘23.

Santander immediately returned to Baltimore’s lineup as the designated hitter on Tuesday, batting third and going 0-for-3 in a 6-2 Grapefruit League win over Boston at Ed Smith Stadium. Hyde also said Santander is scheduled to get a few more spring innings at first base, where he played in his final game before departing for the Classic on March 6.

The World Baseball Classic was a fun time. But Santander was excited to reunite with his O’s teammates and eager to get back to work.

“These are my brothers. I’m going to spend 162 games with those guys,” Santander said. “Happy to be back and get back into Spring Training games, back-field ABs and get ready for the season.”