SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Red Sox slugger David Ortiz stood at the podium in front of a jam-packed crowd at Lolita's restaurant in the middle of the city on Saturday, and quickly realized that he was staring at images of himself from 20 years ago.
Ortiz was the guest speaker at a banquet to honor the participants in Major League Baseball's Venezuela-Dominican Republic Showcase for the countries' top prospects held during the last two days.
"I just wanted to make sure all of them understand their priorities when it comes down to being a prospect in the United States," said Ortiz, who signed with the Mariners as a teenager in 1992. "It's a lot of responsibility coming right behind you. You have to be sure that if you worked hard to become a prospect, you have to work extra hard to maintain that."
Held at the Mets complex in Boca Chica, 25 prospects from each country displayed their skills in front of more than 200 big league scouts in a series of drills that included the 60-yard dash along with infield, outfield and batting practice -- before wrapping up with a six-inning game on Friday.
"This is a true testament to the amount of talent that exists in both of these countries -- Dominican [Republic] and Venezuela," said Kim Ng, senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. "It was fun for clubs -- executives to scouts to players to coaching staffs. There was a true excitement out on the field, and pride. All said, it has been quite a process for us at MLB in terms of planning and coordinating, and making sure people were at the places they had to be. So I am grateful for all of the staff's work."
Major League Baseball previously held similar showcases in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic last year. But this week's showcase was the first to combine players from the two countries on the same field. Representatives from all 30 teams were present at each day's events.
"This week was a great experience, and I was able to enjoy the moments but also do my job on the field," Venezuela shortstop prospect Luis Castro said. "I don't think we felt too much pressure. We just concentrated on what we had to do at the plate and in the field. We did what we had to do, and things came out the right way."
Ortiz greeted each prospect at the door, shaking hands and asking their names. He spoke for 15 minutes on the highs, lows and pressures that come with being a professional baseball player. He also briefed the prospects on what they can expect from life in the United States.
"This can be a beautiful career, a career that allows you to represent your family, your country and where you are from," Ortiz told the prospects. "With the help of the man upstairs, there are a lot of beautiful things that can happen. Anything you can imagine can happen, but you have to work hard and sacrifice.
"It's good, but it can be bad for some of the players. You need to have a good head on your shoulders, so you know how to deal with it."
Ortiz said education is the most important part of their development.
"English is your new girlfriend," he said. "Learn it. You need it like your glove, balls and bats."
Ortiz could have more speaking engagements on the horizon. More Venezuela-Dominican Showcases will be held in the future.
"We thought it would be big, and watching the last couple of days, it has been tremendous," Ng said. "David coming in was icing on the cake. It was someone the kids could identify with and hopefully, what we hope people realize today is that this is more of a partnership. It's really about advancing the game."