Sights and sounds from MLB's return to D.R.

March 7th, 2020

For the first time in 20 years, Major League Baseball returned to the Dominican Republic for game action with a Spring Training contest between the Twins and the Tigers at Santo Domingo’s Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal on Saturday. Minnesota fell behind early but erased deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 in a 7-6 win over Detroit.

Here are some of the sights and sounds from this historic event:

With fellow Dominican Nelson Cruz on base in the third inning, Miguel Sanó crushed a two-run homer to left field off Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris. Sanó also had a run-scoring single in the fifth, finishing his day 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

Cruz exited to a nice ovation when he was pulled for a pinch-runner after his fifth-inning double. The 39-year-old went 2-for-3 out of the designated hitter spot.

Jorge Bonifacio, a native of Santo Domingo, had a sacrifice fly during the Tigers' three-run first inning and later hit a solo homer that left the ballpark in the bottom of the third.

The Tigers started right-hander Iván Nova, who was born in San Cristóbal, D.R. The 33-year-old threw a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out one.

Pedro Martínez and Vladimir Guerrero, the second and third Dominicans to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after Marichal, were on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitches.

It was a packed house at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.

Cruz put on a show during batting practice.

Sanó met with fans outside the stadium before the game.

Between the two teams, the D.R. was well represented.

Tigers third-base coach Ramón Santiago, a Dominican Republic native, kept the team entertained on the way to the stadium.

Cruz and Sanó were ready to show their Dominican pride upon arriving in Santo Domingo.

Rich history surrounds D.R. showdown

Saturday's contest is part of a series of games outside the continental United States that Major League Baseball will play this year in Mexico City (D-backs-Padres, April 18-19); San Juan, Puerto Rico (Marlins-Mets, April 28-30); and London (Cardinals-Cubs, June 13-14).

With a record 102 players on Major League rosters on Opening Day 2019 and more than 220 starting in big league camps this year, the Dominican Republic is the nation with the largest representation in MLB aside from the United States.

When the Twins-Tigers game was officially announced at the beginning of last month, tickets sold out in just over 24 hours for Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal, a venue with a capacity of just under 15,000.

“It's passion for the game,” Cruz said. “Everywhere you go, kids are playing baseball in the street.”

MLB teams suiting up in the Dominican date back to the late 1930s, when the Reds did a Spring Training tour of the Caribbean, including the D.R., to play against local clubs. The Brooklyn Dodgers followed suit in 1948 to play against a team of local stars, as did the Pirates in 1967.

A decade later, the Dodgers played Spring Training contests against the Mets in 1977, a series remembered here for Manny Mota’s home run off future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. They were followed the next spring in the D.R. by the Cardinals and Phillies.

More recent history of Major League Spring Training games in the Dominican includes the two-game series between the Expos and the Mets in 1999. The biggest attractions were Montreal’s manager, local legend Felipe Alou, and Guerrero, a budding superstar at the time.

One year later, the Red Sox and their ace -- Martínez -- played a two-game set against an Astros club that featured Moisés Alou and José Lima.

At the time, few would have imagined that the Dominican Republic would have to wait 20 years for the next MLB game here.

“That’s been the aspiration of all followers of baseball in the Dominican Republic,” said Ricky Noboa, Commissioner of Baseball in the country. “It’s the King Sport of the Dominicans and we have a lot of stars, young stars with great futures. Those stars have their fans and naturally, that’s the motivation to attend and support their Dominican players.”

For the Twins-Tigers contest, Cruz was the biggest Dominican name on hand. Other Dominican players from the Twins included Sanó, Celestino, Wander Javier, Jorge Alcalá and Jhoan Durán. Shortstop Jorge Polanco did not make the trip. After right ankle surgery during the offseason, the 2019 All-Star got a late start in the Grapefruit League, playing just three games so far.

The Tigers’ D.R. contingent included Nova, Bonifacio, Dawel Lugo, Jeimer Candelario and Gregory Soto. Daniel Norris, who made three starts for the Águilas Cibaeñas in the Winter League here two seasons ago, also made the trip.

-- David Venn