GUAYAMA, Puerto Rico -- As Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario stepped out of a black SUV onto familiar ground at his old high school on Monday, he was greeted by those who helped shape him as a youngster growing up in Puerto Rico.Rosario, visiting Escuela Dr. Rafael Lopez Landron for
GUAYAMA, Puerto Rico -- As Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario stepped out of a black SUV onto familiar ground at his old high school on Monday, he was greeted by those who helped shape him as a youngster growing up in Puerto Rico.
Rosario, visiting Escuela Dr. Rafael Lopez Landron for the first time in seven years as part of Major League Baseball's "Players Going Home" initiative, immediately gave a big hug to the school's principal, Edna Rodriguez Alvarez, who served as his English teacher in summer school. There was also his youth baseball coach, Alfredo Ortiz Martinez, who greeted Rosario with a leaping forearm bump before embracing each other.
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It was quite the scene for Rosario, who was able to thank those who helped him reach the Major Leagues and also met with current students, including 75 who participated in a baseball clinic with Rosario at a local baseball field near the high school. It's all leading up the Puerto Rico series between the Twins and Indians, which begins on Tuesday night at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
"There's a lot of emotion right here," Rosario said. "Tomorrow, I want to try to have fun every moment. I know I'll remember this moment for all my life. I'll remember everything."
Those who knew Rosario best growing up could tell he had that special something, as he possessed more than just natural talent. He was a hard worker who remained coachable and respectful because he grew up in a tight-knit family with deep roots in Guayama, which is about 75 minutes south of San Juan.
"He was unique," said Martinez, who coached him on the Rangers from ages 4-12. "Since he was a little kid, you could tell he was going to be a big leaguer. He had a baseball sense. He was so disciplined. He was just a very nice kid. Whatever we told him, he'd go. The most important thing was his parents always supported him and were at every game."
Of course, Rosario had plenty of talent, including a strong throwing arm he's since shown off in left field, leading the league in outfield assists with 12 as a rookie in 2015. He played both shortstop and center field growing up, but also pitched in big games, although he mostly scared the opposing teams when he was on the mound.
"You had to be careful when he was pitching," Martinez said. "Because he had such great speed in his pitches, we were worried that if he hit one kid, the other eight kids wouldn't want to hit."
Of course, Rosario's upbringing involved more than just baseball, as he pointed to the classrooms where he was taught English and Spanish as a high schooler. Rosario has worked hard at becoming a better English speaker and conducted interviews at the school on Monday in both languages, which impressed the school's principal.
"It's great to see him," said Alvarez, who presented him with a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion. "Being able to watch him express himself in English, I was part of that. Everybody loves him."
It's evident that Rosario is beloved in his hometown, as he's the most successful baseball player from the area and he continues to give back to his community. Rosario made two different trips back to his home island in the offseason as part of the Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, going door to door to bring supplies to those in need, especially in the mountainous region that didn't have access to safe roads or water.
"The people were so desperate and so excited when he brought help with supplies, food and all those things," Eddie's father said. "Everyone was so happy to see him. People were so grateful. People were crying. I was crying. People were so desperate."
The hurricane damage forced Eddie Sr. and the family to move in December to Orlando, Fla., which is where Rosario spends his offseasons with his wife, Milany, and their three young children. But Rosario has made it a point to continue the relief efforts, as the island has still not fully recovered from the devastation brought by the hurricane.
"I see the people happy," Rosario said. "I know that people need that. I try to help, to say to the people, 'Hey, everything is going to be better. Everything is going to be good.' I'm here to help them. I feel comfortable to help the people. It makes me feel good inside."
Rosario kept that same optimism when talking to the students at the school, letting them know that achieving their goals is possible with hard work and they can look to him as an example of someone who came from the same area and achieved his ultimate dream of playing in the Majors.
"Maybe the guys think it's difficult to go to the Major Leagues, but I'm here to say, 'No,'" Rosario said. "Work, study and keep your dream. I'm doing it. I'm doing my dream and I want the young guys to know anything is possible."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.