Twins' Dominicans share field with national team

Club ensures coaches, Minor Leaguers get to participate, bringing some close to tears

March 9th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The passionate crowd waving a sea of Dominican flags and various noisemakers filled in the first-base side of Hammond Stadium ahead of the Twins’ exhibition against the Dominican Republic’s national team on Thursday -- and even before that, the organization was, of course, very aware of how much of a focal point and way of life the game of baseball is to all who hail from the island nation.

So Thursday morning, Twins Minor League field coordinator Kevin Morgan gathered the three coaches in the organization of Dominican descent. The Twins wanted to make a point to pick their Dominican Minor League players to appear as late-game substitutes, knowing how significant that would be to them.

Morgan needed staffers to take those players over and keep an eye on the game, he told the trio of coaches -- but there aren’t any seats left in the stands, he told them. So what would they think of the chance to watch from the dugout?

“They almost choked up,” Morgan said.

“A lot of emotions came to mind,” said Yeison Pérez, hitting and development coach with High-A Cedar Rapids. “I had a couple of years with the Twins [as a Minor League player] since 2016, and I've never been [to the Major League side] before. That was great. I almost cried a little bit.”

That’s why those three coaches -- Pérez, FCL Twins pitching coach Kevin Rodriguez and FCL Twins hitting coach Emilio Guerrero -- were in uniform in Minnesota’s dugout and performed the lineup card exchange, leading a sizable cadre of eight young Dominican players in extra Twins uniforms and four more in extra Dominican Republic uniforms who all got a unique chance to live out their dreams of being part of a 2-1 Twins victory involving their beloved national team ahead of its opener in the World Baseball Classic, Saturday night against Venezuela.

“It was just us collaborating and understanding that it would be a treat for them,” Morgan said. “We all thought it was a good idea.”

Twins No. 3 prospect Emmanuel Rodriguez headlined the eight Dominican players added to the Minnesota side, also featuring No. 24 prospect Rafael Cruz, Wilfri Castro, Yunior Severino, Fredy Michel, Gregory Duran, Luis Baez and Yoyner Fajardo. They all huddled together on the left side of the Twins’ dugout rail throughout the game, their eyes barely leaving the action.

The four really lucky youngsters wearing numberless Dominican Republic jerseys in the other dugout were Francis Peguero, Rubel Cespedes, Ismael Perez and Reynaldo Madrigal -- with the latter two getting the chance as 19-year-olds.

“As we had conversations with them, once they realized they were going, you could see the glow in their eyes,” Morgan said.

“They were really anticipating and hoping to get in there and contribute,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We did our best to get them in there. They all did a really nice job. … They played pretty aggressively and did a good job out there.”

In the sixth inning, the young Dominicans got to filter into the game for the opportunity of a lifetime. Severino, Duran and Fajardo subbed in as a group for the Twins, while Cespedes and Perez emerged from the dugout wearing their Dominican jerseys to play defense in the bottom of the frame.

Substitutes kept trickling in, and when Dominican right-hander Oliver Ortega closed out the victory, all but three players on the field -- Chance Cisco, Danny De Andrade and Chris Williams -- were Dominican.

“[That team] means a lot,” Pérez said. “That's the country where I'm from. When I played, I would have loved to play with those guys in winter ball, but I never had the chance. Being here, around those guys, was awesome. I saw a couple of guys in the cages like Nelson Cruz and Gary Sánchez and other guys. It was great.”

Worth noting
• Carlos Correa departed Twins camp on Wednesday ahead of the expected birth of his second son, Kenzo, in Houston.

• Righty Josh Winder (offseason shoulder soreness) threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and will throw another later in the week before progressing to live hitters.