Nelson Cruz so much in Texas that they named a 2-foot-long hot dog, "The Boomstick," in his honor. Amazing, considering that Cruz's career (which got off to a late start in the Dominican Republic) almost never happened in the major leagues. But he persevered and has become one of the top sluggers in the AL. Named MVP of the 2011 ALCS after slugging six home runs, Cruz's World Series ended in disappointment against the Cardinals. But he doesn't dwell on it, and he's not about to give up, either, as he explained in a recent Answer Man session before a game in Kansas City.
David Brown: When you were a little boy growing up in the Dominican Republic, did you ever think: "Someday, they're to name a 24-inch hot dog after me and sell it at Texas Rangers games"?
Nelson Cruz: Haha! No way. Not even a chance, you know? Even now, it's still a shock, to see how big it is and the popularity in the stadium. I think that hot dog has more sales at the stadium than anything else.
DB: Are you proud of that?
NC: Kind of! I mean, I don't think one [person] can eat the whole thing, the whole hot dog, you know? It's for families.
DB: You ever try it?
NC: I drove the hot dog car, I've taken a picture with the hot dog, but I haven't eaten it yet. I'm not really a "hot dog guy" but I do have to try it sometime. I think I'm waiting until the season is over, just in case ... I'm too full. I don't want to get too full and have to play the game [laughs].
DB: I have this idea that every little boy in the Dominican grows up wanting to be a baseball player. But didn't you want to be a basketball player?
NC: Yyyyyeah, I wanted to be a basketball player, but not like in the NBA. It's hard to be in the NBA if you grow up in the Dominican. But I played basketball because I didn't have the time to play baseball because I worked. After I got out of school, I had to go work. I didn't have time to practice baseball because of the conflict. I mean, I had to play some sports because I liked sports, but basketball was easier. I had to go to school in the morning and work in the afternoon and the baseball fields didn't have the lights to play at night. But I could practice basketball courts at night because the gym had lights.
DB: How good was your game?
NC: Uh, I used to be OK. Not anymore. I'm done with it. I've hurt my ankle a few times so I think it was a good thing to decide to quit playing basketball.
DB: Did you like having Dirk Nowitzki around during the World Series last year?
NC: Haha, I always liked the Mavericks as soon as I moved to Texas. Although, when I was growing up, I liked the Lakers. And he's been to the ballpark a few times, so I've had the chance to say "Hi." I'm impressed with how high he goes, how tall he is. I have to stand on a chair to match his height.
DB: So when you went to work, you were an auto mechanic in your uncle's shop?
NC: My uncle's shop, that's right. I started there at, I believe, 9 or 10 years old to 16 when I signed.
DB: You must have gotten pretty good at fixing cars.
NC: Yeah. I mean, they let me go anywhere to fix tractors or cars. Whatever anybody needed to be done, I'd go there and fix it.
DB: Is that what you would have done had you not played baseball?
NC: Probably no, because my dad and my mom — they're both teachers — so I probably would have gone to school and take a degree in something academic.
DB: So you played a lot more basketball as a kid, and you're working as an auto mechanic, but when did you start taking baseball seriously?
NC: I was 15. They [formed] a baseball team that played Sundays. Usually they played on Saturdays, but I was working on Saturdays too [laughs]. I mean, I'd always do good. We had a school team in middle school and I'd play for them and hit home runs and I was fast, you know? My arm wasn't that good, though. That's something, the ability to throw, that developed later. But one day we played softball, and this was the first time I actually played it. This was in high school and we played another school, and I hit a few homers. And someone asked, "Why don't you play baseball?" Two or three weeks after that, I started playing baseball.
DB: But when you're 15 or 16 in the United States, that's when kids start to get jobs. Did you have to convince your dad it was a good thing for you to play more baseball so you'd get signed?
NC: Well, when I was practicing baseball, I'd still go to work. After I signed, then I stopped working. One of the scouts, or one of the managers, I remember telling my dad, "He should focus more on baseball." My dad trusted those guys, and that's what I did.
DB: So what do you do with your spare time these days? Do you follow the NBA as a fan? Do you work in your driveway fixing your car?
NC: After the season, in the Dominican, we go back and have a big family farm there. We'll go there and check out the animals, see the trees, just have some peace. Visit friends. Invite friends to go to the farm and cook chickens. Whatever they want to do. We take it easy.
DB: I want to ask you about the triple David Freese hit in the World Series. You almost caught it. Do you think about it often or does it take someone asking to be reminded?
NC: I tell you, I'm a guy with a short memory. No matter what it is that passes by, whether it's good or bad. I don't try, or go out of my way to remember anything. But it does come to mind when people ask me. It is hard to let it go because it was the World Series. But at the same time, I think you learn from whatever mistakes you make. It really depends on what way you take it.
DB: What would you do differently?
NC: I tried my best but ... I'd probably go closer to the wall, so I didn't have to run that much, and jump. That's the only thing you can do different.
[Power Rankings: Stephen Strasburg pondering future options on bench]
DB: You were in the minor leagues, and going by the statistics you were very successful for a long time. Did you ever start to think, "They're never going to give me a real chance?" or "I'm not gonna make it up there?"
NC: That last year in the minors, I did really good, and a lot of Japanese teams were looking at me. I put it in my mind that I need to get whatever I can to be in a better situation with money. To help my family financially, whatever I had to do, I was going to do. So it was on my mind to go to Japan. I probably could have been like Yu Darvish is here [laughs].
DB: What does your little boy want to be when he grows up?
NC: He likes soccer. But a few days ago, he told me he wants to train for baseball. He's got his glove and his bat and everything. Whatever he decides he wants to do, I'm going to just support him. He likes to watch soccer right now. He does love baseball.
DB: How did you meet your wife?
NC: She's from my hometown in the Dominican, so I've known her ever since I was a kid. One day we had a party in my hometown and she came in from New York. Her cousin told me she was in town, so I went to meet her and we went to the party together. That's how it started.
DB: You got married on Christmas Day? Was that to help you remember your anniversary and also keep down the number of presents?
NC: Haha! Yeah, I guess. It was convenient. Most of my friends from the Dominican also play baseball, and that day is off, so it helped everybody. I knew they could come, or that they wouldn't be playing. Everybody came to my town that day to celebrate and, it just made it better for everybody.
DB: When's the last time you called your grandmother Lola?
NC: Five days ago, maybe. She always wants to know how I'm doing. And she says, "Every time I hear your voice, it makes me feel better." I have to call her more often.
DB: It must be hard being so far from so many people you love.
NC: Yeah. I mean, as a kid, you always want to be with your family. I do the best I can to keep my family close as possible, but also understanding that you've got to grow up and you might have to move away. It's hard, but I always do what I can to keep in touch and to see them when I'm in the Dominican.
DB: When I Google "Cruz," your name comes up first in Cruz news, but Victor Cruz of the New York Giants is a close second. What are you going to do to remain the biggest "Cruz" in the news?
NC: Haha. Yeah, a few guys have mentioned that we're related. Also, Penelope Cruz comes up too! And that's OK, too. It's fun to have the same name as a football player and an actor.
DB: You guys are all Texas Rangers. Shouldn't you have the power to arrest people?
NC: I'd hope so! It would be good to have that power. But I guess that's why we have police. That's why we have the army. But I'd like to think I could make an arrest if I saw someone breaking the law.
DB: What is the secret to Ron Washington being a good manager?
NC: I think it's simple. He lets you be yourself. Go out there, be yourself, have fun and play hard. And just be you. Don't try to do something you cannot do.
DB: What is the secret to making Wash shake and gyrate like he does?
NC: Haha. Ball in the gap, men on first and second, he's jumping, he's screaming. "Bring it home! Bring it home!"
DB: Do you think Nolan Ryan could still get guys out if he tried to pitch?
NC: I saw him in the playoffs last year throw out the first pitch, and the year before, throwing the ball from the mound, and he still throws pretty hard.
DB: Do you think Derek Holland would be an even bigger curiosity in Japan than Yu Darvish is in the United States?
NC: No chance [laughs].
NC: No! I mean, Yu Darvish is huge here. Everywhere we go, every time he pitches, you always see a lot of people wear his jersey, a lot of people with signs. They definitely support him. Holland, no. He's got to stay in the states. He's got a chance here. I don't think they'd understand him in Japan.
DB: Does everyone expect Neftali Feliz to be happy all of the time because his last name means "happy"?
NC: Yeah, you know ... he's one of those guys who is quiet. He doesn't do that much, he doesn't talk that much. He'll talk a little more with the Latin guys than the American guys. But he's not unhappy. Just quiet.
DB: I remember being very surprised to learn that Adrian Beltre doesn't wear a cup? How can he field average grounders with so much on the line?
NC: He's crazy. I don't know how he does that. I ask the other guys on the infield and they're like, "There's no chance. I cannot play without a cup." I mean, if you get hit there, you can lose everything [laughs], you know?
DB: So while you're in right field?
NC: I don't out there. But if I ever play the infield, of course, definitely. I mean, Adrian, he probably throws his hands down so well to block. But I don't know about him.
DB: In your MLB 2K10 commercial, it says you actually drew the sketches of you hitting a home run. Is that true? Those are pretty good. What else can you draw?
NC: Haha. It doesn't look that good. If you see the face with nothing on it and the little hands. No, I'm not an artist. Not even close.
DB: Back home, I've got a 2004 Saturn Vue, V6, front-wheel drive with 175,000 miles on it. It needs a new set of rear brakes, the front axle needs a little work and it's got a cracked windshield. What will it cost me for you to fix it?
NC: I could fix the brakes, but I'm not going to fix anything else. I mean, I haven't worked in the shop since ... '98? And now they have all this stuff we didn't have, like computers. So I can do the brakes, but I cannot do anything else.
DB: Should I bring it to the park?
NC: I could help you out.
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