GOODYEAR, Ariz. — No matter which team wins the World Baseball Classic — Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico — the Cleveland Indians will have a player returning to its clubhouse a champion.
The Indians — like the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox — have players on each side of Tuesday night's final. And that's only counting players in the major leagues, not minor leaguers.
In the case of the Indians, they not only have players on both teams, but players who have mattered to their teams in these final games. Indians catcher Carlos Santana homered to break a tie for his Dominican Republic team on Saturday and started D.R.'s four-run fifth inning with a double in Monday night's semifinal game.
On the other side of the bracket, infielder Mike Aviles drove in the first of three runs for Puerto Rico on Sunday night in its 3-1 upset of defending champion Japan. That win propelled his team to the title game (8 p.m. ET on MLB Network). Aviles also hit a two-run homer in first-round play against the Dominicans, a game Puerto Rico lost 4-2.
In the Indians clubhouse, all this resonates not so much as one country versus another, but as two of their teammates playing well on the international stage. Players and team management both agree, this will be good for the Indians.
"It's great to watch them," says Jason Giambi, the baseball veteran and first-year Indian. "I know they're having a good time. It means a lot when you're representing country. You root for them. When you play baseball, you enjoy watching good players play the game. You also hope they don't get hurt. You're talking about big pieces of our season."
This still being spring training, general manager Chris Antonetti sees the advantage of his players coming up big, even if it's for another team. It could help the Indians one day.
"It's always great to see guys go and have success on such a big stage," Antonetti says. "Hopefully when they're in that similar environment during the season, it gives them an opportunity to thrive."
Relief pitcher Chris Perez admit he hasn't been watching his teammates in the WBC. Not because he doesn't care or because he's upset that he had to leave Team USA with an injury. No, in fact, he's not watching because his cable is out. But he still knows his teammates are doing well and hopes it helps the Indians get off to a fast start.
"It's a lot better than having them struggle and not doing well," Perez says. "You never know how a season starts, so if you get in that zone early on, in a big situation like that, maybe they can carry that in to our season and help us out."
Yes, because while it will be nice to have a World Baseball Classic winner on the roster, the Indians would much rather have 40 guys who are AL Central champs.
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