Alex Rodriguez, who nearly sat out the inaugural World Baseball Classic because he did not want to choose between playing for his native United States or the Dominican Republic, the country of his parents' birth, is changing uniforms for the 2009 Classic.
The New York Yankees' third baseman, who was on a star-studded U.S team that failed to advance to the semifinals of the first WBC, plans to play for the Dominican Republic this spring, according to Dominican slugger David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.
Ortiz is hosting a charity golf tournament in the Dominican city of Punta Cana this weekend. He said Rodriguez, who is playing in the tournament, is expected to announce his decision at the function. Rodriguez and Ortiz are close friends.
"He wants to play for the Dominican team,'' Ortiz said by telephone Thursday. "We'll talk about it now after he gets here, and he'll probably announce it here.''
Ortiz said he has not spoken recently with Rodriguez about his intentions, but that as far back as the All-Star Game last July in New York, he said A-Rod had expressed a desire to play for the Dominican Republic.
Ortiz said his own participation in the WBC is uncertain, depending on the condition of his surgically repaired left wrist. He has not yet resumed any baseball activities since the end of last season, and plans to return to Boston the week before Christmas to have his wrist examined by Red Sox medical director Thomas J. Gill.
"I would love to,'' Ortiz said of playing again for a Dominican team that in 2006 lost in the WBC semifinals. "It all depends on how I'm feeling.''
Ortiz said the Red Sox have not indicated they do not want him to play in the WBC.
"They haven't talked to me about it,'' he said. "The Red Sox know I'm a mature player. They know I won't do anything that would affect my game with the Red Sox.
"If the doctor tells me to chill out (not play), I will. If he tells me fine, start swinging and let me know how it feels, then I'll go for it.''
Ortiz said he believes that Los Angeles Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who missed the 2006 Classic after his cousins were killed in a car accident, would like to play this spring. And what about Manny Ramirez, his former Red Sox teammate who bowed out of the Classic after showing up to Sox spring camp well after his teammates did?
Ortiz laughed. "I have more of a chance to talk to Obama than Manny,'' he said.
Rodriguez's participation in the initial WBC was not assured until just hours before the U.S. team submitted its provisional roster in January 2006, about two months before the tournament, and came only after personal appeals from baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union officials.
Rodriguez, who was born in New York City in 1975, moved with his family in 1979 to Santo Domingo, but moved back to Miami when he was 8. He initially had expressed an interest in playing for the Dominican Republic when the inaugural tournament was first announced, and as late as December, 2005, he told one radio station he was "leaning" toward playing for the Dominican, the birthplace of his parents Victor and Lourdes
But days later, he informed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman that he planned to sit out the tournament. "After thoughtful deliberation with my family,'' he said in an interview, "when faced with the decision to choose between my country, the United States of America, and my Dominican heritage, I decided I would not dishonor either.''
Union lawyer Gene Orza, who jokingly said at the time that Rodriguez had asked if he could play for both teams, did not consider that decision final, and both he and Selig lobbied him to change his mind and play for the U.S. Both the union and the commissioner felt that the tournament needed the presence of arguably the game's best player to legitimize the event.
"He loves all things Dominican,'' Orza said at the time, "but was raised in America.''
Rodriguez's name was listed on the initial roster submitted by Dominican officials, but was not added to the U.S. roster until a couple of hours before the deadline.
"In the end,'' said Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, "Alex thought it was important to honor his citizenship.''
Under the rules of the WBC, a player can play for a country in which he, his parents, or grandparents were citizens. Catcher Mike Piazza, for example, elected to play for Italy, the country of his grandparents' birth. Other players with big-league experience were on Italy's roster, including Frank Catalanotto, Dan Miceli, Lenny DiNardo, and Frank Menechino.
Rodriguez was criticized for his indecision the first go-round, and is likely to catch more flak in the U.S. if he does indeed announce that he will flip-flop teams in 2009. But because of Rodriguez's highly public divorce and an affair with pop singer Madonna, MLB may be inclined to shift its marketing focus for the U.S. team to young stars such as Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins.
The 2009 WBC, a 16-country event, is scheduled to begin on March 5 with first-round action in four venues: Tokyo, Mexico City, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The championship game is scheduled for March 23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
- Red Sox