SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Miguel Sano wanted to put on a show in front of the hometown crowd. Badly. And true to character, he was not quiet about it.
Sano, who had purchased hundreds of tickets for friends and family members, had been eagerly looking forward to playing in front of those who had invested so much into his life and his career. So throughout the morning, he kept repeating one thing to fellow Dominican, Nelson Cruz.
“All day to Nelson — ‘You and me need to hit a homer. People need to (see) it,’” Sano said.
In the third inning, with Cruz on base, Sano made good on that. After Cruz singled with two outs to extend the inning, Sano hit a two-run shot to send the enthusiastic crowd into a long ovation and tie the game.
“That one felt unbelievable,” Sano said. “Come here, first time playing for the Minnesota Twins (in the Dominican Republic) and … it was a big moment to hit a homer with my guy on base and in front of my family and friends, people from the Dominican. It was really excited.
It’s a moment that won’t soon be forgotten. The Twins walked away winners on Saturday afternoon, beating the Detroit Tigers 7-6 in a spring training game at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal — the first MLB game played in the Dominican Republic since spring training 2000. Sano and Cruz combined to go 4 for 6.
Sano, in addition to the home run, smashed an infield hit down the third base-line for an RBI single in his last at-bat of the day while Cruz singled, doubled and missed a first-inning home run to dead center field by just a few feet.
“This is not a normal game. This is not a normal day at the ballpark,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “For Miguel to come here and be able to put on this display for the people he has grown up around that have known him for a very long time, I bet he’s extraordinarily proud of it. I think he should be, and Nellie as well. Nellie is an ambassador for the game. No matter where you’re from, that is what he is.”
The Twins arrived in the Dominican Republic on Friday afternoon, had a joint reception at night with the Tigers at the team hotel and participated in a Play Ball event with local kids the next morning before the game started.
They brought eight Dominican players on the trip and four more Dominican staff members. In addition to Sano and Cruz, Gilberto Celestino, who is from Santo Domingo, started in center field. Prospects Daniel Ozoria, Yunior Severino and Wander Javier all appeared as subs in the later innings of the game, while Jorge Alcala and Jhoan Duran each pitched an inning, Duran’s a scoreless one with a pair of strikeouts.
The Tigers brought 10 Dominican players on the trip, including Ivan Nova, who started and threw a scoreless inning. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario hit an RBI double, and Jorge Bonifacio added a home run for Detroit.
“It was fast. We were all able to slow it down when the time comes to perform,” Cruz said. “It shows a lot. … There was a lot of things going on. It was crazy, but we found a way to shut it down and do everything and give it a good show.”
And now, the hope for them is that they’ll have more opportunities to entertain the hometown fans again soon.
“It was all about the fans. I know they like it,” Cruz said. “They had a great experience. Hopefully this can continue in years to come so we don’t have to wait 20 years to do this again.”