SAN FRANCISCO – Fernando Rodney bounded around on a hastily assembled stage with a fresh World Baseball Classic winner’s medal and a plantain that was more than a few days past its expiration date both dangling around his neck.
Hat tilted to the side, Rodney shot imaginary arrows into the night sky, as is the reliever’s customary celebration after saving games, above AT&T Park, and many of his teammates joined in, all bathing in the jubilation of having won the WBC title.
This was the type of scene the powerful Dominican Republic — birthplace of more major leaguers than any nation other than the U.S. — had envisioned all along, its players standing in a sea of confetti and wearing gray shirts that proclaimed them the best of the world’s baseball-playing nations.
“It all goes back to the plantain,” Rodney said. “That’s how we developed. With the plantain. You know what? It’s where we eat the most plantains and we produce the greatest number of ballplayers. That’s how I see it.”
As weird as it seems, Rodney isn’t wrong.
The plantain was the Tampa Bay Rays closer’s lucky charm. He pulled it out during pregame introductions during the WBC semifinals and, according to manager Tony Pena, it also made an appearance during the game.
The plantain is a symbol of a Dominican team that played with all its heart and wore its emotions on its sleeves. Exactly what Pena had preached throughout the WBC.
“You know, baseball is just about (having) fun, and those guys, they tried to motivate themselves doing the little things, the little things motivate them,” Pena said after the team’s semifinal win over the Netherlands. “The thing is that you need to find a way. How are you going to lose the stress? How are you going to keep your whole group of players laughing, keeping loose.
“So I got surprised when I saw Rodney with a banana, a plantain on the side. I think he pulled them out, I just laughed. Right in the middle of the game, this made everybody laugh. And the ballclub, the game like this, you need to have a little bit of fun. You need to find a way to loosen up. And I’m glad that he did it.”
Winning the WBC matters to the Dominicans and it showed throughout their 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the final.
Pitcher Samuel Deduno did a spin move and launched into a slightly wild celebration after a big strikeout in the fifth inning, and reliever Pedro Strop was equally demonstrative after getting out of a jam in the seventh. Jose Reyes punctuated extra base hits with an arm-pumping motion, which many in the dugout returned with increasing vigor.
A party-like atmosphere spread through the Dominican contingent of the 35,703 in attendance where the banging of drums and use of whistles and noisemakers created a festive scene any time the tide shifted in the Dominicans’ favor.
“This is the way we play our game in our country,” pitcher Octavio Dotel said. “Sometimes we got to hold it in when we play in the States. This is how we play the game in the Dominican. Sometimes when you get too emotional, people think we’re offending, it’s not about that. It’s about our feeling and how emotional we are in every game and everything we do. It’s hard to do, and we celebrate because of that.”
The exuberance they showed was in contrast to the feeling after a listless Dominican team was upset twice by the Netherlands and bounced out of the previous WBC in the first round.
“We lost in ’09, we didn’t (get) past the first round of the WBC,” said Moises Alou, who is serving as the team’s general manager. “Now to go all the way, and to win those two games . . . that’s something I’m going to enjoy for a long time.”
This time, the emotional Dominicans let it all hang out and left it all on the field.
“It is a unique group,” Pena said. “We are enjoying and we’re going to enjoy every single moment, because we don’t know if this group will be together again. I doubt it.”
Major league stars such as New York Yankees infielder Robinson Cano, a World Series champion, Toronto Blue Jays star Reyes, Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Rodney and a host of other MLB players, celebrated like never before after a title as meaningful as any they’d won before.
“There’s no perfect life,” Cano said. “You understand? Most players, we have superstars, but God knows when things will happen. We have always given our best. And you know what, we’re on God’s time. This is a great feeling, Tony did a great job. We’re always so happy. We have had this great energy, and we have always asked for this from God.”
The Dominicans were on cloud nine after the final, waving flags and posing for pictures with the trophy. There was no need to ask how anyone was feeling because as has been the case throughout the entire tournament, the answer was written all over their faces.
“This moment today, this is always going to be with us,” Pena said. “This is always going to be with us in our hearts because this is something totally different. When we talk about times in our careers as professional baseball players in the U.S., in our game, this goes beyond all that. When you go out and represent your country, this will always be with us.”