"It's pretty tough for the Dominican to put a team together because it's a third-world country, really poor, and sometimes it's pretty tough to even get David Ortiz or myself to represent in the Caribbean Series, which is a big deal," first baseman Albert Pujols said. "Sometimes you don't get permission from the organization. Our job is here [in U.S]."
Dominican Republic manager Manny Acta stopped short of guaranteeing victory, but said this Dominican squad is the most representative of the country's talent pool.
"It's a short tournament and we have to stay humble about it," Acta said. "It's baseball and anything can happen. We feel very good about the group we got here. We actually have the group we wanted and they seem to have the special love to play for their country."
Griffin the guide: Dominican Republic coach Alfredo Griffin is known back in his country as Mr. Baseball.
It's easy to see why.
Griffin, 48, is in his sixth year as a coach in the Anaheim organization and his 32nd year in professional baseball. He is arguably the most influential player from San Pedro de Macoris, the city that is responsible for such players as Juan Samuel, Tony Fernandez, Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano and Luis Castillo.
"I'm here because I want this to come out well and I have a lot of respect for the boys on the team," Griffin said. "They have a lot of respect for me and I think it's important to share what you know about the game. They listen to what I say."
Signed by Cleveland in 1973 at the age of 16, Griffin made his big league debut in Sept. 1976 at 18. He went on to play parts of 18 seasons with the Indians, Blue Jays, A's and Dodgers and was the AL co-Rookie of the Year in 1979. He was an All-Star in 1984, won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 1985 and was part of three world championship-winning teams during his career.
"I am very proud to be here and to be with such a powerful group," Griffin said. "This is my country's team. It's a pleasure being here."
He said it: "Everybody knows the main sport in our country is baseball. We want to be the best in the world and this is our chance to do it." -- Giants outfielder Moises Alou
Angel in the dugout: He is an Angel from the Dominican Republic, but is known across the league simply as "Nao."
Angel Presinal Done is the strength and conditioning coach for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic and is considered the best in his field in his country. His nickname comes from the sound made by the last three letters of his second to last name, N-A-L.
"I do what I can to help this team," he said. "They are the best in the world."
"Nao" is the personal trainer for Angels ace Bartolo Colon and his list of clients includes Vladimir Guerrero, Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, Pedro Feliz, Guillermo Mota and other Major League players.
He has a physical therapy and rehab facility near Santo Domingo. "Nao" also operates an academy where students of various skills and levels learn about the game. They also learn about life.
"I try to show young children that the reality of life is not only baseball," he said. "You can learn how to play baseball, but if you don't walk the right road and live a good life, it doesn't matter if you are a superstar, you will eventually fail."
Done's career in strength and conditioning started 25 years ago when he served as the strength coach for the Dominican Republic's national volleyball team. He's honed his craft over the years by studying in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Japan and the Dominican Republic.
"It is not just about baseball, but also how to be a better person in your life," Done said. "I think it's a big part of what the people learn from us."
Around the horn: The club officially placed Guerrero on bereavement leave for seven days and replaced him on the roster during that period with Luis Polonia. Polonia will leave the club at the end of the bereavement period regardless of Guerrero's decision to return to the team. ... Willy Taveras has been named the starting center fielder for the Dominican Republic and will hit ninth in the order Tuesday against Venezuela. Juan Encarnacion has been moved to right field.