PANAMA CITY -- No one should be surprised to see Colombia emerge victorious from the Panama City pool of World Baseball Classic qualifier. Behind Dilson Herrera's dramatic, eighth-inning, game-winning home run on Sunday at Rod Carew Stadium, Colombia topped host Panama, 2-1, and punched its first-ever ticket to the WBC finals.
"This was the greatest feeling in my life," Herrera said via translator. "If I run into some of the Colombian Major Leaguers, I am going to tell them how great this was, how great it is to represent your country and come out and play hard. I know that most of the guys didn't make the roster because of limitations from the big league clubs, but I'm hoping for 2017 that most of those guys are going to want to come out and support Colombia."
Panama, France and Spain each posed their own challenges this weekend, but of the four nations, Colombia featured the most MLB-affiliated players (16) on its roster, which was assembled by general manager and Colombian baseball icon Edgar Renteria.
But it's going to be a whole new ballgame once the 2017 Classic rolls around and Colombia has to face the world's top talent. Not that they're about to back down from anyone.
Herrera, who is expected to start the season with the New York Mets' Triple-A affiliate, was just one of nine Colombians to play on an MLB roster last year. Talented pitchers like Ernesto Frieri, Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana, along with the Solano brothers Donovan and Jhonathan, and infielder Giovanny Urshela, all hail from Colombia. Not to mention elite Phillies catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, who is poised to make noise in the big leagues in the not-so-distant future.
"We just made it to the WBC," Colombia manager Luis Urueta said, "but that doesn't mean we're going to go there and lose the next three games. I think every team has a chance. If we get all of our players back -- Urshela, Quintana, Teheran, Alfaro, Solano brothers, Dilson and Reynaldo [Rodriguez] -- I think we have a chance to compete."
For now, the team can enjoy the moment and look forward to a bright new era of baseball in Colombia. Urueta is heavily involved with the national circuit, having coached there over the past five winters and won the two most recent championships. He said Sunday night's victory bodes well for the program going forward.
"The future of our country baseball-wise, it's huge," Urueta said. "There's a lot of things going on in our country in the league -- new stadiums, new facilities. I think we're headed in the right direction. I'm very happy and I'm fortunate to be part of it. I'm happy with the federation, everything that they're doing. Baseball in Colombia is growing and I'm happy to be part of it."
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.