SAN FRANCISCO -- When he assembled his athletes for the first time on March 4 in Fort Myers, Fla., Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez stressed the importance of the World Baseball Classic in re-establishing the country's place in the game.
This, after all, is the home of the greatest of Hispanic players, the incomparable Roberto Clemente. But Puerto Rico's Major League representation has fallen off in recent years in comparison with the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, most prominently.
"When we met for the first time," Rodriguez said, "the first meeting, we talk about that. We talked about the competition that we have ahead. But also we talked about what it means to go out there and have a good performance.
"Obviously, we're thinking about winning everything. But we mainly talked about going out there and playing the right way, because everybody was watching in Puerto Rico. The last 10 or 15 years, the Puerto Rican baseball had been a little bit down I think that a good performance from the team this tournament will put Puerto Rican baseball back on the map. And I think we already accomplished that."
Puerto Rico clinched a spot in the Classic's final round by knocking out Team USA on Friday night in Miami. Rodriguez clearly has enjoyed the team's blend of veterans, such as Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Alex Rios, and its youthful athletes in the early stages of their careers.
"[When] we got together the first time, we knew that we were probably going to lose because it was the first round with Dominican Republic and Venezuelan teams," Rodriguez said. "And we passed that first round. I think that first round was key, so that our boys could have more security, more assuredness. Then we beat the U.S., who was also an important opponent.
"As a team, we have been functioning positively and we're going to be fighting the past [two-time] champion [Japan] of the Classic. But we know it's necessary to beat them. We also have players who have enough assuredness to handle this challenge, and we have other players who don't have experience that they don't know any better. They don't even know where they are. So they're just enjoying it."
Rodriguez smiled as laughter filled the interview room.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.