Love of the game runs deep for DR's Tejada

Veteran infielder relishes mentor role with club in World Baseball Classic

Love of the game runs deep for DR's Tejada

SAN FRANCISCO -- Miguel Tejada was jobless.

After a stellar Major League career in which he hit .285 with 304 home runs and 1,282 RBIs, Tejada found himself out of work in 2011. He was released by the San Francisco Giants and faced the prospect of never playing in the big leagues again.

Eighteen months later, on Monday afternoon, Tejada took ground balls as the Dominican Republic prepared for its World Baseball Classic semifinal contest against the Kingdom of the Netherlands at AT&T Park. As some of his teammates took a few grounders to stay sharp before heading back to the clubhouse or to the batting cage, Tejada stayed at third, motioning to his infield coach to keep hitting them his way.

Tejada was once on top of the baseball world as the winner of the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player Award and a six-time All-Star. His towering home runs were common on highlight reels.

But that was what seems like ages ago. Now, Tejada is fighting to keep playing the game he loves. He knows that whenever his time as a player is up, there are other ways to stay around baseball, the vehicle that guided him out of childhood poverty in the Dominican Republic to reach the heights of athletic stardom.

"I can do it," Tejada says when asked whether he may one day become a coach or manager in the big leagues. "I love this game, I love baseball. After I retire from this game, I know somebody's going to ask me to [coach]. And at the same time, I like to work with the young guys. I'm definitely going to be a coach or a manager somewhere."

Tejada has played in all three World Baseball Classics. Tony Pena, his manager on this year's Dominican club, believes he makes a huge impact in the clubhouse with the younger players.

"We didn't have a captain on this team," Pena said, "but if anybody asked me who can be your captain, I would have said Miguel Tejada, because he is the type of guy that he just comes and gives every single day. He gives everything he has. And [he's] just trying to help all these young players, and even the veteran guys."

Tejada has taken on the role of mentor to many players on the Dominican Republic team, a collection that boasts some of the game's greatest stars, including Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez and Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.

"I'm a mentor to these guys either way," Tejada said. "Whether I'm on the bench or I'm playing, they see how hard I play, they see how much I love the game. And I think that's going to help them. Anytime they do something and I see that I can help, I go up to them and they listen. They're pretty good listeners."

Tejada's love for the game isn't confined to his heart and mind. It naturally flows out of him toward others. As the Dominican team continued its workout Monday afternoon, Tejada took time to sign autographs down the third-base line at the ballpark and posed for pictures with Dominican fans.

Those fans, particularly young ones, are close to Tejada's heart. Coming from such difficult straits as a child, he knows just how impactful it is when Dominicans are able to represent their country as he and his brethren are doing on a big stage in this Championship Round.

"I think that what we do right now with the WBC and what I've done in my career keeps more [Dominican] kids off the street and [encourages them] to play baseball," Tejada said. "That's our goal, for everyone here, just to be a good example for others in the Dominican. And not only the Dominican, but to all the world [so they] continue to play baseball, because we think that's the greatest sport in the world."

In Monday night's Classic semifinal, Tejada went 2-for-4 with a single that contributed to a four-run fifth-inning Dominican rally that pushed his club past the Kingdom of the Netherlands and to the brink of his country's first World Baseball Classic title.

After signing a Minor League contract this offseason with the Kansas City Royals, Tejada's future as a player at the Major League level remains uncertain. But for one more day, he will have some extra-special motivation when he wears "Dominicana" across his chest.

"I like to represent my country," he said, "and anything I can do to represent my country, I do."

Manny Randhawa is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.