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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Julio Rodriguez, five other Mariners leave camp to start preparations for WBC

March 5, 2023 Updated Sun., March 5, 2023 at 9:42 p.m.

Julio Rodriguez hits a triple to deep center in the fourth inning as the Seattle Mariners play the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Oct. 11 at Minute Maid Park, in Houston, Texas.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Julio Rodriguez hits a triple to deep center in the fourth inning as the Seattle Mariners play the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Oct. 11 at Minute Maid Park, in Houston, Texas. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

PEORIA, Ariz. – As he walked from the indoor batting cages to Field 2 at the Mariners’ spring training complex, Julio Rodriguez was mobbed by autograph seekers.

As he left his on-field work to hit in the indoor cages, Rodriguez was once again surrounded by fans screaming his name.

Both times, he took a good 10 minutes to try and sign as much as possible. This has been a daily occurrence since he arrived at spring training.

That opportunity for fans to see the Mariners’ young star up close and interact with him ended after that Sunday morning workout.

Rodriguez along with five other players in MLB camp, who are participating in the World Baseball Classic, will report to the training sites of their respective countries Monday.

“I’m just looking forward to start playing,” Rodriguez said. “Honestly, I just want to get on the field and be able to do what I can.”

Rodriguez, right fielder Teoscar Hernandez, reliever Diego Castillo and third baseman Eugenio Suarez were expected to fly to Miami on Monday. Rodriguez, Hernandez and Castillo will report to the Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers, spring training home of the Twins, where the Dominican Republic will be working out. Suarez will join Team Venezuela in West Palm Beach.

Both Hernandez and Castillo played in Sunday’s game against the Brewers in Maryvale. Hernandez drove in a pair of runs while Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning.

Right-hander Matt Brash, who was supposed to pitch Sunday, instead got the day off from pitching and will join Team Canada on Monday at Sloan Park in Mesa while young catcher Harry Ford will join the team representing Great Britain at the Brewers’ complex in Maryvale.

There is a chance that Brash could pitch against the Mariners on Thursday in an exhibition game at Peoria Stadium.

For Rodriguez, this has been a dream come true. As a 22-year-old, he will play on perhaps the most loaded roster in the entire tournament.

“I definitely couldn’t have imagined this last year,” he said. “This wasn’t a thought. There was a thought that the Classic was going to be next year, but there was never a thought of ‘Oh man, I’m gonna be on that team.’ ”

But in the middle of a magical rookie season where he’d eventually win the American League Rookie of the Year award, he was approached by Nelson Cruz before a game in Washington, D.C., last season. Cruz was playing for the Nationals at the time but had been named the general manager for the Dominican Republic’s WBC team unbeknown to Rodriguez.

“I didn’t know that he was going to be the GM,” Rodriguez said. “He reached out to me and made a comment to me like, ‘I would like you to play.’ ”

Rodriguez was humbled by the comments but didn’t know how to respond since he didn’t think it was an official invite.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know, man. I want to play but I don’t know if I will get invited,’ ” Rodriguez said. Cruz, somewhat surprised, informed Rodriguez that as the team’s GM, he was making that decision.

“Once he told me that he was going to be the GM and all that, I said, ‘OK then, I guess I’m going to participate,’ ” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez played for the Dominican Republic in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and helped the team win a bronze medal.

That experience made him want to play in the WBC even more. The pride that he feels for his country is without question.

“Since I was a kid, I was always a fan of the World Baseball Classic,” he said. “I remember it was a dream of mine when I was a kid.”

He immediately recalled the 2015 World Baseball Classic and the Dominican Republic’s 3-1 victory over the United States.

“I always remember that huge at-bat from Erick Aybar,” Rodriguez said. “He got called on a bad strike and then he came through.”

Indeed in that memorable game, the score was tied at 1-1 in the ninth inning. With Cruz on third base, Craig Kimbrel threw a breaking ball well out of the zone on a 1-1 count. Umpire Angel Hernandez called it a strike. Aybar protested initially, letting Hernandez know it wasn’t a strike. The veteran switch-hitter collected himself and then lined a single up the middle to score the go-ahead run.

“I remember that like it was today,” Rodriguez said.

Even with Vlad Guerrero Jr. being forced out of the WBC with a sore knee, the Dominican Republic is one of the favorites to win the tournament, largely because of a stacked lineup that features Rodriguez, Hernandez, Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Jeremy Pena, Ketel Marte and Wander Franco.

“I know the whole country’s going to be behind us, cheering us on,” Rodriguez said. “I know that it’s going to be a dream that becomes reality.”

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