SARASOTA—Anthony Santander is back from the World Baseball Classic, and he had a wonderful time playing for Team Venezuela.
“Like a dream, oh my God, unbelievable experience,” Santander exclaimed as he walked into the Orioles’ clubhouse on Tuesday morning.
Venezuela lost to the United States in the quarterfinals on Saturday night, and Santander, who went 6-for-17 (.353) with two home runs and five RBIs, is back with the Orioles, where he’ll be in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against Boston.
“Very grateful and happy for the opportunity. That’s something I’ll never forget,” Santander said. “Being there and playing like a kid, but in big situations with my guys. It’s amazing. Really, really good.”
When Santander left for the WBC on March 6th, he was hitless in 10 at-bats, but that was quickly forgotten when he performed brilliantly in high-intensity games in front of large and passionate crowds at the games in Miami.
Now, he must play in lower-intensity games and prepare for the rigors of a long major league season.
“Keeping the same mentality. I know it won’t be the same atmosphere, but be ready,” Santander said. “Prepare myself to be able to compete every day and help the team win. That’s the most important thing, especially early in the season.”
Santander’s offseason workouts were more intense than they had been in other years to help prepare for the WBC, and he’s pleased with his performance.
“I prepare really good for the tournament, and I [wasn’t] surprised by the results,” Santander said. “That’s something as a player you always get to yourself, be quiet, prepare yourself and go out there and compete. I’m excited I did [well] to help my team … Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result that we wanted. That was a great experience.”
Santander was greeted with hugs and congratulations by his Orioles teammates, and he smiled and said he missed them.
“For sure, that’s my brothers. I’m going to spend 162 games with those guys,” he said. “I’m happy to be back and keep back in spring training games, back field abs and get ready for the season.”
Manager Brandon Hyde is batting Santander third as the designated hitter against Red Sox starter Chris Sale.
“Great to have Santander back,” Hyde said. “So proud of him. It was great to see him. Super happy for him and his family to do what he did on a big stage like that, get national exposure like that. I talked to him a couple of nights ago, and it’s great to see him today.”
Santander, who played first base in the final game before leaving for the WBC, will play again there before the end of spring training.
Even though he lives in the United States, Venezuela is Santander’s home.
“I feel really proud to be able to wear that jersey, representing the whole country, my family, my hometown,” he said. “That’s something as a player, you’re never going to forget. The most important thing is that we bring some happiness to our people back there.
“Even though we didn’t get to the finals, I feel so proud of the team. The chemistry that we’ve got is awesome. I was able to share the clubhouse with big names like Miggy [Cabrera], Jose [Altuve] and Salvador [Pérez]. That was a great experience.”
Altuve fractured his thumb in the loss to the U.S. when Daniel Bard hit him with a pitch, and New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz, a star of Puerto Rico’s team, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a post-game celebration.
“Injuries are always going to be there,” Santander said. “It can happen even here in spring training. I think the World Baseball Classic is good for baseball, and it’s something you’re always going to be proud representing, giving everything you’ve got for your country.
“Diaz’s injury is bad. It didn’t happen playing. The same way Altuve’s could have happened in spring training. I’m sure those guys are feeling OK because they were representing their country and giving the best they’ve got.”
Santander declined to speculate on whether the United States, featuring his teammate Cedric Mullins, would beat Japan in the WBC final on Tuesday night.
“Whoever plays best,” he said. “Both are really, really good teams. Everybody saw how the United States beat Venezuela in the late innings. It happened with Japan last night. That’s the beauty of this game.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB