Manny Machado once donned a Team USA baseball jersey while taking his initial steps to major-league stardom.
But Machado is still enjoying the rush he’s getting from being a part of the team representing his family’s home country.
“I know that I was born here, but my heart and blood will always be Dominican,” Machado said Thursday before suiting up for the Dominican Republic against Canada in the opening round of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park.
“To keep both of them together, to start for the first time, to wear this uniform it is very special for me. I couldn’t even tell you how I feel today. But I can tell you it’s going to be something very special.”
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Machado, who played for Team USA’s 18-and-under national team in 2010, started at third base and hit second in a Dominican lineup that looks more than capable enough to defend its 2013 WBC championship.
Machado, a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner with the Orioles, was born in Hialeah and played his high school baseball at parks near his alma mater of Brito Miami Private School, located a little over four miles from Marlins Park.
Machado said numerous members of his family and friends are coming to support him during this weekend’s Pool C games.
“It’s awesome,” Machado said. “It’s going to be a great experience. I’m here representing the Dominican Republic. It couldn’t get any better than this, and I’m very lucky that we’re starting in Miami. I’m happy to put on this uniform and represent it in a great way.”
ONE MORE GO
Former Marlins starter Ryan Dempster and ex-Dodgers closer Eric Gagne are giving it one more go on the mound for Team Canada.
Dempster, 39, who started his career with the Marlins (1998-2002), pitched competitively for the first time since 2013 when he won a World Series with the Red Sox. Gagne, who converted 152 saves for the Dodgers in a three-year span from 2002-04, last pitched in the majors in 2008.
Dempster and Gagne were also teammates on Canada’s Junior National team in 1993-94 before playing in the majors.
▪ With Machado starting at third, Adrian Beltre hit seventh in the Dominican Republic’s lineup Thursday and served as its designated hitter.
Beltre, who has been hobbled by strained left calf sustained during a workout in mid-February, could see some action in the field during the WBC, according to manager Tony Pena.
Beltre enters the season 58 hits shy of the 3,000 mark. He would become the 31st player to eclipse the mark a year after Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki reached the milestone.
▪ Pirates center fielder Starling Marte was not in the Dominican Republic’s lineup Thursday after tweaking his ankle during the team’s final exhibition game against Pittsburgh the previous day.
Pena said Marte saw a Pirates team doctor and that the injury was not serious. Gregory Polanco started in center field.