"He helped teach me the game," Baez said. "I also admired the fact that he worked hard and was a good guy."
As with any sport, younger players grow up with heroes they want to emulate. They see the way the established star plays the game, the way he handles himself on and off the field, and they want to do the same. It's an important rite of passage.
Hispanic baseball players are certainly no exception. But because of the size of many of their countries, sometimes the younger players get to see their idols in person quite a bit. And occasionally, they even have the chance to play or sit alongside them.
"My father was a scout for the Pirates, so I grew up around a lot of those guys," Rays reliever Jorge Sosa said. "Juan Marichal, George Bell, Pedro Martinez. They were always nice to the young kids, telling them about baseball and what it takes to be successful."
Sosa said he also idolized his dad.
"He was a shortstop," Sosa said. "He taught me the discipline you need to play the game."
Rays outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. also has an All-Star dad. Jose Cruz Sr., a Puerto Rican native, played for a total of 19 seasons for the Cardinals, Astros and Yankees.
Jose Cruz / RF
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
Second baseman Jorge Cantu said he has been compared to another Mexican infielder.
"Vinny Castilla and I both played third base," Cantu said. "Of course, he's an established big hitter in the Major Leagues. He's also a great fielder. Right now, I'm just honored to be one of the Mexican players compared to him."
Outfielder Midre Cummings never worked behind the plate but said his idol was a catcher.
"I looked up to Tony Pena," Cummings said. "The way he caught the ball, his style behind the plate. Just the way he looked. You always liked the guy. He was something special."
Cummings also likes the batting style of a former batting champion Julio Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic.
"When I was growing up, the way he held the bat, I thought is was the coolest thing ever," Cummings said.
Rays rookie reliever Franklin Nunez, a native of the Dominican, considers himself very lucky. In his first trip to the Major Leagues, he got to watch one of his country's heroes perform against the Rays and play alongside another.
"I like the way Pedro Martinez challenges hitters," Nunez said. "And I am lucky to be able to play with [Rays reliever] Jesus Colome."
And back in the Dominican, there are some young baseball players who surely have enjoyed watching Martinez, Colome and now Nunez.
"We know we are role models, yes," Baez said. "It is difficult sometimes, but it is good and important."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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