WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – At 5-feet 11 and 231 pounds, Pablo Sandoval hardly looks like a professional athlete.
He looks more like a pudgy cartoon character roaming the infield for the San Francisco Giants, which is why it’s fitting the rotund slugger has been nicknamed for his animated likeness: Kung Fu Panda.
Sandoval, a native of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, is one of the team’s most popular players among its fans, who scream at the top of their lungs for Sandoval. The third baseman blends his aggressive approach on the field with his fun-loving side off it.
But Sandoval, 24, hasn’t given the opposition many reasons to smile this postseason. After struggling through the regular season, he’s recorded three hits in the playoffs, driven in two runs and drawn two walks.
His biggest hit came against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, when he delivered a two-run double to spark a 6-5 win. Two games later, the Giants punched their first ticket to the World Series since losing to the Anaheim Angels in 2002.
For Sandoval, getting such a clutch hit in a game watched by millions simply was a dream coming to fruition, since he grew up envisioning that one day he’d make a huge play in the major leagues.
“Whеn I dreamed, I was a small kid in the backyard, pretending to come through,” Sandoval said at a media conference after the game. “Being in the postseason, helping mу team with a double, driving in two runs – іt’s one of those dreams. Whеn уοu′re a small kid, yοu′re thinking ‘mу dream’s going to come true.’ I’m here in the postseason. Last year, I was at home οn the beach.”
The Giants haven’t won the World Series since 1954, when they were based in New York City.
Standing in Sandoval and the Giants’ way of ending a 56-year title drought are the Texas Rangers, who are playing in their first World Series after dispatching the defending champions, the New York Yankees, in the American League Championship Series. Game 1of the best-of-seven series is Oct. 27 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Sandoval, however, isn’t the only Latin American player who will play on the game’s biggest stage.
The Giants also rely on Ramón Ramírez, a 29-year-old native of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, and Santiago Casilla, a 30-year-old from San Cristóbal in the Dominican Republic. The duo has combined to pitch 6 1/3 innings in relief during the postseason. The team also has received a stellar performance from Edgar Rentería, a 35-year-old native of Barranquilla, Colombia, who has three hits and a run, yet also has been terrific defensively. Third baseman Juan Uribe, a native of Baní in the Dominican Republic, hit the series-clinching home run in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
Texas also has Latin American flavor. The Rangers are amidst their greatest season in franchise history thanks in part to the play of pitcher Neftalí Feliz and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero.
Feliz, a 22-year-old native of Azua in the Dominican Republic, had a tremendous regular season and has been just as good in the playoffs. He’s allowed a run and two hits with seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
At the plate, Guerrero, a 35-year-old native of Nizao in the Dominican Republic, has been a catalyst, hitting .267 with four runs batted-in and four runs scored in 11 postseason games.
“I'm never going to look at a certain pitch,” Guerrero said at a media conference. “You know, I just have to watch the pitch and make a swing. The Rangers gave me the opportunity. I had injuries last year with Anaheim, so I didn't play the whole year. The Rangers gave me a chance to play here, and I have a whole season. This is my first year playing as a designated hitter. I got my knee injured and my shoulder injured, so that's why I'm playing designated hitter this year.”