03/06/09 9:45 PM ET
Panamanians say nothing to lose
Lee and Co. feel pressure will be on Puerto Rico before home fans
By Will Gonzalez / Special to MLB.com
For Lee, Panama will play with less pressure than Puerto Rico.
"They are the ones who have pressure because they are the ones at home," said Lee during a press conference Friday afternoon at the stadium. "If we lose, we lose. But if they lose, they lose in front of their people and their fans. Not us. We're calm. We're easy."
Lee also believes that this Panamanian team is better than the one that represented his country in the first Classic.
"There is a combination of a lot of young guys who are coming up and wanting to win and wanting to leave their name high," said the 32-year-old outfielder. "We don't have the lineup or the strength that others have, but I believe that what the guys have is the desire to win."
Bruce Chen, the pitcher who will start the game for Panama, is comfortable in pitching at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
"I've played in this stadium. I know it quite well," said the 31-year-old left-hander, who played winter ball in Puerto Rico and pitched in the stadium during the first Classic. "I know where the breeze is. I know how the field behaves and the weather also."
Hector Lopez, Team Panama's manager, has confidence that his squad can beat Puerto Rico: "I believe that the players are well and they are ready to play ball."
Jose Oquendo, Puerto Rico's manager, agrees that Panama should not be taken lightly.
"I know they are going to be prepared to play against us," said Oquendo. "We can't take it lightly, take it slow, because I think they are going to be prepared and I think it's going to be a good game."
Oquendo trusts that Puerto Rican starter Javier Vazquez will pitch well against Panama.
"Vazquez is a pitcher that pitches a lot of strikes," he said. "He gets lots of innings with a low number of pitches."
Oquendo declined to reveal his starting lineup for the game. However, two players are doing everything possible to convince Oquendo to put them in his lineup. Ivan Rodriguez and Bernie Williams appeared at the press briefing with their manager and spoke about their excitement to play in the Classic. Both players are free agents. Rodriguez played last year with the Tigers and the Yankees but has yet to sign with a team this year. Williams has never officially retired as a player, but he has not played baseball since the end of the 2006 season.
"Physically I feel great. I feel 100 percent," said Rodriguez. "Mentally I'm great. It's going to be great for me to play. But the most important thing is that I'm playing for a reason. I'm playing for the Puerto Rican team. That is my main focus, winning. And after that also it's going to help me for my future in the big leagues."
"My motivation to play in this tournament has mainly been to represent Puerto Rico. Obviously after two years without playing baseball, I've missed it a bit," said Williams.
The former Yankees center fielder, however, is not necessarily auditioning for a summer job.
"After two years away from baseball, it's given me a chance of reflecting, really seeing what the important things in my life are, like my family, the passions that I have, like music, the many things that I have not had a chance to do because I played baseball," said Williams.
One of Williams' ex-teammates with the Yankees, Panamanian Mariano Rivera, is expected to attend the game. According to Lopez, Rivera will be at the game to give moral support to his countrymen.
"Mariano's presence here is good for the players," said Lopez. "I believe that that is great for him and for the country."
Will Gonzalez is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.