02/06/12 9:07 PM EST
Dirks' standout play makes him a star in D.R.
Detroit outfielder displays flair for dramatic at Caribbean Series
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Oversized noisemakers rattle throughout the historic stadium and the horns -- no matter the size -- produce equally piercing blasts. Games are won, voices are lost and the heartbeat of the ballpark isn't just felt in the stands, but also heard thanks to pulsing beats played in between innings.
Through it all, you can still make out one of the most popular chants at this year's Caribbean Series, and that's music to Andy Dirks' ears every time he hears it.
"An-dee, An-dee, An-dee."
The Detroit outfielder is a rock star in the Dominican Republic. He can't walk out of the hotel room where he is living this week without fans asking to take a photo with him or get his autograph. As a member of the Dominican Republic's Escogido squad, he's also a Caribbean Series champion. Both are quite an accomplishment for the tranquil Dirks, especially when you consider he answers most questions by reporters with some variation of "I'm just a ballplayer."
"I just came down here to play," Dirks, 26, said. "It's fun when you are on a good team and can win a lot of ballgames."
Dirks picked the right team if winning is his top priority. A team from the Dominican Republic has now won the Caribbean Series title 19 times since 1970, the most among teams currently competing in the tournament. The D.R. has also won the title 13 times since 1990.
Escogido's perfect record after four games, combined with Puerto Rico's 4-3 victory against Mexico (2-3) on Monday afternoon, sealed the championship. Escogido lost to Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua, who had already been eliminated from the round-robin, 7-0 in the nightcap with the title in hand.
The tournament concludes Tuesday with Mexico squaring off against Venezuela in the first game of the series and the Dominican Republic against Puerto Rico in the final game of this year's tournament.
"It's what you play for." Oberkfell said. "I'm happy for the players, the ownership and the country. It's a lot of fun but we knew going in that we were going to have a pretty good team."
Other members of Escogido's championship team with Major League ties include Minnesota pitcher Francisco Liriano, Texas outfielder Julio Borbon, Philadelphia pitcher Raul Valdes, Milwaukee's Erick Almonte and Houston's Aneury Rodriguez. Minor Leaguers Jairo Asencio and Jose Constanza (Atlanta), Ramon Garcia (Detroit) and Cincinnati's Denis Phipps joined former Major Leaguers Julio Lugo and Fernando Tatis on the roster for the Leones.
"We came here to win this series and we did," Dirks said. "We did our job the first four games. I'm excited but we are not going to let up just because we won."
Dirks described Monday's scene as anticlimactic, which is not surprising considering his flair for the dramatic during the last seven days. A week ago, Dirks had the game-winning hit for Escogido in the come-from-behind victory against the Aguilas in Game 9 of the league finals. He also drove in the game-winning RBI against Venezuela in a 5-2 victory in extra innings five days later. On Sunday, Dirks' spectacular catch in the right-field gap in the eighth inning of a 1-0 game against Mexico saved a run and help preserve the victory for the D.R.
Dirks' recent exploits on the field have, in his words, made him a "mini-celebrity." In other ways, there is no denying that he is living large. Dirks lived in a beach resort while playing the Toros del Este earlier this winter and later moved to a well-known hotel and casino in Santo Domingo when he joined Escogido as a reinforcement player.
He'll sometimes hear his name called while walking through the hotel lobby and turn around, not knowing where the sound came from.
Everyone knows Andy Dirks.
"The hardest thing is the language barrier, but other than that, the people of the Dominican and everyone are great," Dirks said. "Everyone is really nice and friendly and always wants to help you out. And that makes it really easy."
Dirks hit .250, scored three runs and drove in three more in his first four games of the Caribbean Series. He hit .262 in 16 games with the Toros and would be happy to build some momentum heading into Spring Training in Florida next month.
Last spring the rookie made quite an impression for the Tigers, making the most of his opportunity when called up in the middle of May. He went on to hit .281 in 11 games in the month and .250 in June and July. He also started in the outfield over Magglio Ordonez for a stretch in the summer before cooling off down the stretch. He also hit .200 with one stolen base in the American League Championship Series against the Rangers.
The Tigers like Dirks' speed and his ability to play all three outfield spots. He could prove valuable to the Tigers this season, especially if Miguel Cabrera pulls off the switch from first base to third base to make room for Prince Fielder, and left fielder Delmon Young gets more at-bats as the club's designated hitter. Dirks' biggest competition could be Clete Thomas, a similar player who is out of Minor League options.
Not surprisingly, Dirks will be ready for the competition. Including the Caribbean Series, he has played in 30 games in the Dominican Republic since Dec. 1. He played a total of 121 games in the United States last season, including 41 for Triple-A Toledo.
"That's what we do, we are baseball players," he said. "I don't think playing can hurt you. The more games you play, the more it helps you, and it's how you learn. When I'm here, I'm here to win ballgames. I'm not just here to get at-bats. I'm here for myself but also here to compete. That's how you get better."
That's also how you get recognized on the island.
Someone should remind Dirks that he can forget about what's left of his anonymity in the Dominican Republic. He's now a part of Caribbean Series history and Dominican baseball lore.
"Baseball has been really good to me so far," Dirks said. "It's been good to get a chance to play, let alone get recognized for your play and have a great group of guys to play with. It's been a pretty surreal experience."