For Cano and Cruz, playing in the WBC an "honor and a privilege"

Jesse Rieser for ESPN

This story is also posted in Spanish. Read it here.

You've known each other for years, and you've been teammates in MLB and the World Baseball Classic. When did you first meet?
Nelson Cruz: We met during winter ball in the Dominican Republic --
Robinson Cano: But we really started spending more time together in 2009, when we went to the WBC.

What were your first impressions of each other?
In the minor leagues, [Nelson] was a lion. All he needed was a chance. Nobody wanted to pitch to that guy. He was such a strong hitter and could also hit the ball in every direction with the same strength.
NC: I first saw him in winter ball; he was playing third. I remember that he hit a liner that went over my head in right field. I said to myself, "This prospect has power."

Nelson, how much did Robinson affect your decision to join Seattle for the 2015 season?
A lot. In 2014, we were always in touch. I always told him, "Give me the inside info!"
RC: In 2014, we talked to Lloyd [McClendon, former manager], but in the end, ownership said there wasn't enough money.
NC: Later on we played in the All-Star Game in Minnesota, and he was telling me again, "Hey, the two of us should be in Seattle." It all went on from there.

How does the Latino presence in clubhouses today compare to those when you started in MLB?
We give the game a different flavor, and teams notice that. It is almost necessary to have Latino players. And when you have a lot of them, the games have more zest. In the beginning [when I first got to the majors], I felt isolated. That is why I try my best to help every rookie from having that feeling. I always said to myself, when I have a position of power and I can impose order, I will allow the rookies to feel welcome and make them feel at home.

The Mariners in particular have a large Latino presence in the clubhouse. How does that compare with other clubhouses in MLB?
RC: It is one of the best I have ever been in, in terms of friendship and the way we get along. And not only the Latino players. Here there are no superstars. Everyone respects everyone.
NC: We just want all our teammates to arrive in the clubhouse and feel like they are home. Even when it comes to music-we listen to Latin music as well as music in English.
RC: We listen to everything ... even country music!

I've heard that you bring Latin food to the stadium for visiting players. Do you also get it on the road?
As a player, you know how difficult it is to be eating wings all the time or eating McDonald's --
NC: So when Latinos go to Seattle, I will bring food for them so they don't have to go through that. And we expect the same when we go to another ballpark.
RC: The first player I ever saw doing such a thing was Vladimir [Guerrero]. When we'd go to Anaheim, his mom would always send us food. It never failed.

Who has the best food on the road?
All of them are good! We are away from home, so we just dream of someone taking pity on us and sending us some food [laughs].

Robinson became a citizen four years ago, and now Nelson, you're working toward that. Why now?
Because it is a privilege. Also, you can travel to many countries with your passport and you don't need a visa. That is one reason I applied for citizenship. Plus, my two children are U.S. citizens, and my wife is too.

Are there ever times you feel more American than Dominican?
RC: Never.
NC: People come here and get used to so many things, but their ways, their swag, everything they are, that doesn't disappear. You never forget where you came from. The pride that one feels for being Dominican is something you never lose. RC: You feel proud of being able to come from a country where you had nothing and then come here and be able to make your dreams come true.

What does it mean to wear the uniform of the Dominican Republic at the WBC?
It is an honor and a privilege to be one of those nine players in the lineup, and to do it now for a second time as team captain -- it is a blessing.
NC: As a player, you dream of two things: making it to the majors, and then representing your homeland. Playing in the WBC was another dream come true.

What is the atmosphere like during WBC games?
It's almost like the playoffs. Every team plans around their top pitching; they are always ready. Pitchers are better prepared. They know this is a do-or-die game. You don't want people in your home country saying 'we lost because of this guy.' Just imagine that!

What players are you most excited to play with or against this month?
[On the DR team,] It's more than one -- I am excited to spend time with all of them. It's so exciting to play together as a team, with the excitement of the fans.
NC: You don't focus on specific players, but you do focus on certain rivals. As a player, you are also a fan and want to have that experience. For example, we have played against the United States and Venezuela [in the past]. I would like to play against Cuba, or against Japan.
RC: And you do want to see different players [that don't play in MLB]. The most significant example was during the last WBC when [Kenta] Maeda was pitching.
NC: We did not know who he was!
RC: I remember that they were saving him to pitch against us... but [Japan] did not move on.

For both of you, this is your third WBC appearance. What does that mean to your legacy as a player?
That's something that I will appreciate more after retirement. When you retire and look back and say, 'Wow, look at this photo. Look at Nelson Cruz in the WBC. We were superstars!' I really have to thank God for this. I think that when you are no longer in that moment, you appreciate it more.

What is the greatest honor of your career?
The greatest honor so far has been to win the WBC.
RC: To win the World Series, the WBC, the All Star game, all those things are special memories; each one of them felt different. You can never compare.

Is it fair to say that there is nothing like winning a World Series ring?
I would say yes.
NC: But the WBC is the real "World Series" -- that is really the one series where you are playing against "the world." We are members of the team that won the true "world" series. So I am also a "World Series" champion!