Dominicans ready to represent

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the last three years, David Ortiz has gone from largely unknown to one of the best and most popular players in the major leagues.

Since coming to the Red Sox, Ortiz has won a World Series ring, played in two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger Awards, been MVP of the ALCS, and won the Hank Aaron Award, in addition to finishing second in the AL MVP voting. But none of that has made him happier than the chance to wear the colors of his native Dominican Republic in the first World Baseball Classic.

"I'm very excited to be representing my country. I think all players should feel the same and really enjoy the moment," Ortiz told ESPNdeportes.com at the Red Sox training facility. "I have a really good feeling about representing the D.R. again, this time on a professional level."

Ortiz has played for the Dominican in five Caribbean World Series and is a powerful left-handed hitter who hit 47 home runs and drove in 148 runs last season with Boston. He will be in the middle of a fearsome lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Miguel Tejada, Alfonso Soriano, Vladimir Guerrero and Adrian Beltre.

"The World Classic is a good idea, now people will feel represented by their players," Ortiz said. "The only difficult thing about it is the timing, because the majority of players are out of shape, but in general, I think everyone should take advantage of the chance to wear their country's uniform."

Not all Dominican players share Oritz's feelings on the WBC, which has suffered from a growing number of players declining to play. First, Alex Rodriguez left the Dominican team -- dropping out of the tournament -- but decided to play for the U.S. (where he was born) instead of the D.R. (his parents' homeland).

Then, Rangers reliever Francisco Cordero, Diamondbacks right-hander Jose Valverde, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez and Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo decided not to play in the tournament for the Dominican.

In addition, Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez are in doubt, despite the fact they are on the preliminary roster. Sosa has apparently decided to hang 'em up, while Martinez's injured toe will keep him out until at least the second round of the Classic.

Ramirez is a whole other story. No one knows what his plans are, not even Red Sox owner John Henry, who recently said on a Boston radio station that Manny would not be playing in the WBC.

"You never know with Manny. Manny is Manny and there's no one like him," said Ortiz, who may be as close to Ramirez as anyone in baseball.

For the start of the WBC, Hideki Matsui will be absent from the Japanese roster, the same as Barry Bonds for the United States. But that will remain the big news only until "Big Papi" starts to flash his big smile and his big bat in the first international baseball competition with professionals.

"I'm the best player at marketing myself," Ortiz said with a laugh, lighting up a cool and overcast day in Fort Myers.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.