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How plantains became Dominican Republic's WBC good-luck charm

No, the Dominican Republic's WBC team hasn't gone bananas. It actually makes sense that players and fans have rallied around plantains. Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

SAN DIEGO -- As Fernando Rodney will proudly tell you, the Dominican Republic produces a lot of plantains.

A variety of banana but with less sugar, thicker skins and more starch, plantains are enormously popular in the Caribbean, particularly in the Dominican Republic. They are an extremely popular food item and a prominent export there. (One recent report says the country consumes 2.4 billion plantains a year, or more than 200 per person.)

"We're born eating plátanos, either smashed or boiled," pitcher Ervin Santana said, using the Spanish word for plantain. "So it's in our blood."

It also has been in Rodney's hand, waistband or locker during the World Baseball Classic. It's the continuation of a routine that started four years ago at the last WBC, which the Dominican Republic won.

Moises Alou, the team's general manager, recalled that a bunch of fans brought plantains to a 2013 WBC game "as if they were the Dominican national fruit." Alou says Rodney, the veteran major league closer who joined the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason, asked a fan for one. After that, Alou said, "It was all about the plantain and plátano power. It's been like the icon for the Dominican team."

It certainly has. Rodney, known throughout his career for striking a bow-and-arrow pose after closing out games, has become the center of plantain attention. He'll tuck one in his belt -- "It's his gun; it protects him," outfielder Nelson Cruz said -- and raise it up to enormous applause from Dominican fans during pregame introductions. While posing for one team photo, the entire Dominican squad mimicked Rodney's arrow gesture while he hoisted a large plantain.

"This is representing the country," Rodney said. "People know it's a plantain. We won the WBC when the plantain was there. It was plantain time."

Rodney says he buys a new plantain at a supermarket each day during the WBC and brings it to the ballpark, keeping it in the clubhouse when he doesn't have it in the dugout or during pregame introductions.

"I tell my friends I'm going to show off when we come out for the presentation before the national anthem," Rodney said. "Some working people [in the Dominican] like it. It's like the key for the WBC to represent the Dominican Republic."

Plantain growers in the Dominican Republic will often send Rodney photos of themselves copying his arrow pose. Fans asked him to autograph plantains they brought to last week's first-round WBC games in Miami. Cruz said he even saw a fan wearing a plantain necklace.

"It's fun," Cruz said. "We enjoy it and we embrace it. I think the whole country is into it."

Especially at meal time. A popular breakfast dish in the Dominican is mangu -- plantains that are boiled, mashed and sprinkled with sautéed onions.

"Mashed plantain is the national Dominican breakfast, and baseball is the national Dominican sport," Alou said. "So it's a good mix."

Rodney's routine is spreading. "Plátano Power" signs have popped up at WBC games, and fans have been tweeting about #platanopower, some including videos in which they are holding large plantains.

"Everything you see on social media right now is all about the plátano power, and plátano this and plátano that," shortstop Manny Machado said. "It's kind of fun. It keeps us loose. That's one of the things we have on this team is we just try to keep it fun, as loose as possible. Because that transfers out to the field when we're out there playing."

Can other WBC teams duplicate the phenomenon? Team Israel doesn't have plantains, but utility player Cody Decker keeps a life-size Mensch on the Bench doll in the dugout. The U.S. team, meanwhile, has a bald eagle statue.

"But it's not something that we wave around in the dugout," U.S. outfielder Christian Yelich said. "I think it's just something the [Dominican] team does."

Another thing the Dominican team does is win. The defending champions had an 11-game WBC win streak until they lost to Puerto Rico on Tuesday in a second-round contest. They'll try to get back on track Thursday night against Venezuela.

Perhaps Rodney might want to keep two plantains in his belt.