If the Detroit Tigers win the World Series it will be the second time that Andy Dirks has been in the winner’s circle in the last 8 months.
While most major league ballplayers were taking it easy last off-season, Dirks was doing what he does best – playing baseball in the Dominican Republic in their winter league. Well, to say he played would be an understatement. Dirks became a legend on that tiny island in his second season playing in front of the Dominican fans.
“Andy is a superstar in the Domincan,” said one teammate, “he could run for president down here.”
Dirks performed so well that he earned the nickname “Gringo Star” among the press. But it was “Ondy-der” (an attempted Latin pronunciation of his name) that Dirks answered to most of the time. Between the affectionate name, his All-American good looks, and his tremendous play on the diamond, Dirks earned a special place in the hearts of fans in DR.
Dirks has played in the Dominican in each of the last two seasons, ending up winning the league title both times. His list of game-winning hits continues to grow.
American ballplayers don’t play in Winter Ball for the fun of it – they do it to get noticed or to work on a part of their game that’s keeping them from making the major leagues. Dirks, at 26, was coming off a rookie season with Detroit where he did a fine job, especially against right-handed pitchers. But Andy wanted to improve his game against lefties and, well – he wanted to play more baseball so he decided to go back to the DR to play winter ball.
“I love this,” Dirks said when asked about signing with Toros del Este. “We’re all baseball players and this is what we live for.”
The young outfielder made his teammates happy by hitting .315 for Toros in the regular season. When his club failed to make the post-season, Dirks was the first player selected by the Escogido in the playoff draft (players who are on non-playoff teams are allowed to be drafted by teams that do make the playoffs).
As a member of Escogido, Dirks’ legend grew even more during the championship finals in February. In the final game of the league championship series, Dirks stroked an RBI single for a walk-off win. With horns and whistles and chanting going on in the background, the atmosphere for Winter League ball in the DR is unlike anything Dirks had ever experienced before. Even more chaotic than the raucous crowds in Oakland in the ALDS.
His play and success in the Dominican seems to have paid off for Dirks. He hit .322 in 2012, improving his mark by more than 65 points. As a result, Dirks became Jim Leyland‘s regular right fielder for most of the season, except for a stretch on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
The injury long behind him, Dirks will be in the starting lineup for Detroit in Game One of the World Series on Wednesday against Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants.
If there comes a time during the Series when Dirks has the chance to drive in the winning run, it won’t be an unfamiliar position for the young outfielder. He’s already delivered a championship-winning hit once this season, why not another?