All the pundits called it a "steal". Nelson Cruz for $8 million? There is no way this can go wrong. A thousand analysts can't be wrong. Oh yeah...they weren't. He has been a smashing success, second in the league in both home runs and RBI. But Cruz was no overnight phenom in the baseball world. It was a long windy road.
Name: Nelson Ramon Cruz Number: 23
Born: July 1, 1980 (34 years old) in Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Dominican Republic
Height: 6'2" Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: Rightt Throw: Right
Signed: As an amateur free agent by the New York Mets on February 17,1998
School: Monte Crisit, DO
Contract: $8,000,000 in 2014 (Free agent this offseason)
Became an Oriole: Signed as a free agent on February 24, 2014
Walk-up Song: "Para Ti" by: Juan Luis Guerra
Cruz is from the north western part of the Dominican Republic; very close to the Haitian border. He shares his first name with his father. Together with Dominga, Nelson's mother, the elder Cruz raised three children: Nelson and his two sisters; Olga and Nelsy (man, they REALLY like the name Nelson).
They lived in a rented home with three beds between the five of them. Both Dominga and Nelson Sr. were teachers; Dominga, elementary school; Nelson, high school social studies.
Nelson's middle name comes from his grandfather, Ramon. He was a farmer who raised cows, bulls and rice. It had such an impact on Cruz as a child that he now owns a farm in the Dominican.
As a boy, Cruz would split time between school, his grandfather's farm and his uncle's auto shop. It was basically anything his father could get him to do to keep busy and out of trouble.
"If you don't have free time, you don't have time to do wrong," Nelson Sr. recently told the Baltimore Sun.
Despite all of this, the Orioles All-Star had time for sports. His favorite? Basketball. He chose hoops over hardball because he worked long hours, six days a week. When he was finally off it was dark out. The fields near him had no lights and no teams met on Sundays, his one day off. The courts, however, did have lights.
It wasn't until Nelson was a teenager, nearly out of school, that he played baseball regularly. It didn't take long for scouts to notice his ability. Mets' scout Eddy Toledo approached Nelson and told him he wanted to see him play. The future Major Leaguer struck out three times the game Toledo attended, but it wasn't enough to keep him away.
They got to work on a deal. The only thing that halted talks was Nelson Sr.'s insistence that the younger Cruz finish high school before training with the Mets minor leaguers in the Dominican. They would work things out and put pen to paper, making Cruz a professional.
After that, things got difficult for Cruz. In fact he wouldn't even leave the Dominican in a Mets uniform. He played there for parts of three seasons and, despite hitting .351 with 15 home runs in 2000, New York felt he wasn't progressing enough and sent him to Oakland in exchange for Jorge Velandia.
The Athletics organization really let him put his mark on minor league baseball, climbing from the Arizona Fall league to Triple-A Sacramento in parts of four years. However, he saw just four games of action in Sactown in 2004. It's possible that Oakland felt his development was taking a bit too long. Whatever the reason, he was sent to Milwaukee along with Justin Lehr in a trade for Keith Ginter.
From there, he would tear through the Brewers double-A opponents and hit well enough in Triple-A to get his first cup of Major League coffee with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. But it was only eight games as a September call-up.
He would start the 2006 season at Triple-A Nashville for the Brewers until the season's trade deadline approached. In a fairly big blockbuster move at the time, Milwaukee sent both Cruz and Carlos Lee to Texas in a swap for Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero, and Julian Cordero. Cruz would get his first crack at a full time gig in the bigs.
It wouldn't last as he showed big power but poor discipline at the plate. It caused him to yo-yo between the minors and majors for the next two seasons. He was too good for a farm team, but just couldn't hack it with the big club.
I mean, look at this: the Rangers brought him up in 2007 for 96 games. While there he slashed .235/.287/.384 with 9 home runs, 34 RBI, 21 walks, and 87 strikeouts. With Triple-A Oklahoma City that same season he slashed .352/.428/.698 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI in 44 games. It was night and day.
Texas had lost so much hope that in 2008 he was placed on waivers. Any team could have had him for $20,000. No takers, and it's a good thing for the Rangers. Over the next season he would establish himself as a regular; a fixture in a team that would go to the playoffs three straight years from 2010 to 2012, winning the pennant twice.
And then, 2013 happened. Cruz was tabbed as one of those involved in the Biogenesis scandal. The same investigation that nabbed Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez for lengthy suspensions. It was an unfortunate chain of events that Cruz claimed to be involved with to rehabilitate from a gastrointestinal infection that caused him to lose 40 pounds. Evidence to the contrary, such as an incongruent timeline of Cruz's purchase of drugs and his recovery, lead some to
Whatever the case, it left Cruz as an unknown commodity come this past winter. Something that the Orioles took advantage off. If you are reading this, you are well aware of that.
Aside from Biogenesis, Cruz appears to be very successful off the field. He has been married to his wife Solanyi for nearly five years. The two tied the knot on Christmas Day in 2009. They have two children; a son, 5-year-old Nelson (again with all these Nelsons), and a daughter, 1-year-old Jiara. The three live in a downtown apartment that they are renting for the season.
They will all be cheering him on as he bats sixth for the AL squad in tonight's All-Star game, right in front of teammate Adam Jones.
Maybe this is the only season he will be in Oriole black and orange, but he is making it one to remember.