SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Winning is never lost in translation, and for Andy Dirks, the last two years have been full of success in both English and Spanish.
The Detroit Tigers outfielder, possibly a starter this coming season, has spent the last two seasons in the Dominican Winter League and has come out a winner both times as he won a title with the Toros del Este in 2010-11 and had the game-winning hit last weekend with the Leones del Escogido.
Dirks has become a folk hero of sorts at Estadio Quisqueya, where fans sport Dirks signs and give him as much applause as they do hometown heroes Julio Lugo, Francisco Liriano, Erick Almonte, Pedro Florimon and Fernando Tatis.
At the Caribbean Series, which pits the champion clubs from the Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and Dominican leagues, Dirks’ heroics gave the Dominicans a 5-2, 13-inning victory Friday night to get Escogido off to a 2-0 start and put them well on their way to becoming the first club to win the Caribbean Series crown at home since Mexico’s Mazatlán Venados accomplished the feat in 2005.
“I love playing down here,” said Dirks, a 26-year-old from Kansas who played his collegiate ball at Wichita State. “The baseball is intense, the fans are intense and it’s an enjoyable way to play. That’s why I came back.”
The left-handed hitting Dirks is perfectly poised this spring to earn the starting right field job with the Tigers, who chose to not pursue Magglio Ordonez this offseason in an effort to renew their outfield.
With the acquisition of Prince Fielder, the Tigers arguably have the best middle of the order in baseball -- and the addition of Dirks to the outfield would give Detroit manager Jim Leyland some speed at the top of the order.
After his successful winter in the Dominican League last year, Dirks, an eighth-round draft pick in 2008, came out of nowhere in spring training and hit over .400 and was eventually called up when Ordonez went down. He ended up batting .251 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 76 games and even saw action in the American League Championship Series.
Dirks said he has heard nothing from the Tigers other than to report to camp ready to work.
“Quite frankly, I just play. They make the decisions,” Dirks said. “I love playing down here and it helps me stay focused and in shape. I’m going to go to spring training and do what I’ve always done, which is play hard and hope for the best.”