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Tejada returns to roots in Caribbean Series


HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- In his heyday, as one of the best shortstops in baseball, they called him "La Guagua," as in, "The Bus," because he brought everybody home.

Now, as he makes his 12th trip to the Caribbean Series, Miguel Tejada is known to Latin Americans simply as "El Pelotero de la Patria," which roughly translates to, "The Patriotic Ballplayer" -- because he represents his native country like few big league stars ever have.

"I feel a lot of pride, a lot of respect for this game," the Dominican-born Tejada said in Spanish. "I try to respect the game as much as possible and play hard. And I think these fans [in the Caribbean], who love me and enjoy what I do, are what motivate me."

Tejada played his first Caribbean Series right by here, in Hermosillo's now-vacant Hector Espino Baseball Stadium, in 1997. A few months later, he debuted in the Majors, kick-starting a career that would include an American League Most Valuable Player Award, six trips to the All-Star Game, 304 home runs, 2,362 hits and -- regrettably -- a Mitchell Report link to performance-enhancing drugs.

Now, after a four-year absence, the 38-year-old is back in the Caribbean Series at Estadio Sonora, as a reinforcement for a Leones del Escogido club looking to win its second straight title and third in the last four years.

"He's sent a message to young players who are either rising or established in the big leagues," Escogido manager Audo Vicente said. "And that is: It doesn't matter what status you've achieved in the Majors. If you like to play baseball, and you have permission from your organization, it's important to represent your country."

In the meantime, Tejada is sending a message to the Royals, who signed him to a Minor League deal this offseason and will give him a chance to compete for a bench spot this spring.

For the Aguilas in winter ball, Tejada hit .284 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 34 games. And as the starting shortstop in this Caribbean Series, Tejada has batted .389 (7-for-18) with a couple of homers and five RBIs, so far looking like a favorite to nab his first Caribbean Series MVP in what could be his final stint in the illustrious tournament.

If it is, he'll finish with his name all over the record books.

On Tuesday night, in an 11-6 win over Mexico that clinched a spot in the championship game, Tejada hit a two-run shot that gave him a record 46 RBIs, surpassing countryman Tony Batista (45), and padded his own home run mark with No. 15. He also scored two runs, upping yet another record he already held to 54.

"I'm proud to say I can hit high-caliber pitching at my age," said Tejada, who spent 2012 away from the Majors.

"Playing for the Dominican at this level, it's almost big league level. The pitching is really good. There's a lot of good, young arms here. And I think that's really going to help me going into Spring Training."

Question is: How many more of these Spring Trainings does Tejada have in him?

"I don't know," Tejada said. "I like baseball, love baseball, and I know that when I retire as a player, I'll be involved in this game one way or another."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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