Mariners Insider Blog

Sojo recruits Felix for Team Venezuela in the WBC


Luis Sojo was one of he heroes in that romp to the post-season in 1995, but when he came calling on the Seattle Mariners it was to recruit players for the World Baseball Classic – and he got away with four of them.

Felix Hernandez, Jose Lopez, Carlos Silva and Endy Chavez, Venezuelans all,will play for Sojo when he manages the Venezuelan team. The tournament will take players out of camp from March 1 until the team is eliminated or plays for the championship the final week in March.

The Mariners might have been hit harder than they were. Two other Venezuelan players, center fielder Franklin Guittierrez and infielder Ronnie Cedeno, could have played but chose not to. Sojo understood.

"It can be a hard choice for players, whether to represent their country or stay in a camp and play for their careers," Sojo said. "A lot of guys trying to make a team can't play. I'm recruiting a little bit, and talking to team management.

"Our first responsibility is to take care of the players who come aboard. We want to win, yes, but that comes first."

The prize catch for Sojo was pitcher Hernandez, who threw to hitters for the first time Wednesday. Hernandez can't wait for the WBC.

"I've been getting in shape for it since November," Hernandez said. "I wanted to play in the tournament two years ago, but Seattle said 'No,' so I didn't go. I'm excited to represent Venezuela. The last time I got the chance to do that, I was 12 years old and played in a tournament that we won."

Lopez, the Mariners starting second baseman, is aboard, too.

"Luis talked to me when I was playing winter ball this year," Lopez said. "I don't know what it will be like, playing for my country, but I want to find out. I know all the players on the team, and it will be a lot like playing in the big leagues."

The Mariners and manager Don Wakamatsu haven't named their opening day starter yet – although there's no real mystery. Sojo didn't need to think long about it.

"Felix is our Game 1 starter," he said.

Sojo broke up a group of media that surrounded him when one writer asked if he'd heard the speech of controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who said it was every players "duty" to join the team.

"Who's that?" Sojo deadpanned.