MIAMI -- Team Colombia is riding an emotional high after recording its first-ever victory at the World Baseball Classic.
MLB veterans Julio Teheran and Donovan Solano were easy to notice Saturday in the 4-1 win over Canada. Teheran pitched five strong innings, and Solano drove in two runs. A closer look, however, reveals the importance of the spark provided by speedy 22-year-old New York Yankees outfield prospect Tito Polo, who made key plays for the second day in a row to earn praise from his manager and respect from his teammates.
"He's a big part of this team -- not just on the field, but off the field as well," said Colombia manager Luis Urueta. "He's got a good personality, and guys love him. He's treated as a rookie on this team, but in reality, he's been one of the leaders for what he's done in the field. He's kind of the ignition to the team, the way he runs and plays defense. He's a guy that can fire up a team at any time, and we're happy to have him."
Polo also played an integral role in the win over Canada. In his first at-bat, he moved Jhonatan Solano into scoring position on a ground ball, allowing brother Donovan to drive him in with a single to left field. Then with two out in the fifth inning, Polo laced a single to center, stole second base and scored to put Colombia ahead 2-1 on another single by Donovan Solano. The play elicited a cheer of "Po-lo, Po-lo" in one section among the thousands of spirited Colombia fans. Polo singled on a bunt in the ninth inning, helping to score Oscar Mercado with the final run of the game.
"I don't have the words to explain how proud I am to have the jersey of Colombia on my body, and to have the colors on me," Polo said through a translator. "There is plenty of great talent coming out of Colombia. We're just an example of what is possible, and there are plenty of guys that are on the rise coming out of Colombia."
On Friday night, Colombia suffered an emotional 3-2 loss in 10 innings against the powerful United States team. Polo didn't appear to be in awe of the moment or the stage as he shared the field with some of the biggest names in baseball. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder made two dazzling catches in center field, robbing Adam Jones and Ian Kinsler of extra-base hits.
"It's cool to be out there and see all of these All-Stars, but at the end of the day they're all just regular people," said Polo, a native of Isla San Andres. "That's what humbles me, is to know that we're all just baseball players. We're all playing for the same thing."
Colombia earned a berth in this year's tournament by winning a qualifying event in Panama last year. By defeating Canada, Colombia earns an automatic berth into the next edition of the WBC, avoiding the qualification process altogether. Of more immediate importance, the win keeps Colombia alive in Pool C of this year's WBC. Colombia faces the star-studded Dominican Republic team at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday.
Polo was initially signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 17 in 2012. After steadily progressing for four years, Polo hit .289 and recorded 16 home runs and 66 RBIs in 111 games last season in Class A, three levels below the major leagues.
"He has a great future," said longtime MLB shortstop Edgar Renteria, general manager and bench coach of Team Colombia. "He has to keep working hard and wait for his chance in the big leagues."
Urueta, a coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, agrees that Polo has a solid career ahead of him, if he can make adjustments at the plate, strike out less and draw more walks.
"I think he has the potential to be a center fielder in the big leagues," Urueta said. "It's a long-term goal, but he has the tools. He's a guy who has speed and power. Those are the guys you want."
Polo was traded from the Pirates to the Yankees late last season as part of a deal involving veteran pitcher Ivan Nova. After playing winter ball in Mexico this offseason, he said he knows expectations are high in the Yankees' organization, but he is eager to prove himself.
"I'm looking forward to having a good season with the Yankees," Polo said. "The main thing is to continue working hard. It's going to be a big challenge for me, being with the Yankees. There's a lot of opportunity there. I'm just going to give it my best and hope that good things come."
Yankees prospect Tito Polo helps spark Colombia in WBC