This interview was conducted in Spanish and has been translated. You can read the original in Spanish here.
The Indians' good luck charm? It's not out of the question. The Tribe's 25-year-old third baseman, Gio Urshela, was the only player to appear in the first 21 games of their win streak. Here he speaks with Marly Rivera about representing his home country of Colombia, embracing the Indians' Latino-heavy clubhouse and exceeding expectations after a slow start to his career.
You don't come from a baseball country -- in Colombia, soccer is the main sport played there. So what did your appearance in the WBC mean for the country?
It was a really big deal for Colombian baseball. It has helped us a lot. Now we are seeing more Colombians in the minor leagues and in the majors. That makes me very happy, and it helps a lot of the young guys who are coming up, dreaming of playing in the major leagues.
Do you remember the first Colombian you ever watched play baseball on TV?
I think it was Orlando Cabrera, [Edgar] Renteria and Orlando's brother, Jolbert. I think they were the first players I ever saw. I was so happy growing up, watching them play. I even played with Edgar in a WBC qualifier.
There has been a lot of growth in baseball in Colombia. Where does that come from?
Yes, baseball has really grown a lot. I think [it's because of] the work that all the Colombians have been doing here in the United States, and I think that in the coming years there will be many more Colombians in major league baseball.
People obviously know Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana, but they don't know many Colombian position players beyond Cabrera or Rentería. Do you expect to change that?
Well, let's hope so. That's the idea. We also have a coach who is with the White Sox. It really fills me with joy having Colombians here in the major leagues.
You've become known in Cleveland for your defensive plays at third base. What was your development like?
I started as a shortstop when I first signed, then they decided to move me to third as I was growing. In the early years, it was difficult to get used to playing third, but I felt very comfortable afterward.
What player did you emulate at third base?
I would like to be like Alex Rodriguez, who has been my idol since he was a kid. [I love] how he plays, all the things he did in baseball, and I really would like to be someone like him.
Do you have a special technique for those spectacular plays that have people saying 'Wow'?
Watch the ball, catch the ball and throw it and make the out, which is the most important part [laughs].
But how much of it is based on instinct and how much is studying film?
[Studying film] means a lot. You have to study the players a lot, where they can hit ball. All those little details will serve you well the moment you have to field a ground ball, on whether it's going to [go] off to the side or be a line drive. It's all going to work for you when the time comes to make that play.
You debuted in 2015, but then in 2016 you didn't play a single day in the big leagues. Are you surprised how you came this season to stay?
Well, yes. I just kept on working. Even though the opportunity didn't come then, I had to continue working hard, so when that day came again, I would have the chance to stay. Well, that's what I'm doing now, doing the work. And I want to stay [up here in the majors].
How do you explain that change in your career? From not playing last year to being a key piece of a team that has won the division.
Well, it's just really awesome. That's what I always strived for in my career. When I was in Triple-A last year, I always kept my head up. No matter what happened, I was always focused on my goal, and well, thank God I'm here again.
Tell me about the Latino core of this team, which is pretty impressive -- the entire diamond can be composed of Latin players, if Carlos Santana is at first base, Jose Ramirez at second, Francisco Lindor at shortstop, either you or Yandy Diaz at third and Roberto Perez at the plate.
I feel really happy to know that those guys [like me] worked their way up, that they have also struggled to get ahead, and I am glad for them.
It's really impressive when you get there to your spot and you hear all the different Hispanic accents. You feel at home, and that really makes us all happy. We play with that passion and with that joy that characterizes us [Latinos].
They said you were the good luck charm, because you were the only one who played in every single game of the first 21 games of the 22-game winning streak ... and you guys almost lost the 22nd one because you did not play!
Well, yes [laughs], but thank God we put on a good performance in those 22 games, and I'm really happy to have established that streak.
How is the relationship with Tito Francona, and how important is it for this team that is so full of Latinos that he makes an effort to speak Spanish?
It's good. It's like a family here. He tries to speak Spanish, with his little words in Spanish, what he knows. And we just really know that he tries to speak our language because he wants us to do a good job here on the team.
What has been the key to the Indians' success?
That we are like a family. We really get along very well, all of us -- the Latinos, the American players. This team is really like a family.
There's a big difference in expectations this year in comparison to last year. How do you deal with that?
Well, expectations are high. People, fans, they are really excited about the team, but that helps fuel us with excitement to keep winning, to go out there on the field every game and fight for a win.
What would you like people to know about Gio Urshela? First of all, I have heard different pronunciations of your last name.
Some call me Urchela, others Urshela. Sort of everything. I don't care, call me whatever. [In Colombia], even though there's an 'h' in the middle, they say Ursela. I say Urshela.
I am a winner who likes to compete. I am always happy, joyous. I always try to have fun, which is the most important thing in baseball. In life, you have to be happy. And I think that's what's most important.