Nelson was good enough at basketball, which he concentrated on more than baseball as a teen, to play for the Dominican Republic Junior National team.
- In 2000, when the Mets looked to acquire utilityman Jorge Velandia from Oakland, the two teams initially couldn’t agree on a player in return. The A’s Latin American scouts raved about Cruz following his monster season in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, so they took him. (Baseball America - December 2004)
When Nelson was a teen in the Dominican Republic, his family sent him to work at an uncle's car repair shop, working on tractors and trucks as a mechanic. He was a big kid, but Cruz just dabbled a little bit in sports. His baseball experience was limited to street games.
"When I was 15 or 16, I knew more about tractors than autos," Cruz said. "I know how to fix a car from the 1990s, but cars today are all computers. I would work with my uncle at his auto shop, using heavy machinery and things like that."
That changed when Mets scout Eddy Toledo spotted Cruz in a pickup game and persuaded him to join a team. It turned out that Nelson's skills weren't limited to fixing cars, and Toledo signed him at age 17.
Cruz shares a hometown with Ozzie Virgil, the first Dominican to ever play Major League Baseball. Both are from Monte Cristi.
During the offseason before 2005 spring training, Baseball America ranked Nelson as #10 prospect in the A's organization. Before 2006 spring camp, the magazine had Cruz as 8th-best prospect in the Brewers organization.
In 2005, Nelson was the Brewers Minor League Player of the Year after helping lead the Triple-A Nashville Sounds to the Pacific Coast League Championship.
- On September 4, 2006, Nelson hit two home runs, one of which was the 21st inside-the-park home run in Texas Ranger history. Cruz was the sixth Ranger to hit two home runs in a game with one being inside the park. Rusty Greer was the last Ranger (July 21, 1994), against Pat Hentgen and the Toronto Blue Jays. Bump Wills, Gary Ward, Bob Brower, and Ruben Sierra also accomplished this feat.
Bump Wills did it on August 27, 1977, against the New York Yankees. That was the famous moment when Toby Harrah and Wills hit inside-the-park home runs on consecutive pitches off Yankees pitcher Ken Clay. (T.R. Sullivan-MLB.com-9/4/06)
In 2008, Cruz was named the Pacific Coast League's MVP after hitting .342 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs for Triple-A Oklahoma.
In 2008, Nelson was named the Rangers' organization's Player of the Year.
In 2011, Cruz easily won the ALCS MVP for leading the Rangers to the World Series. No one else in Major League history has hit six homers or collected 13 RBIs in a playoff series. The only other players with even five homers in a single postseason series were Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Juan Gonzalez, and Chase Utley.
He was 8 for 22 (.364) and all eight hits were extra-base hits—the six homers and two doubles. Only one player has had more extra-base hits in a playoff series was Yankee Hideki Matsui, who had nine in the 2004 ALCS vs. Boston.
Consider his other "Nellie-fest" feats:
+ He hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history.
+ He became the first player with extra-inning homers in two games of one series.
+ He became the first player to hit six homers in two postseasons, and he's done it in back-to-back years.
+ He became the franchise's career postseason home run king.
In 2012, Nelson purchased a fire truck for the city of Las Matas Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic. The town of 18,756 people is in the Monte Cristi province in which Cruz grew up.
American Medical Response also donated two ambulance to Las Matas Santa Cruz. And the Arlington, Texas Fire Department contributed to the effort.
"It's a big deal," Cruz said. "I know kids who have died because we didn't have an ambulance. I had a friend who lost his house because we didn't have a fire truck. My town is not that big. It's definitely needed. We have firefighters, but we didn't have a fire truck."
August 5-September 30, 2013: Cruz and 12 other players around MLB were handed 50-game suspensions that effectively ended their regular season, for using PED's. His Rangers teammates were sympathetic and supportive, while recognizing Nelson had made a terrible mistake. He spoke to his teammates before leaving the clubhouse.
"It was a really emotional talk," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "He's part of our family. I've known him since he has been here. He's always had my back and talked to me during bad times. We love him. It was tough as a man to stand up in front of everybody and talk for real. You can see how tough it is for him and his family.
"At that moment, you're not a player, you're a human being. Nobody is perfect and nobody has the power to judge. The main thing is to support him. I love him like a brother."
Said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, "People around here really respect Nellie for the way he goes about his business. He was very remorseful and sad. He did not make excuses. He said he made a mistake. We're all men here. We all have to live with the consequences. It's a shame it happened, but we'll get through it."
Washington said no players expressed any anger directed at Cruz for being suspended. There was also no anger expressed over Cruz deciding not to appeal the suspension. If Cruz had filed an appeal, he would have still been able to play until the case was heard by an arbitrator.
"I read or heard something about us being angry," pitcher Derek Holland said. "That's not true. We love the guy. That's got to stop. We love him and we're behind him."
In 2014, Cruz was the Most Valuable Oriole, beating out Adam Jones and Zach Britton.
Nelson grew up working on his grandpa's farm. His parents were both teachers, Dominga at his elementary school and Nelson Sr. a social studies instructor at the high school.
Cruz was selected to start in the 2015 All-Star Game.
Cruz had the best season of his life in 2015, smashing a career-high 44 home runs and batting .302 in his first year with the Mariners. So what did the 35-year-old do to celebrate? He went home to the Dominican Republic and kicked his offseason training regimen up another notch.
"I've been working harder this year than ever before," Cruz said.
Some players wind down in their mid-30s, but Cruz has shown no signs of regression. Power has always been a big part of his game, but he proved to be a better all-around hitter than the Mariners expected last season after signing him to a four-year, $56 million contract.
"I guess my excuse has to be that I started playing baseball late," Cruz said. "I'm still developing."
Indeed, Cruz didn't play a lot of baseball as a kid growing up, instead focusing more on basketball. He signed with the Mets as an 18-year-old, but didn't become a full-time Major Leaguer until age 28 with the Rangers.
"I'm working like I was 20," he said. "I have that love. That's the most important thing. When you quit loving the game or having the passion, you start breaking down. The love and passion are still there, and that's what you need to perform and go out there and compete every day." (Johns - MLB.com - 2/24/16)
Baseball has been good to Nelson. He's living the good life as a Major Leaguer. The Mariners' 2016 cleanup hitter, however, has not forgotten the reality of life back home in the Dominican Republic. And Cruz is committed to helping as best he can to make things better for his fellow Dominicans.
It started with a gesture of concern for his neighbors in Las Matas de Santa Cruz in 2011 in response to a fire that destroyed the home of one if his lifelong friends. Cruz, with the Rangers at the time, arranged for the purchase of a firetruck that was shipped back home, and he started what is a growing effort to help his countrymen.
"In my community, we didn't have a firetruck," Cruz said. "We also needed an ambulance because we don't have the biggest hospital. When somebody gets sick, or accidents or heart attacks, any emergency, we had to transport those people in trucks or SUVS, nothing that can give you the medical attention you need."
When Cruz first looked into buying the firetruck, there was sticker shock. "It was $300,000, $250,000," said Cruz, whose salary was $440,000 in 2010, the season before he began the search. "I could not afford that. [The Rangers] helped me contact the fire department in Texas, and they helped me find one. I bought the firetruck, and they donated the ambulances."
The program has grown since Cruz's arrival in Seattle, underscored by a foundation he is creating this year to help improve the situation for firefighters and medical attention. Cruz.said it's an attitude that was ingrained in him as a child. He parents were both teachers, and his father also became a lawyer.
"My dad was always involved with the community," said Cruz. "He founded a basketball team in my community. He founded the Patronales [a celebration to honor the patron saint of Las Matas]. My dad always goes to meetings to help the community develop. I learned from him. Now that I have a chance to help people, there is nothing better than to feel I can do something for my country, my community."
In addition to the firetruck and the ambulances, Cruz's initial efforts include providing the people in his hometown with firefighting gear, including uniforms and hoses.
"Last year I talked to the [Seattle] Fire Department and they donated a bunch of equipment," Cruz said. "We spread the equipment all over the state [of Monte Cristi]. We raised money, trying to train guys so they can be firefighters and paramedics.
"In my community, they are voluntary firemen. They don't make any money. We collect money so they at least have food for their family. We help them out, sending their children to school, stuff like that." (Ringolsby - MLB.com - 6/13/16)
December 2016: Cruz committed to play for the Dominican Republic in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Joe West has been an MLB umpire since 1976. In 2017 he had entered his fifth decade in the game, which is just astounding. Clearly impressed by West's impeccable career on the diamond, Nelson saw fit to ask West for a photograph ... as he strode to the plate in the sixth inning of the 2017 All-Star Game. But he wasn't looking for a selfie, thanks to spot-photographer Yadier Molina behind home plate.
Why not, right? And the end result was pretty magnificent, as Cruz proudly displayed the photo during his dugout chat with FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. And later in the evening, Cruz presented the big reveal on his Instagram page.
After the game was over, Cruz explained that this was actually his plan from the very beginning -- kind of. "I thought about it before the game and told everybody I was going to take a picture with Joe West my first at-bat. It was supposed to be a selfie, but I saw Yadi say batting gloves would make it [difficult]."
So why Joe West? "Well, he's a legend, you know? I think that's the only chance you get to take a picture with Joe West." (Garro & DeNicola - mlb.com - 7/11/17)
Nelson drives a Mercedes-Benz. Other Cruz Favorites:
Movie: The Day After Tomorrow
Actor: Denzel Washington
TV Show: El Chavo del Ocho.
Music: Latin Music.
Food: Latin food.
July 2018 : Cruz was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
Oct. 16, 2018: In American-themed shoes, Cruz announced on Instagram that he'd become a U.S. citizen. His post reads in both English and Spanish, "Mission accomplished. Next stop: Registering to vote."
Charity work off the field in 2018 : Nelson’s compassion ranges from promoting education to ensuring the most vulnerable people of his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic have the necessities to lead safe, healthy lives. To date, he has sent two ambulances, a fire truck, wheel chairs, medicines, school supplies and baseball equipment back home and he is currently raising money to build a police precinct on property he purchased.
2018: Cruz became a US citizen. Despite having played professional baseball in the United States since 2001, Nelson Cruz only became an official US citizen in October, 2018. Nelson’s wife and two kids were already US citizens, so it made sense for him to take the plunge too. Plus, it sounds like he was looking forward to voting in November.
Cruz takes a nap before (almost) every game. Every player has a pre-game ritual, and apparently for Cruz his involves sleeping. He is said to take a nap before every game,typically lasting an hour, but sometimes only 30 or 40 minutes. These are professional naps with blankets (or in a pinch, towels). He reportedly once dreamed about Ichiro Suzuki during a nap before a rather successful game at the plate.
Nickname: “BOOMSTICK”The legend of the “Boomstick” began when Cruz filmed a commercial promoting the MLB 2K10 video game with 2K Sports in 2009. He and former American League Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey were tasked with trash-talking each other, and the folks at 2K Sports came up with the name “Boomstick” to describe Cruz's bat. Once the commercial aired, the name stuck with Cruz's teammates.“This is me, with my Boomstick,” Cruz says to Bailey in the commercial as he points to a crudely drawn cartoon. “This is you, sad and sweaty and nervous.”
Oct. 15, 2019: Cruz was chosen the Twins most valuable player for 2019, and also won the team’s Bob Allison Award for leadership by the Twin Cities chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Nov 11, 2019: You know that age-old question: "What would it be like to hit a golf ball on the moon?" Please, see your answer below, courtesy of prodigious baseball slugger Nelson Cruz.
Holy crap. Look at it. It just ignores gravity. John Daly, Tiger Woods, Happy Gilmore can't even do this. It keeps rising and rising until it disappears over the netting into the black of night. I have never, ever, seen a golf ball hit this far in my life
Cruz, a man accustomed to crushing small white balls into different stratospheres, simply gave a little laugh and walked off the tee -- not knowing that the ball likely turned into a giant, flaming meteor that destroyed an entire planet gazillions of miles away.
Or maybe he did know and, frankly, he just doesn't care. (CUT4 -MLB.com - Nov 11, 2019)
Dec. 2, 2019: Cruz was unsurprisingly recognized for his ageless production as the winner of the 2019 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.The 39-year-old received the award for the second time in his career, having also won as a member of the Mariners in 2017. The recognition capped a busy awards season for Cruz, who also won the American League's Silver Slugger Award at designated hitter and finished ninth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Nov. 10, 2019: Baseball had never before had an official star squad that salutes a full season's worth of work the way other major professional sports do. But the results of the voting for the first All-MLB Team finally arrived at the Winter Meetings. The Twins Cruz was named as the first team DH.
On March 21, 2020, Nelson went live for half an hour from his complex in the Dominican Republic, showing off a wide variety of exercises while "Iron Glenn" Freeman, his personal trainer, explained the intent of the exercises on the stream.
"In my case, I try to play a little bit of basketball, a little bit of vitilla (Dominican stickball), and just try to be more active on my social media so the fans and teammates and other players have something to do and something to look for," Cruz said.
Cruz said on the conference call that his facility allows for him to train and hit as he would throughout the offseason and in Spring Training. Cruz started with some stretches before working with a resistance band and going through weighted strength and agility drills in his gym, surrounded by framed jerseys from his various stops around the Major Leagues over his 15-year career.
Cruz's cousin also showed off the many framed bats lining the wall of his batting cage, including gifts from Albert Pujols, Iván Rodríguez, Paul Konerko (one of Cruz's favorites), Adrián Beltré, Andruw Jones, Josh Hamilton, Edwin Encarnación, Robinson Canó, David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera.
"With everybody staying at home and the gyms closed and stuff, Nelson is a perfect example of, there's still ways you can get things done," teammate Taylor Rogers said. "I think with his example for our team, everybody has taken his lead and put together something to do at home and something to do to stay active. Everybody is in this together and we know these times will pass."
Aside from staying fit, Cruz said he also fills the time playing dominoes with his cousin and watching movies. He has also upped his nap frequency to thrice daily. But it was clear that Cruz misses baseball -- and his teammates.
In the background of Cruz's workout, one of the televisions in his gym featured highlights of his teammates' biggest moments from 2019. Cruz paused a resistance-band workout to watch the clip of Miguel Sanó's grand slam in Cleveland off reliever Nick Goody on Sept. 14. That grand slam essentially sealed the division title for the Twins. "This is how much I miss Sanó," Cruz gestured. "I'm watching his highlights." (Park - mlb.com - 3/23/2020)
May 9, 2020: Nelson Cruz on his mom, Dominga on Mothers Day:
When Nelson Cruz signed his first professional contract as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Republic all those years ago, he had never been outside of his small hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, in the northwestern corner of the country, near the Haitian border. His mother, Dominga, was so reluctant to let her son leave the nest that she took a two-week hiatus from her work as a teacher to follow him to the first stop of his baseball journey.
For two weeks, Dominga lived out of a hotel. Every morning, she would wake up, pick Nelson up from the house where he lived with other players and follow him to the facility, where she would faithfully wait until he was done with games or practices so that she could take him back. Most teenagers these days probably couldn’t imagine having their mother with them so much around all of their new friends, but the young Cruz felt protected and comfortable for those first few days of uncertainty after leaving home.
“It was hard for her to leave my side,” Cruz said. “They always want to take care of their sons. Like I said, they don't see you as a grown man. They always see you as a kid. You know?"
“She tells me that I'm her baby,” he added. “She calls about, 'Did you eat?' 'What did you eat?' 'Do you have food?' 'Are you sick?' Stuff like that. She'd always make time for that. She calls every morning. She sends me a text every day, every morning, to find out how did I feel, how did I sleep.”
Imagine how tough it must have been for Dominga when Nelson made his way to the United States and missed nearly a full decade’s worth of Mother’s Day celebrations before they could finally be together again when Dominga joined Nelson during an early year game in Texas. That Mother’s Day, May 13, 2007, Nelson was determined to make up for all those years that he’d missed.
“I woke up that day and I was like, 'I need to do something cool for my mom,'” Cruz said.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth inning, when Cruz stepped to the plate with one out in a 6-6 game. He took a big hack at the 0-1 pitch from Angels righty Scot Shields and lifted the ball all the way over the right-center field fence for the first walk-off homer of his storied career -- with a proud mom in the building.
“It was magical,” Cruz said. “I remember we went back to the house and we were watching the highlights on ESPN, and she just kept going, 'Play it back! Play it back!'" -- Do-Hyoung Park
Nelson's community service efforts have always far transcended baseball, and they're now getting recognition from the greater sports world. Cruz was named a finalist for the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award by ESPN in honor of the extensive charitable work he has done around his home country of the Dominican Republic.
"To be recognized by ESPN, the ESPYs and especially Muhammad Ali is an honor and is something that makes me and my family proud," Cruz said. "It reinforces and makes you try to do more than what you're already doing. It's just a blessing. Exciting day for me."
"The Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award is given to an athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports," according to the award's description on ESPN. "The candidate must embrace the core principles that Muhammad Ali embodied so well, including confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and respect."
The efforts of Cruz are evident all over his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz, in the northwestern part of the Dominican Republic. According to the release, Cruz has provided a fire engine and an ambulance to the town to increase access to the hospital an hour away, built a new police station and donated a motorcycle, brings optometrists and dentists to the local clinic and purchases wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and canes for elderly and disabled residents.
He also began the "Healing Venezuela" initiative, which helps 2,000 Venezuelan newborns receive nourishment in their first year of life.
Through the Boomstick23 Foundation, established in 2016, Cruz focuses on sports and education around Las Matas de Santa Cruz with the goal of providing professional avenues outside sports for young athletes who might need such educational support. He is working to establish an educational center in his hometown and hopes to expand his reach around the Dominican Republic in the years to come.
"It's definitely something that means a lot to me, my family and my foundation," Cruz said. "I think over the years, we're working just to make a positive impact. We've been going over that and helping, in that case, my community, with whatever the needs might be. Through the years, I've been working and never thought to be recognized. But definitely, it's something that makes you work harder and do more."
Cruz also hasn't let the pandemic get in the way of his contributions to the community. He is part of a group of 60-70 Dominican baseball players -- active and retired -- who are working together to collect money that will go toward food and equipment for hospitals. He and his drivers have also been working to provide food for members of his community.
"That is one of the reasons why I think it is so humbling for me and my family to see the smiles on people, going to houses and their telling you their prayers had been answered because they had been praying to get some food," Cruz said. "Imagine how enjoyable and happy you feel to be able to provide people with what's most important: food. It doesn't get any better than that." (Park - mlb.com - 5/20/2020)
June 21, 2020: Cruz was named the winner of the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.
1998: Cruz signed with Mets scout Eddie Toledo, out of the Dominican Republic. He was 17 years old.
Nelson played three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, was traded to the A's and then the Brewers and eventually designated for assignment. He went unclaimed on waivers by all 30 MLB teams before re-signing a Minor League deal with the Rangers in 2008.
December 15, 2004: The Brewers sent INF Keith Ginter to the A's, acquiring Cruz and P Justin Lehr.
July 28, 2006: The Rangers sent outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, and pitchers Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero to the Brewers, acquiring Cruz and OF Carlos Lee.
January 18, 2011: Cruz and the Rangers avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $3.65 million contract, with another $150,000 in bonuses.
February 9, 2012: Nelson and the Rangers agreed on a two-year, $16 million contract, with a signing bonus and $500,000 in performance incentives.
The contract allows Cruz and the Rangers to avoid salary arbitration.
November 4, 2013: The Rangers extended the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Cruz. Nelson wisely declined it while also continuing to negotiate with the team on a multi-year contract.
February 22, 2014: Cruz signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles. The deal also includes another $750,000 in incentives.
December 1, 2014: Nelson and the Mariners agreed on a four-year, $57 million deal that also includes a $1 million signing bonus.
Oct 29, 2018: Cruz chose free agency.
- Dec 27, 2018: The Twins agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal with Cruz for 2019, with a $12 million club option for '20. If the Twins don't pick up Cruz's option, it would be a $400,000 buyout.