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."
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.
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.