The team Spain sent to Florida for a shot at a World Baseball Classic berth includes players with a smorgasbord of backgrounds. Nestor Perez and Yasser Gomez, for example, came to the country by way of Cuba. Other players have Venezuelan, Dominican and U.S. ties.
How coincidental, then, that in such a varying group is a pair of players who couldn't be more similar.
Daniel and Paco Figueroa, twin ballplayers from Miami, weren't just teammates through Little League and high school. They both played at the highest level of Division I baseball -- with the Hurricanes at the University of Miami -- then, most incredibly, they were drafted by the same Major League club.
The Orioles took Paco, an infielder, in the ninth round in 2005. And 34 rounds later, Baltimore took Daniel, an outfielder. Their first few years in the Minors didn't see them play together, but by 2009, they were reunited at Double-A Bowie.
"Now we're both 29. I'm four minutes older, and we're here playing still with the team," Paco said. "Just playing through Little League going to high school going to college playing professionally. We both got drafted, we had no idea who we were going to get drafted by."
They've both reached Triple-A, but not the top. Daniel hasn't played with a Major League franchise the past two seasons. This past year was Paco's first out of affiliated ball, spending the year in the independent Atlantic League. Injuries have hurt both, and they still want to get to the Majors, ultimately.
"They're my pride and joy," said Mayra Rayneri, their mother, who made sure to mention Paco and Daniel's two sisters. "It's always been our wish to have seen them make it to the Majors, but a lot of the injuries have really affected them along the way."
Paco and Daniel are able to play for Spain because their father, Francisco, is Spanish.
"My dad is from Spain, so we got our dual citizenship," Paco said. "Actually, my brother's agent looked into it, he looked into going to play for the Spanish national team. Which at the time, they had a team, but they weren't great, but we looked into it and we got our dual citizenships. So that's when my brother got started [playing with Spain] in 2007. I had surgery, so I couldn't go with them at the time, so that's why my first time playing with them was in the World Cup in '09."
Paco was named the top hitter at the 2009 World Cup. Just this week, the brothers were in Holland for the European Championship, where Spain came in third and Paco took another batting title.
France, Russia and Israel are Spain's opponents in the qualifier, which is a modified double-elimination tournament and features six games in Jupiter, Fla. Spain's first game is scheduled against France for 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Roger Dean Stadium, the Spring Training home to the Cardinals and Marlins.
The qualifier runs through Sunday.
Four-team qualifiers are also being held in Germany (September), Panama (November) and Taiwan (November).
Spain's best player, Alejandro Sanchez, signed a seven-year deal with the Braves prior to the 2010 season. Paco said the team was expecting a couple add-ons for the Jupiter tournament that weren't there when the team was in the European Championship, held in Holland.
"It's exciting just to represent a country and go out there and try to win," Paco said. "It's a different feeling when you're playing [for a nation], because everybody's really pulling for each other to win. The fact that we have the opportunity here in Florida to actually qualify for the World Baseball Classic is extremely exciting."