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MONTE CRISTI, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - In the Dominican Republic, baseball isn't just a game; it's practically a religion.

The impoverished country is the birthplace of Texas Rangers' outfielder Nelson Cruz. His hometown of Monte Cristi is near the scenic coastline.

It's a poor community, but rich with family and culture.

News 8 visited the house Cruz grew up in. A house his family has owned for generations.

He is my brother, a great brother [sic], said Nelson's sister, Nelsy Montez, through a translator. He was a calm and obedient child. A very good person.

Nelsy, his youngest sister, gave News 8 a tour. His parents proudly display all of Nelson's trophies and awards. His bedroom is exactly as he left it as a teenager.

I started to cry as I watched the game, Nelsy said. I didn't know he would climb so high and the whole world would see him, and he would make his country proud.

His parents, who are traveling with their son, sat down with News 8. They said he didn't grow up loving baseball. In fact, Michael Jordan was his idol.

His passion was basketball, said Nelson Cruz, Sr. As for baseball, he would play one day, maybe three games a year, but his passion was basketball.

His other passion his family.

His grandmother, Maria Dimentel or as Nelson calls her, Lola, gushes with pride. She watches every game on television.

He is dear to me, Lola said. 'My love,' I yell, 'You can do it, you can do it! You have the natural talent. Let it fly!'

What many people don't know about Cruz is that before he was bashing baseballs, he worked until he was 16 as a mechanic working in his uncle's shop.

He started working at the age of 10 on big trucks. His uncle remembered the day little Nelson tried to drive.

He was in a car, he started it and didn't know how to drive yet, said Uirgilio Cruz Esteves, Nelson's uncle. He hit a gear, took off and knocked this big post down.

He means the world to his family, who has watched him struggle. They never gave up and were there for him when every major league team passed on him - including the Texas Rangers.

We suffer when he doesn't do well, but when he's good we go crazy, Cruz Sr. said. We are his biggest fans.

Mom and dad are successful professors, who taught their son the importance of education and faith.

They got emotional talking about his success.

Lord, you have given my wife and I so many blessings, Cruz Sr. said. If you take me now, I will be very satisfied not only because my son is a professional baseball player, but because he's an excellent person. He's humble and has an extraordinary heart.

Cruz is grateful. Grateful to his mother who had to sew his baseball jerseys. Even now, Cruz keeps family close, flying his parents to games.

Everything I am is because of them, Cruz said. They teach me the right way to be, how to treat people, how to be a better person. Everything I am now is because of them.

And it's because of them the world now knows Nelson Cruz.

A man from humble beginnings, who one day wants to come back home to be near his family - who believe the best of Nelson is yet to come.

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com

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