As a child, Ruben Tejada was often the smallest player on his team, earning him the nickname "The Rookie." But on the field, he was fearless and ready to take charge.
Now, "The Rookie" carries himself like a veteran and declared himself ready to help guide the Panama National Team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying round, which begins Nov. 15.
"I'm very happy to be here, especially to be healthy and ready to do all that is needed to help the team," said the Mets shortstop, who also played for Panama at the 2009 Classic in Puerto Rico.
At 23 years old and with three seasons in the Majors, Tejada is ready to leave behind that "Rookie" label and take on a leadership role with Team Panama.
"The only reason we are here is to win and clinch a spot on the Classic," Tejada said. "The main thing is move on to the Classic, and God willing, everything will go our way. I come with more experience, so hopefully everything will come out as planned."
Tejada, who played 112 games in 2012, feels proud to represent Panama and still remembers his debut with the 2009 national team.
"It was a beautiful experience, being that it was my first time playing next to big league players. I will never forget that," Tejada said.
Tejada, who stood out for his defense during the 2009 Classic, went hitless in two games. Nonetheless, that tournament helped open doors for "The Rookie," who got a chance to show the world that he had the talent and character needed for the Majors.
Now three years later, Panama will rely on a matured Tejada with plenty of big league experience.
"First we will try to win our pass, then we will start thinking about the 2013 Classic," Tejada said.
Jose Pineda is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.