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Randy Arozarena’s Insane Path To WBC Glory With Team Mexico

Photo by Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Randy Arozarena’s Insane Path To WBC Glory With Team Mexico

Randy Arozarena has been Team Mexico’s best player in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. The stats back up that claim. The Rays outfielder leads Team Mexico in batting average, RBIs, Runs, OPS, slugging percentage and more.

We’ve come to expect this from Arozarena. Whenever the lights are the brightest, Arozarena plays his best baseball. The proof of that is in the 2020 MLB Postseason.

What’s bizarre about Arozarena’s story is why he represents Mexico, and how he gained his Mexican citizenship for this tournament.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Arozarena’s Journey From Cuba

Arozarena is from Cuba. Living in Cuba throughout his childhood, Arozarena was one of the best baseball prospects in the entire country. He went on to play in Cuba’s best baseball league at 19 years old, where, according to the New York Times, Arozarena would make a salary of $4 monthly. The next season, he made $38 a month.

During that second season, Arozarena was invited to play in Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Series. Cuba would not let him go, fearing that he may defect. He was cut from the team. Arozarena hit rock bottom when his father passed away from an allergic reaction.

From there, Arozarena was determined. He had nothing in Cuba and needed to defect for his family. He fled westward by boat to Mexico, a risky and oftentimes dangerous journey because Cuba is still a communist country at the time and fleeing would bring harsh consequences.

This is a common path for many Cuban-born baseball players if they want to play in MLB. They need to flee their country, not out of preference, but out of necessity. Arozarena completed his journey in the summer of 2015. He was granted political exile in Mexico.

From Mexican League to World Series:

He knew no one in his new country. However, he did find Guillermo Armenta, a scout for the Toros de Tijuana of the Mexican Baseball League. Armenta saw something in Arozarena, and let him try out for the team.

Arozarena took the opportunity to go, but he was still fresh off of fleeing from Cuba, meaning he had next to no money. He was so broke in fact, that he was forced to share batting gloves and cleats with teammates.

He was sent to the Toritos, the club’s feeder team, equivalent to a minor league team in MLB. There is where Arozarena exploded, winning the batting title and stealing the most bases in the league. He was finally given his first MLB opportunity when the St. Louis Cardinals gave him a $1.25 million contract.

He finally got a crack at the majors in August of 2019 with the Cardinals. The outfielder ended up hitting his first big league home run and was effective with St. Louis in just five games. St. Louis traded Arozarena to the Rays.

And so began the 2020 season. This is the year that Arozarena hit an MLB record 10 postseason home runs, including three in the World Series. He won ALCS MVP that year, capping an absurd four-home run series with a two-run home run in Game 7.

That October, Randy Arozarena was the best player on the planet. But his story doesn’t end here.

Arozaren’s Bid For Citizenship:

Arozarena was ready for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, but would not play for Team Cuba.  

“There’s a lot of Cuban players that want to represent Cuba, for example, in a World Baseball Classic or an important tournament, but because of politics, they can’t,” Arozarena said in a New York Times interview. “For my part, I wouldn’t represent Cuba until everything changes.”

This is entirely understandable. Instead, Arozarena wanted to represent his current home in Mexico. Mexico is indeed Randy’s home. His mother, brother, wife and kids all live in the country today.

It’s pretty normal for the WBC to have players represent countries that they don’t live in. They’re relaxed about who plays for who, as Marcus Stroman played for Team USA in 2017 and then switched to Puerto Rico in 2023. Joc Pederson played for Team Isreal even though he is American.

But the WBC does have certain limitations on if a player can represent a country. According to the Classic, a player can wear a country’s name if they were born in the country, holds citizenship or has permanent residence in the country. The player has documentation showing he is eligible for citizenship in the country if he applied, has at least one parent who was born in the country or holds citizenship or previously represented the country in the WBC. Arozarena had none of these.

So Randy Arozarena took to the power of social media, begging the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador for citizenship in an Instagram post in 2021. Somehow, the president got hold of this and assigned the Director of Migration to help Arozarena.

Arozarena became a Mexican citizen, and the rest is history. Arozarena made an unbelievable catch during Mexico’s quarterfinal game, propelling Team Mexico to the semifinals against the USA.

Whenever the lights are brightest, Arozarena is there. Not only is he there, but he’ll probably be his team’s best player. Randy Arozarena is the heart and soul of Team Mexico. His journey to becoming a Mexican citizen, and excelling on the biggest stages can’t be underestimated.

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