The pandemic that brought the whole world to a halt delayed the steadfast celebration that many of us may have previously taken for granted. One year later, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are ready to begin and baseball returns to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. Each team will get a preview article where we discuss a bit about baseball in the country, the team’s route to Tokyo, and which players to look for on the Olympic stage. For a refresher on the rules and format of the tournament, please refer back to Nicole Cahill’s preview article, which can be found here.
The Road to Tokyo for Team Mexico
Mexico’s long-awaited classification finally arrived. Never before in the history of the games, the Mexican people could’ve enjoyed watching their national baseball team participate in the Summer Olympics games and, after the forced hiatus due to the temporary removal of the sport after the 2008 edition, they will be able to see the performances of their baseball athletes in Tokyo, at last.
In 2019, long before we started to understand the changes the world was about to suffer from the pandemic, Mexico participated in the Premier 12 Tournament, a qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics, organized by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), together with national teams from Japan, South Korea, USA, Chinese Taipei (TPE), Australia, Canada, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Netherlands, and Puerto Rico.
In the Opening Round, they beat Dominican Republic 6 to 1, with stellar performances by pitchers Eduardo Vera and Humberto Castellanos. Next, they won again, this time against Team USA by a score of 8 to 2, using five different pitchers to limit the USA to six hits and those two runs for the game.
They finished that round unbeaten after winning their game against the Netherlands, 10 to 2, mostly keeping the Dutch’s bats silenced and punishing them with 10 hits, curiously no homers among them.
They moved to the following Super Round, where they initially kept their winning road beating TPE 2-0 and Australia 0-3, but finally received their first losses from Japan and South Korea, 1-3 and 3-7 respectively.
The performance in that second round was good enough to allow them to compete in the bronze medal game, where they, in a dramatic fashion, beat Team USA and current Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Caleb Thielbar in the tenth inning, with an RBI broken-bat single from first baseman Efren Navarro.
You can watch the final at-bat, dramatic camera zooms included, that gave Team Mexico the ticket to Tokyo, here:
Baseball in Mexico
Together with soccer, baseball is one of the most popular sports in the country, especially in the north and southeast regions, being the Mexican League of Baseball (LMB, by its acronym in Spanish) and the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) the two most important professional leagues.
The former was created in 1925, and it is composed of 18 teams playing all around the country during the Mexican summer months, a total of 114 games per team. Although lacking some major names between their players because of running at the same time that MLB and MiLB are having their tournaments, this league reunites a lot of veterans and young developing talents in their teams.
The Mexican Pacific League is Mexico’s principal baseball pro tournament, and it’s based in the Northwest of the country. It was created in 1945. Its ten-team regular season schedule runs from October to December, producing its league champion by January.
This champion then participates in the prestigious Caribbean Series, a regional Central and Latin American tournament for the pro league champions from those countries.
These two leagues are usually the previous stages and stepping stones for the aspiring Mexican players, on their way to the big leagues, and/or the national team.
Said national team, as was said earlier, has never participated in the Olympics before but has played in all the editions of the World Baseball Classic since its first iteration in 2006, when they got their best result so far, the sixth place.
In 2017, the last edition of the classic to date, they finished in the thirteenth place.
According to the current WBSC Rankings for men’s baseball national teams, Mexico is fifth in the world, just behind Japan, TPE, South Korea, and the USA.
Some well-known players at the MLB level will be part of this team participating in Tokyo, that’s the case of veteran left-handed pitcher Oliver Perez, who posted a W-L record of 73-93, a 4.34 ERA, 1545 SO in 1461.2 IP during his 20 seasons big league career.
Fernando Salas, Manny Banuelos, Ramiro Peña, and Danny Espinosa are all familiar names from their MLB stints, but arguably the most recognized name will be Adrian Gonzalez, the left-handed slugger whose years with San Diego and the Dodgers are still remembered by their fan base.
Gonzalez is also the manager of the Mexican team.
The complete roster is in the following chart:
Notable Players Missing: MLB limited its Olympic participation by prohibiting players on their team’s 40-man roster from joining their country in competition. This rule affected players like Sergio Romo who is currently pitching with the Oakland Athletics.
But probably the two most missed players that Team Mexico would love to have in their roster must be the Dodgers’ stellar pitcher Julio Urias, who is tied in first place for most wins in MLB, and the Red Sox’s outfielder Alex Verdugo, who is having a very nice season in Boston, slashing .278/.346/.425 with nine homers.
Other notable missing names are, pitchers Luis Cessa, Giovanny Gallegos, Victor Gonzalez, Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria and Jose Urquidy, prospect catcher Alejandro Kirk, and, surprisingly, slugger Khris Davis (whose mother was born in Mexico) who was designated for assignment by the Rangers, but still will not participate in the Olympics.
On Friday, Nicole Cahill will preview Team Korea, and on Monday, Adam Sloate will do the same with Team Japan.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns)