PHOENIX — Alex Verdugo was a seventh grader in 2009, growing up on Tucson’s eastside, the last time Mexico advanced to the quarterfinal round of the World Baseball Classic.
Now at 26 years old and in his 10th season of professional baseball — where has the time gone? — Verdugo will represent his father Joe’s side of the family with Mexico in the quarterfinals in Miami that start Friday.
Mexico defeated Canada 10-3 on Wednesday at Chase Field to clinch the top seed from Pool C with a 3-1 record.
When the last out was recorded, Verdugo was the first player out of the dugout to start the celebration near the mound.
Mexico finishes first in Pool C of the #WorldBaseballClassic and advances to the quarterfinals starting Friday in Miami. Sahuaro grad Alex Verdugo first to come out to celebrate out of the dugout. pic.twitter.com/UmknbF5jZ6
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 15, 2023
When asked how much it means to achieve success with Mexico up the road from Tucson, Verdugo said, “Yeah, it means a lot. I grew up in Tucson, not too far out here, but I spent a lot of time out here … able to have a lot of my family come out and watch us, ain’t nothing better than this.”
Verdugo was able to land tickets within a seating well right next to the Mexico dugout for his girlfriend Yamille and son A.J. He was one of the last players from Mexico to leave the field and head to the clubhouse because he shared in the moment with his family.
“It was very special,” Alex said about having them sit close to him during the WBC games.
Tucson native Alex Verdugo of @SahuaroBBall talks about what it means to place first in Pool C of the #WorldBaseballClassic with Mexico and advance to the quarterfinals in Miami on Friday, especially playing so close to home with family here. pic.twitter.com/U9hoa7aQwZ
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 15, 2023
Only nine years ago at this time, he was playing his senior season at Sahuaro for Mark Chandler. Now he is in his seventh season in the major leagues, the last four with the Boston Red Sox.
He was a right-handed pitcher and outfielder for Sahuaro. He batted .532 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. He was 4-3 as a pitcher with a 2.26 ERA with 93 strikeouts and 31 walks in 52 2/3 innings.
His success is what all Tucson natives want to see because it can create the belief in youngsters that they can do it as well.
Knowing what kind of people his parents Joe and Shelly are, it’s obvious he was raised right and is a good role model.
Another former standout from Tucson who similarly went on to a big-league career and is a good role model for the area’s youth was at the Mexico-Canada game — George Arias. The former Pueblo, Pima College and Arizona player was at the gate area when I walked up. He is a scout for a team in the Japanese Professional League who travels to scout potential signees all over the country,
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Tradition continues, dad started taking me to watch baseball games at 5 years old in Nogales, Mexico; now it’s my turn to bring him to the #WorldBaseballClassic @astros @LosAstros pic.twitter.com/mcnQ2ja4Yt
— Francisco Romero (@FRomeroAstros) March 15, 2023
Yet another tremendous person to look up to with Tucson roots — Houston Astros Spanish-speaking broadcaster Francisco Romero Jr. — was also in attendance Wednesday with members of his family.
Romero, who will be in his 15th year of broadcasting Astros games this spring and summer, is a Pueblo and Arizona graduate. He has also served as the Spanish play-by-play broadcaster for Arizona sports since 1999.
Romero treated his family to tickets for the game, including his dad Francisco Sr.
“Tradition continues, dad started taking me to watch baseball games at 5 years old in Nogales, Mexico; now it’s my turn to bring him to the World Baseball Classic,” Romero tweeted from the stands.
Also with him were his daughter Isabella, brother Alfonso and Alfonso’s wife Olivia and their daughter Brianna.
“We drove up this morning; it was a lot of fun to spend time with my dad and the family,” said Francisco Jr., who heads back to Houston Friday to prepare for the season opening soon there.
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If I had a young child, I would have been torn giving away a batting practice ball hit by Mike Trout to me beyond the left-centerfield fence in the press seating area here.
I retrieved the ball after it landed less than 10 feet from me. I looked up and saw about 20 adult men waving for me to throw the ball to them.
I wanted to see a child and all I saw were men.
“Please, sir, for my boy! For my boy!” a man yelled.
He was alone wearing a baseball glove.
“Where’s your boy?” I asked, not wanting to get duped.
“He’s over there!”
I looked down the concourse and saw a boy running toward us.
He was also wearing a glove and appeared to be excited sprinting our way.
I tossed the ball to the boy, who started jumping up and down in jubilation with his dad.
I was blown away by their response.
That does it for me with these daily diaries from the World Baseball Classic at Chase Field. The games shift to Miami for the quarterfinal round that starts Friday.
Thankful for the opportunity to report on the games here.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.