Randy Arozarena of Team Mexico walks in the dugout during the World Baseball Classic Pool C game against Team Great Britain at Chase Field on March 14, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. Mexico defeated Great Britain 2-1. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- It was hard to miss Randy Arozarena during batting practice before Mexico’s semifinal game against Japan late Monday afternoon.
The Cuban-born outfielder and 2021 American League Rookie of the Year was leaning into the culture of his adopted homeland, shagging fly balls on the carpet of the loanDepot Park outfield wearing a comically oversized sombrero and cowboy boots, as if the jardinero izquierdo had decided to spend the afternoon as a vaquero and had to rush to the ballpark.
It’s just another example of Arozarena’s playful personality that humored fans and sparked Mexico to its deepest run in the country’s history at this World Baseball Classic. Never in a World Cup did Mexico make the semifinals, a run that will undoubtedly push Mexican baseball to new heights.
“If there was another WBC in a month, I would say that Mexico has all the conditions to win a world championship,” said Mexico manager Benji Gil following the 6-5 loss to Japan. “Three weeks ago, not many experts would agree with me, right? But I’m happy to know that we are now considered amongst the best in the world.”
Arozarena, the supremely talented outfielder who carried Mexico to the semifinals, injects an element of fun into everything he does.
Look at the portrait taken of him for media use before pool play began at the World Baseball Classic: two large gold chains hang around his neck and a pair of iridescent Pit Viper sunglasses hide his eyes from the camera, perched above a megawatt smile.
During Mexico’s pool play game against Great Britain, Arozarena donned a luchador mask in the dugout.
But don’t be fooled into think that Arozarena isn’t a competitor, or that his playful manner means he doesn’t want to win. Ahead of Cuba’s game against the United States, Arozarena proclaimed that he wanted Cuba to win so he could be the one to beat his former country in the championship game, punctuating the statement with a throat-slashing gesture.
In the fifth inning of the semifinal against Japan, Arozarena tracked a long fly ball hit by Japan first baseman Kazuma Okamoto, running backwards to the wall, watching, then leaping and reaching with his glove to snag the ball out of the air before it could land in the left field party area. Knowing he had robbed Okamoto of a homer, Arozarena stood perfectly still while the near-capacity crowd stood breathlessly silent, some unsure if he had made the catch, for nearly seven seconds.
And then he unfroze to cheers and threw the ball back to the infield.
Seconds before Arozarena’s eighth inning rally starting double, a Mexico fan in a chicken suit and a Mexico Caribbean Series jersey appeared from a tunnel in the upper deck, imploring fans to chant, “MAY-HEE-CO!” The playfulness of the man playing the kid’s game is infectious, and the infection spreads rapidly.
With Arozarena and Mexico’s time in the World Baseball Classic over, he’ll return to the Tampa Bay Rays and the grind of the Major League Baseball season. But the impression he left on his adopted homeland’s clubhouse, Mexico’s fans, and baseball fans around the world can’t be understated.
“He’s a great character. I think everybody would agree that he is awesome for baseball,” Gil said.
“He’s awesome for baseball, he’s awesome for Cuba, he’s awesome for Mexico, he’s awesome for wherever baseball’s played. It was a pleasure to have him on the team, for him to just do everything that he does, everything that he does, his personality, he’s infectious and he’s great for the game.”