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Mexico will feature an unexpected star at the WBC

Randy Arozarena, a Cuban-born Mexican citizen, will represent Mexico in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. He's one of many representing their adopted country

Randy Arozarena made a name for himself as a rookie in the 2020 postseason, setting several offensive records while leading the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series. And though the Rays fell to the Dodgers, Arozarena suddenly became the biggest star in the game, going from a relatively unknown prospect to a playoff legend in the span of a few months. Another Cuban MLB star was born.

Like many Cuban players, Arozarena has turned down the chance to represent his birth country at the 2023 World Baseball Classic despite a new opportunity arising for MLB players to represent the island. But unlike many Cuban players, Arozarena will still be playing in the WBC.

Not for the United States, mind you, but Mexico, a country that Arozarena calls home. But how did this happen?

Arozarena came up through the Mexican league

Born in Pinar del Rio, Arozarena debuted in the Cuban National Series in 2013 at just eighteen years old and represented Cuba at the 18U Baseball World Cup, where he earned a bronze medal. He left Cuba in 2016 and settled on the Yucatán peninsula, where he jumped between the Mexican League and the Pacific League until the St. Louis Cardinals signed him to a minor-league deal.

Arozarena continued to play in Mexico during the winter while coming up in the Cardinals’ minor league system, only stopping in 2019 when he finally got his first call-up to the Majors. While in Mexico, Arozarena grew as professional, cultivated friendships, and even started a family with his first daughter born in Mérida in 2018. Arozarena currently lives in Mérida with much of his family, and in 2020 he began the process of applying for Mexican citizenship, which was finally granted to him this past April.

In many ways, Arozarena is more Mexican than Cuban. His favorite sport is fútbol, a sport he grew to love playing with his brothers in Cuba (his younger brother is a goalie for the USL Tampa Bay Rowdies). He lives in Mexico despite working in the United States, and his favorite food is carne asada tacos. He feels just as Mexican as his neighbors, and he’s shown a lot of pride in his adopted country in the lead-up to the tournament. And he’s not the only player to feel pride for his adopted country ahead of the WBC.

This year’s WBC will feature many players representing adopted countries

For the record, Arozarena has no problem with MLB players representing Cuba, saying that Cuban players should be able to represent their flag just like any other professional player. He just feels differently about which country he calls home, and he’s not alone.

Fellow Cuban Nestor Cortes will be representing Team USA in the upcoming tournament. Manny Machado will once again represent the Dominican Republic despite being born in Miami. And for the first time in WBC history, two American-born players will represent Japan: Steven Kwan and Lars Nootbaar. The WBC has always been an international competition, but much like the World Cup is today, it will now feature several players on just about every team that were not born under the flag they represent.

Arozarena’s addition couldn’t have come at a better time for Mexico. With a lineup that features MLB stars Alex Verdugo, Alejandro Kirk, and Arozarena with a rotation that features Julio Urías and Taijuan Walker, Mexico is bringing their strongest team ever to the WBC. And while they still don’t have the talent to match up with countries like the Dominican Republic or Team USA, they have enough talent to challenge anyone in a short-form tournament. If Mexico is going to go far, it may be because of a Cuban-born player at the top of their lineup that chose Mexico over everyone else.