WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Joey Meneses left Nationals camp two weeks ago a mostly anonymous 30-year-old ballplayer who didn’t register much on a national scale. He returned to Nationals camp today an international sensation whose name was chanted by thousands of Mexico fans on the streets of downtown Phoenix after he homered twice in a World Baseball Classic win over the United States.
“I never imagined that,” Meneses said. “That was awesome. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt. I never thought about that. Just a special moment for me.”
Meneses, along with dynamic and colorful left fielder Randy Arozarena, became the face of Team Mexico during its improbable run to the WBC semifinals in Miami. He finished the tournament with two homers, six RBIs, 10 hits in 27 at-bats and a lifetime of memories.
A veteran of 10 minor league seasons in the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox organizations before he finally made his major league debut last August for the Nationals, Meneses is now well known to baseball fans around the world. He batted third for Mexico, starting mostly at first base, and put on a massive power display in the upset win over Team USA.
One of the indelible images of the tournament was Meneses tossing his bat high into the Arizona night after connecting for his second homer, his teammates leaping out of the dugout with joy.
What made him do that?
“I have no idea,” he said with a laugh. “I just reacted. All the adrenaline I have, all that I feel in those moments, the stadium, all the Mexicans in the crowd … I was just feeling that and threw the bat. I just lived the moment like that.”
And what did he think when he looked up and saw the bat in the air?
“Oh my god,” he said, “I threw it so high.”
That game was Meneses’ top highlight on a personal level. But he said Mexico’s quarterfinal win over Puerto Rico, in which his team stormed back from an early 4-0 deficit, and berth in the semifinals against Japan meant more to him because of what it meant to his home country.
“I think it’s very, very important,” he said. “It’s going to help the sport grow a lot in Mexico. We know the No. 1 sport in Mexico is soccer, but just to have an event like this where it was open on TV for people to see is going to help the sport grow a lot down there.”
Though he missed two weeks of spring training, Meneses feels like he’s well prepared for the start of the regular season because of the intensity of the games he played in during the WBC. His real challenge now is getting as much work in the field as he can before camp breaks Sunday.
Though he’ll be the Nationals’ designated hitter most days, Meneses will be asked to play both left field and first base at times, giving Corey Dickerson and Dominic Smith opportunities to catch their breath as DH. So on his first day back in West Palm Beach, Meneses is starting in left field with Dickerson as DH.
“I’ve got a long time that I don’t play (the outfield),” he said. “But I’m going to get used to it.”
* The Nationals announced their scouts of the year award winners today and honored them prior to their game against the Yankees.
Jeff Zona was named Phil Rizzo Scout of the Year, an award named for general manager Mike Rizzo’s father, a longtime scout himself who died in 2020 at age 90. Zona, who is a special assistant to Rizzo as well as director of pitching evaluation, is in his 17th season with the Nationals. His primary responsibility is amateur scouting in preparation for the MLB Draft.
Ricardo “Riki” Vasquez was named International Scout of the Year. Vasquez is a cross-checker in Latin America who oversees day-to-day scouting operations in the Dominican Republic. Vasquez, who joined the organization in 2016 as a video intern, has signed several Dominican players and was involved in the signings of top prospects Armando Cruz and Cristhian Vaquero.
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