Nationals sharing Meneses' WBC joy from afar

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The bulletin board inside the Nationals’ clubhouse had the usual sheets of paper on display Monday morning. The lineup card for the upcoming game against the Astros. A schedule for morning workouts, broken down by position groups.

Not that anyone’s eye was drawn to any of that at first glance. Not when the photo was right there alongside everything else.

The photo was unmistakable. It was Joey Meneses, being interviewed by MLB Network, talking about the two home runs he launched to lead Mexico to a resounding victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic, wearing a giant sombrero.

Some 2,300 miles from Chase Field, back at Nationals spring training, Meneses was first and foremost on everybody’s minds. And the Nats weren’t alone. Meneses was on the mind of the entire baseball world.

“I got all these text messages this morning, with just his name on it: Joey!” manager Davey Martinez said. “It was pretty cool.”

The Nationals have long since consumed a full appreciation for the Legend of Joey Meneses. From the day he arrived in August after a decade wandering minor leagues foreign and domestic, the 30-year-old slugger won over his first major league team with his story of perseverance and barrage of barreled-up baseballs.

Now, though, the sport in its entirety was finding out what we’ve known the last seven months. This guy is something special.

“Oh my gosh. Unbelievable,” right fielder Lane Thomas said. “But we saw it last year, so it didn’t surprise us. It surprised the rest of the world.”

Meneses, batting third and starting at first base for his home country, had already gone 2-for-5 in Saturday’s opening loss to Colombia. But when he connected for a towering first-inning homer off American starter Nick Martinez in Sunday night’s nationally televised game, the roar extended all the way from Arizona to Florida.

And when he did it again in the top of the fourth, launching a three-run blast to left off reliever Brady Singer to extend Mexico’s unexpected lead to 7-1, then tossed his bat to the skies in celebration, the roof nearly blew off Chase Field.

“I can tell you right now, he won’t be flipping bats like that here,” Martinez said with a laugh, adding: “He’s having fun. It was awesome to see.”

With two games remaining against Great Britain and Canada, Mexico has a real chance of advancing to the quarterfinals of the international tournament this weekend in Miami. Meneses’ star power could continue to shine for some time.

It sounds silly now, but it’s true: Meneses was unsure about participating in the event when first invited at the end of last season. He worried he couldn’t afford to leave the Nationals for that much time in the heart of spring training, thinking it might negatively impact his chances of making the team.

Martinez laughed when Meneses explained his concerns and assured his spot on the Opening Day roster was secure.

“He was real iffy to play,” Martinez said. “He wanted to be here. And I told him: ‘You have an opportunity to represent your country. That’s a big deal. Go do it. Go have fun.’ I’m hoping now he thinks it was awesome that he’s doing it.”

Did Meneses’ heroics Sunday night bring out any conflicting emotions among the Nationals’ U.S.-born players? He did, after all, single-handedly lead Mexico to a stunning upset of one of the WBC’s top favorites.

“I was torn. Should I be happy for Joey, or should I not be happy?” right-hander Trevor Williams, only somewhat seriously, said. “He did awesome. In a vacuum, that’s good for the Nationals. I can’t wait to have him back in camp with us. But if he continues to do that, he’ll be ready for Opening Day for sure.”

“It’s hard not to root for him,” Thomas added. “I mean, he’s on your team. But I hope he beats the crap out of the rest of those guys all year.”

Despite his remarkable exploits, Meneses is still far from a sure thing in the long term. He’s played in only 56 major league games in his life. This is the first time he’s played for Team Mexico. There are still doubters out there who believe the clock will strike midnight on him at some point.

It hasn’t happened yet, though. And all Sunday’s performance did was create a mountain of new believers in the Legend of Joey Meneses.

“He’s an incredible kid,” Martinez said. “One, sustaining a lot of years in the minor leagues and not getting called up and continuing to have success. And now, doing it for his country? That tells you a lot about him.”

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