The legend of Joey Meneses grows at WBC


After Sunday night’s home runs – after Joey Meneses paused to watch the second after throwing his racquet straight up and then looking back to see it hovering in the air – said Benji Gil, Mexico’s manager for the World Baseball Classic, told reporters Meneses should have had his first injection in September 2018not August 2022.

That was easily said as Meneses beat Team USA with two homers at Chase Field in Phoenix and led Mexico to an 11-5 victory. But Gil’s argument cuts straight to the heart of Meneses’ growing legend: Would the 30-year-old have been as good had he been called up earlier in his career? Or was 12 years in the majors a requirement for his success?

“Of course I think about it all the time,” Meneses, a Washington Nationals first baseman, said in October. “I always knew I could score at any level. I mean, at least that’s what I always thought. But if I come up at, I don’t know, 25, maybe I don’t hit enough and they send me right back down. I may never come back. I’d like to think I didn’t need more than 10 years in the minors. That was a lot of long bus rides, you know? Lots of rough nights, small towns, Japan, the winter leagues. But that prepared me for everything. . . for all of that.”

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With that, he took a few punches and smiled. He was in a major league clubhouse with a bag full of expensive gear at his feet. In a few words, he was just living his dream.

“But I wish I could answer the question better,” he added. “I have no idea what would have happened.”

Why Meneses spent more than a decade in the minors has already been unpacked: He was behind Freddie Freeman while he was in the Atlanta Braves system. He was behind Rhys Hoskins while in the Philadelphia Phillies system. After landing a $1 million contract in Japan, he was suspended for 2019 for testing positive for stanozolol, a banned substance. Meneses claims he was unknowingly injected with it by a Mexican doctor last winter. Nippon Professional Baseball denied his appeal of the suspension. He then ended up with the Boston Red Sox, hitting 15 home runs in the top two tiers of minors. Still, his phone didn’t ring.

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But in 56 games with the Nationals last season, Meneses had a .324 batting average, .367 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage (thanks to 14 doubles and 13 home runs). And in two WBC appearances for Mexico, he’s 5 for 10 with five RBI and four carries. The Culiacán native, a player who almost quit before the Nationals took him out of the minor league market, bats for his home country in third place. Its long-shot story has reached a bigger stage.

Meneses was initially wary of the WBC, feeling it could reduce his chances of making the opening-day Nationals roster. Manager Dave Martinez laughed and told him not to worry. Job security takes some getting used to for Meneses. It may never feel quite right.

“He’s an incredible kid who spent a lot of years in the minor leagues and didn’t give up … and then comes back and has some success in the big leagues,” Martinez said Monday. “And now he’s doing it for his country? That says a lot about him.”

This spring brings nothing but new territory for Joey Meneses

Toward the end of Sunday’s game, Mexican fans were chanting “MVP!” with Meneses in the box. A photo of Meneses in a sombrero, taken during an interview with MLB Network after the game, was released Monday morning pinned to the bulletin board at the Nationals spring training clubhouse. Martinez received a barrage of texts after Meneses took Nick Martinez and Brady Singer deep.

The first homer, by a middle-middle cutter, showed an advantage of Meneses’ many at-bats in foreign leagues. The second, a triple moonshot from an inside sinker, did the same.

“There’s not as much power fastball in Mexico and Japan as there is in America,” Meneses said last fall. “Because I’ve played in these other leagues, I’ve seen so many cutters and sinkers and so many breaking balls in typical fastball counts. I’m almost surprised when I see something straight. I’ve gotten so used to the off-speed pitches that sometimes I’m like, ‘Come on; Throw me a slider here. Do it.’ I’m not sure every guy thinks that way.”

So, no, Meneses has no way of knowing if he would have excelled as a younger big league. He tries not to count the money he could have made. But he knows what every experience has taught him about batting – and that those years, tough as they were, shaped the player he is now.

This player, Joey Meneses, is an unlikely star of the world’s greatest baseball tournament. And he still has his first full season in the majors ahead of him. The legend of Joey Meneses grows at WBC

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