Randy Arozarena continues to have a flare for the dramatic for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, as he was at the center of a highlight-reel play in the semifinal game against Team Japan on Monday night.
His attention to fans at the fence behind him afterward was even better than the play.
Japan’s Kazuma Okamoto took a pitch deep to left field off Patrick Sandoval, and it was carrying toward the fence, where Arozarena was waiting to see if he had a chance to snag it. As it came down, Arozarena timed his jump perfectly and snatched the ball with his glove before it could get over the fence for a home run.
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The robbery was met with immediate roars from fans across loanDepot Park in Miami, as Arozarena, who stars for the Tampa Bay Rays in MLB, just stood with a deadpan look on his face after the play. He eventually let out a smile when he threw the ball back in.
But, just as the next batter was coming to the plate and the crowd texted and tweeted the viral moment on their phones, Arozarena was seen signing baseballs and flags of Team Mexico, who he plays for instead of Cuba, while the game was still going on.
Arozarena interacted with the fans before putting his glove back on and getting into position for the next batter.
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This World Baseball Classic has brought a different energy to the ballpark than ever before seen, with some even saying it’s a better atmosphere than MLB’s World Series. Mexico and Japan have had rabid fanbases going berserk for every strikeout, let alone a home run… or robbery in Arozarena’s case.
Arozarena has also been quite the player for a Mexico team that he had to beg to be a part of. He is from Cuba, but after defecting to Mexico before getting into MLB, Arozarena’s relationship with his home country is torn.
For years, the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has been strained due to the latter’s Communist regime after Fidel Castro’s rise to power. That affected many things including sports, where Cuba banned professional baseball in the country leading to many defectors heading to the U.S.
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Today, players like Arozarena are stars in the league, but in the eyes of their country, appear disloyal for leaving. The Cuban Baseball Federation allowed players who defected to return to play for their national team in the WBC if they wished, but Arozarena wasn’t one of them.
Instead, he asked Mexico to grant him citizenship, so he could play, and that’s exactly what they did. It’s paid off for them, too.
Arozarena has been phenomenal for the squad, slashing .421/.593/.842 with one homer, five doubles and nine RBI in six games entering Monday’s semifinal.
Arozarena’s success on the field has led to Mexico’s run in the tournament, and he’s been having fun with it ever since he put on “El Tri’s” jersey. Team Mexico fans have also embraced him with open arms.
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And a perfect example of his rise to fame among them was shown in left field in the middle of a game – a move simply unheard of in MLB.