Why is Dodgers’ Austin Barnes playing for Mexico at WBC?

Julio Urías couldn’t believe it.

Austin Barnes? Mexican?

“I don’t want to draw conclusions based on appearance,” Urías said in Spanish, “but if you look at him or his last name, you don’t assume he’s Mexican.”

Benji Gil was surprised, too, when Mike Gallego informed him last summer.

“I said, ‘You know Barnes is Mexican, right?’ ” Gallego remembered. “He said, ‘Barnes? I never heard of a Mexican named Barnes.’ I told him he’s my nephew, and he goes, ‘You’re kidding.’ ”

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes prepares for batting practice during spring training Feb. 16 in Phoenix.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Gallego and Gil work in the Angels’ organization together. Gallego knew Gil was in line to serve as Mexico’s manager in the World Baseball Classic in March, and that Gil was part of the contingent responsible for assembling the roster for the tournament. He thought his nephew, a veteran catcher for one of Major League Baseball’s perennial powers, would be a good fit.

Coupled with Urías’ endorsement, Barnes, to the surprise of most baseball followers, was named to Mexico’s roster earlier this month.

“I always thought it would be really cool to participate in the WBC,” Barnes, 33, said. “And to do it for Mexico is a great honor. It really is.”

Barnes joins Urías as the two Dodgers representing not only Mexico but a metropolis with the largest Mexican American population in the United States on each end of the community’s spectrum.

There’s Urías, the pitcher from Sinaloa who arrived in the United States as a can’t-miss teenage prospect not knowing English. Then there’s Barnes, the catcher from Riverside who was born to a Mexican American mother and raised not speaking Spanish.

The teammates formed the battery that sealed the final out for the 2020 World Series title in Texas. In two weeks, they’ll leave Dodgers camp to seek another championship together.

“I wanted to do this obviously first for my Mexican people,” said Urías, who has never played in the WBC. “And with Los Angeles, I’m happy to represent. I feel good that I’ve come here and they’ve treated me like the paisano I am.

Julio Urías pitches against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 28 at Petco Park.

Julio Urías pitches against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 28 at Petco Park.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

“I know they’re Dodgers fans, but I know they also feel proud to be Mexican. So I know in Los Angeles that there are a lot of people who are going to support us like it was the Dodgers.”

Gallego was raised in Pico Rivera before playing at UCLA, for three teams in a 13-year career in the majors, and for three teams across six seasons in the Mexican winter league. His mother was born and raised in Guadalajara. His father was a Mexican American from East L.A. His sister is Barnes’ mother.

“Austin’s kind of a low-key guy,” Gallego said. “You don’t hear him opening up too much. But when he talks about this, he kind of lights up about it. He’s excited. And the whole family’s buzzing about it.”

In Barnes, Gil unexpectedly found a catcher with big-game experience eligible to play for him. He will join the most talented Mexico roster in WBC history, a group that includes Mexicans Alejandro Kirk, José Urquidy, and Giovanny Gallegos; Mexican Americans Alex Verdugo, Rowdy Tellez, Taijuan Walker and the Angels’ Patrick Sandoval; and Randy Arozarena, who established residency in Mexico after defecting from Cuba.

“I think they did a great job putting the roster together,” Urías, 26, said. “I feel like everything is coming together the right way.”

Like Barnes, Sandoval was born and raised in Southern California. The left-hander, whose father is from Mexico City, enjoyed a breakout season for the Angels in 2022, posting a 2.91 ERA in 27 starts.

Patrick Sandoval pitches against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 19 at Comerica Park.

Patrick Sandoval pitches against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 19 at Comerica Park.

(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

“It’s awesome,” Sandoval said. “Any time you get to represent any country across your chest, playing the sport you love, it’s a big honor. We have a really good roster. I think we can make a run.”

Mexico has never made a deep run in the WBC. The country’s best finish was sixth in the inaugural tournament in 2006. Mexico hasn’t survived pool play since 2009. Expectations are high this time with a roster featuring the country’s best pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela and a catcher he trusts.

“Mexico’s fanbase obviously loves the Dodgers,” Urías said. “There’s going to be a lot of people behind us.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button