Team Mexico’s Randy Arozarena wants Cuba in WBC final. Why? ‘So then we can face them’

Al Diaz/

Randy Arozarena had a clear rooting interest in Sunday’s World Baseball Classic semifinal between the United States and Cuba at Miami’s loanDepot park.

“Cuba,” said Arozarena, the Tampa Bay Rays star who was born in Havana.


“So then we can face them in the finals,” Arozarena added, giving a throat-slashing gesture as part of his response.

Arozarena, who fled Cuba on a small boat and settled in Mexico in 2015, is not playing for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic and said would never play for Cuba. The outfielder instead has been a star outfielder for Mexico, which itself is in the semifinals and will play Japan at 7 p.m. Monday for a spot in Tuesday’s championship.

“I left Cuba — or I escaped Cuba in 2015, and I arrived in Mexico,” Arozarena said. “I had my family. I have a Mexican daughter that I love. I have played with many teammates in the Majors as well. Mexico received me as a son. I asked the fans and the president to be a Mexican citizen to represent the country in the WBC, and I have this possibility, this opportunity.”

After finishing practice with Team Mexico early Sunday afternoon, Arozarena said he planned to return to the ballpark for the USA-Cuba game on Sunday night to see how the opposing semifinal would unfold.

“It should be a great game,” Arozarena said. “We’ll see what happens.”

With that said, Arozarena is surprised that Cuba even advanced this far. It’s the first time Cuba has advanced beyond the second round since the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, when the country finished as runner-up to Japan.

Cuba won its pool in Taiwan via tiebreaker after all five teams — Cuba, Italy, the Netherlands, Panama and Chinese Taipei — finished with identical 2-2 records.

Cuba then beat Australia 4-3 in its quarterfinal game, held at the Tokyo Dome, to advance to the semifinals.

“I think they don’t even know how they made it out of the group,” Arozarena said, “but they’ve won the important ones and have the chance now against the U.S.”

Meanwhile, Arozarena is continuing to establish himself as a star.

After debuting with the St. Louis Cardinals in August 2019, the outfielder was traded to the Rays ahead of the 2020 season and was dominant for Tampa Bay in its run to the World Series. He hit .377 with 10 home runs, 14 RBI and 19 runs scored in 20 playoff games.

For his MLB career, Arozarena has a career .269 batting average, .807 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 48 home runs, 171 RBI and 185 runs scored in 336 regular-season games.

He is hitting .471 (8 for 17) through five World Baseball Classic games with five doubles, one home run, nine RBI, seven runs scored and a 1.566 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He was named the Most Valuable Player of Pool C, which began the tournament in Phoenix, and was instrumental in Mexico winning its pool and making it to Miami for the final stages of the tournament.

In Mexico’s 5-4 quarterfinal win over Puerto Rico on Friday, Arozarena went 1 for 3 with two walks and a run scored and made a big catch on an Emmanuel Rivera line drive to left-center in the eighth inning.

“Randy Arozarena has been a great player at the Major League level,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said, adding that Arozarena has “become a global star.”

“I mean, he’s the biggest baseball star right now in Mexico, and I think it’s wonderful,” Gil continued. “That’s why I love this event. He’s a great character. He’s doing stuff with his base running, his defense, obviously great hitting. And his personality, he’s infectious. He has great energy. It’s just fun to watch somebody that looks like he just loves to play baseball. He loves to play baseball. I guarantee you if you ask him if there’s anything that he could be doing, nothing outside of maybe being with his family, he would rather be playing baseball than doing anything else. He just is in love with baseball.”

This and that

Team USA third baseman Nolan Arenado, whose father is of Cuban ancestry, on playing Cuba and if he talked with his family about the matchup: “We had a long discussion this morning about it. To be quite honest with you, there’s a lot of anxious feelings. I don’t know, we had a long discussion about it, we really did. We’re excited to play Cuba, and I know -- you know, if it wasn’t for the sacrifices my grandparents made to get here for my parents, I don’t know if I would have been the player that I am today. So there’s a lot of feelings I feel toward it. I respect them, I respect the players, but we have a job to do. So we got to put that aside and take care of business tonight and then hopefully have a good game and then we can talk about it after.”

Cuba manager Armando Johnson on if his team is prepared, both physically and mentally, given the potential politicization of the matchup and possibility of protests: “We are focused for the game. It’s going to be a tough game. We are playing Team USA, a very good team. We don’t think about what they say out there or possible aggression. No, we are prepared for everything, both physically and mentally. The players are focused on their job, and the rest is not our job.”