From unknown to overnight sensation, Joey Meneses turning heads for Team Mexico at World Baseball Classic

Joey Meneses’ epic bat flip punctuated a 412-foot home run in Sunday’s 11-5 win over Team USA at the World Baseball Classic. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – A beautiful sensation with a lot of adrenaline.

That’s how Mexico infielder Joey Meneses described his second home run of the night, a 412-foot shot to left-center field that gave Mexico a 7-1 lead over the United States, a moment that caused an already rowdy sold-out crowd of 47,534 to erupt with cheers and applause for an unlikely hero in the World Baseball Classic group stage.

“I have no words to describe it,” Meneses said. “It was just super emotional. I just tried to enjoy everything. And I enjoyed the hit. I see the people scream and stand up from their seats. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Mexico went on to pull off the 11-5 upset to improve their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals. However, what people will remember won’t be the win, but Menese’s heroics for his country in the face of tens of thousands at Chase Field.

“It’s a very special day, I can tell you, in my life and the life of every other player,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said. “Most people, if you would have asked them yesterday, all the experts, that tomorrow it was going to be a very complicated day for all the people that are part of the Mexican baseball. Why? Because we’re facing a team full of stars and Hall of Famers.”

However, for Meneses, his night means more than just a win for his country, but a climax to his long, unrelenting journey in baseball.

Meneses’ career has been an Odyssey.

Meneses played for several farm teams of the Atlanta Braves organization from 2011 to 2017. At the end of the 2013 season, he spent time playing in Mexico with Tomateros de Culiacán of the Mexican Pacific League. A season later, Gil was hired as the new Tomateros manager.

Shortly after, Meneses was playing in his native country, courtesy of Gil.

“I’ve said it before. He gave me the opportunity when I was a kid. And I will always be grateful to him,” Meneses said. “When I was a novice he gave me that trust, he made me the player that I am today because we live these experiences throughout, all these experiences that I have acquired with those championships and those moments in Mexico.”

Since then, Meneses played for the Tomateros every winter, and both he and Gil have contributed to four MPF league titles for the Tomateros.

In the minor leagues, it took Meneses five years to reach Double-A when he played for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, but he never got any higher in the Braves organization as he was elected for free agency at the end of the 2017 season.

Joey Meneses sparked Team Mexico to an 11-5 upset of Team USA in the Group C stage of the World Baseball Classic. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Joey Meneses sparked Team Mexico to an 11-5 upset of Team USA in the Group C stage of the World Baseball Classic. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and was promoted to Triple AAA at the beginning of the 2018 season, where he played 130 games for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Meneses hit .311 with 82 RBIs in 536 plate appearances that season but never received the call-up to the majors and was surprisingly released at the end of the season.

Gil expressed that he was hurt that Meneses never got to see the big leagues in 2018, as he would’ve made a lot more money and would’ve hit a lot more home runs if he was called up during that time.

“I’m not talking badly about any organization, but Meneses, he has the capability to be a star in the major league baseball,” Gil said. And he has shown that he will be a player that he definitely, at a minimum, can bring a lot of support to a team.”

Meneses’ career took yet another turn when instead of signing for another major league ballclub, he went overseas to play in the Japan Pacific League in 2019, as a member of the Orix Buffaloes.

It was a decision inspired by an unlikely source: anime.

Goku is the main character in the widely popular anime and manga series “Dragon Ball Z”. Meneses told Japanese media when he joined the Buffaloes that Goku was a childhood hero and he has been a big fan of the show ever since he was 8-years old.

After his venture in Japan, Meneses signed a minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox and spent one season in the minors with them. Then he was signed to another minor league contract with the Washington Nationals for the 2022 season.

With the Nationals, it appeared that the similar minor league limbo that Meneses seemingly couldn’t avoid would continue for the Mexican international, who had just turned 30 and had still never seen a major league field.

However, after the Nats pulled off a blockbuster trade that sent franchise star Juan Soto and first baseman Josh Bell to the Padres on Aug. 2, the team had a hole at first base. Later that same day, Meneses was called up to the majors for the first time in his long and tumultuous career.

In the seventh inning of his debut against the New York Mets, Meneses got his first major league hit – a home run to right center field.

“I thank God I had the fortune to be able to debut last year,” Meneses said. “I think God’s plans are perfect. My turn was to debut last year, not in 2018. For some reason, that’s what happened. I always put trust in God that things come when he wants.”

After a strong rookie season that entailed a .320 batting average, along with 13 homers in 320 plate appearances, the 31-year-old has taken the WBC by storm and looks to help Mexico achieve their first-ever WBC championship. Team Mexico will face Great Britain Tuesday in the second-to-last game of group stage competition.

Patrick Sandoval, who pitched three innings for Mexico last night, echoed the Mexico fans from two nights ago by calling Meneses an “MVP.”

“That dude can hit and hits the ball very, very hard. It’s awesome,” Sandoval said. “The energy he plays with as well, the passion, how in tune he is with each pitcher, how he watches the game and game plans. It’s been fun to watch. And he showed it tonight.”

Whether it’s with Mexico or the Nationals, there is no more second-guessing Meneses and his talents.

“I have seen in the past World Baseball Classics, Mexico against the United States. I always wanted to participate in one of these,” Meneses said. “Now that it’s happened it’s a reality come true, helping Mexico and putting the Mexican name high.

“I’m very proud as a Mexican.”

Vincent Deangelis VIN-sint dee-ANN-jeh-lis
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Vincent Deangelis expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Deangelis reports for The State Press.