Blue Jays closer Osuna excited to show Mexico his skills at first WBC

Osuna excited to show Mexico what he can do

Roberto Osuna can list a number of reasons why he chose to play for Mexico at this year’s World Baseball Classic, but two of them are identical.

The Toronto Blue Jays closer will make his WBC debut in front of his 14-year-old twin brothers, Pedro and Alex, as the Mexican team hosts its round robin group at Estadio Charros de Jalisco this week.

The younger Osuna boys still live in Mexico, roughly six hours by car from Jalisco. And while they’ve travelled to Toronto to watch their older brother play in person before, the older Osuna says having Pedro and Alex see him in a Mexican uniform will be special — not just for them, but for their friends, too. 

“My brothers tell me how their friends come up and say ‘hey I watched your brother pitch last night, he did a good job,’ and they think that’s pretty cool,” Osuna said in a recent interview at Toronto’s spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla.

“Playing for Mexico is big for me because that’s one of the biggest dreams for a baseball player, to represent his country. I’m so excited to do it. I think it’s a great opportunity for the people back in Mexico to see me play and see what I bring to the big leagues.”

The 22-year-old Osuna and Toronto teammate Marco Estrada are both on Mexico’s designated pitcher pool for the international tournament. Osuna is available for the first round and the final in Los Angeles, should Mexico advance, while Estrada would only pitch in the second round in San Diego.

Estrada represented Mexico for the first time at the last WBC in 2013. The 33-year-old right-hander, who battled a back injury through last season, said he’ll only go this year if he feels “100 per cent.”  

“I’m not worried about my back, I’m worried about my shoulder. That’s my concern, making sure I’m ready for the season,” Estrada said. “Once you get into the WBC you want to give it everything and if I’m not ready I’d rather not play.

“In spring training games you can kind of hold back, work on stuff, but the WBC you have to be ready to go.”

Estrada was born in Ciudad Obregon, in Mexico’s Sonora state, but moved to California with his mother at a young age. Osuna, meanwhile, grew up in Sinaloa and played in the Mexican league until the Blue Jays signed him as an international free agent at 16. He splits his off-seasons between his parents’ home in Mexico and his own in Arizona.

This winter was particularly eventful for Osuna, who was named Mexico’s Athlete of the Year and honoured in a ceremony in Mexico City, where he met President Enrique Pena Nieto.  

Both Blue Jays pitchers said current Mexico-U.S. relations, including American President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, did not play a factor in their decisions to play in the WBC.

“It’s not that I’m not paying attention — that’s all you hear about nowadays and it’s a lot to take in,” Estrada said. “When (Trump) was running for president I thought he was kind of joking about all this, but he’s showing that he’s not and what are we going to do now? He’s going to do what he wants and it’s not going to change the way I feel about Mexico or the United States or Canada or anywhere.”

“I try to leave those things out of my mind,” Osuna added. “It’s just something special to play for Mexico no matter what.”

Osuna, who pitched a career-high 74 innings for the Blue Jays during the 2016 regular season and nine more in the playoffs, admitted there aren’t many benefits to playing highly competitive games this early into spring training.

But that wouldn’t stop him from going to the WBC.

“You don’t want to get hurt and lose the season because of it, but I think I did an unbelievable job in my training in the off-season,” Osuna said. “I feel pretty strong. I think I’m in shape to go there and do my thing and come back and keep working to get ready for the season.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to play, not for me. It means something big so I wanted to go no matter what.”

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press