'Joeyyyy!' Nats elated over Meneses' Classic heroics

March 13th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Luis García was watching Nationals teammate at the plate for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic on Sunday night when he had a strong feeling about what was going to happen.

Meneses had already homered off Team USA starter Nick Martinez in the first inning, but García had experienced his hitting abilities firsthand last season when Meneses belted 13 homers in just 56 games for Washington -- his first one coming in his Major League debut on Aug. 2 at age 30. García knew Meneses had the potential to show more power.

“The second home run, that was unbelievable,” García said. “Fastball inside. When I saw that, I said, ‘Ooh, it’s going to be something here.’”

As García sat next to Meneses’ locker, he was one of several players who expressed their excitement for the first baseman’s heroics of global proportions in Team Mexico’s 11-5 win over Team USA. Meneses’ two homers -- which totaled a Statcast-projected 808 feet -- were a hot topic in the Nationals’ clubhouse, where a photo from Meneses’ postgame interview was posted next to the lineup sheet.

“Wow,” said Ildemaro Vargas. “I was very happy for him, because he deserves it.”

Meneses traveled from Nationals camp in Florida to play in Pool C in Phoenix, but his journey to the worldwide stage was far from a quick trip. His teammates appreciate the 10 years Meneses spent grinding through the Minor Leagues before earning his callup last year after the Trade Deadline in the midst of a roster shakeup.

Meneses immediately embraced the opportunity with the Nats and burst onto the big league stage by slashing .324/.367/.563. From his debut through the end of the regular season, he ranked second among qualified National League players in OPS (.933), batting average and hits (72). He was third in slugging percentage and weighted on-base average (.395).

“He continues to amaze every single day,” said Riley Adams. “It’s just impressive watching what he does. I didn’t know anything about him. And when I got sent down to Triple-A [last season] and saw him, basically from then on, I’ve been a Joey fan ever since.”

Once Meneses earned his role last season, he wanted to keep it. He was concerned participating in the World Baseball Classic would put his chances of making the Opening Day roster in jeopardy. But opportunities like the WBC are not guaranteed the next time, and the Nationals did not want Meneses to miss out on it.

“He was real iffy to want to play; he wanted to be here,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I told him, ‘You have an opportunity to represent your country, that’s a bigger deal. Go do it, go have fun.’ … He’s an incredible kid. Sustaining a lot of years in the Minor Leagues and not giving up, and then coming back and having some success in the big leagues and now doing it for his country, that tells you a lot about him.”

After competing 10 seasons with los Tomateros de Culiacán in the Mexican Pacific Winter League, where Team Mexico manager Benji Gil also was the manager, Meneses is thriving while playing with the name of his country on the front of his jersey.

“I was very happy,” said Víctor Arano, who also is from Mexico. “I felt happy because I knew he was living his moment -- and a moment seen on television. It was something very beautiful for Mexico.”

Regardless of which team the Nationals players are rooting for in the tournament, they have a commonality in cheering for Meneses. Keibert Ruiz described him as “a really great hitter.” Israel Pineda referred to Meneses as “a monster” at the plate and noted, “You feel great when your teammate does good things like that.” Even new teammates like Trevor Williams already have an appreciation for Meneses’ skills.

“He went on a tear last year when he got called up, and he’s only been crushing the ball since,” said Williams. “I can’t wait to have him back in camp with us.”

When Meneses returns to West Palm Beach, there will be a clubhouse of teammates eagerly waiting to see what he will do at the plate this season in a Nationals uniform.

Said Martinez, “I got all these text messages this morning with just his name on it: Joeyyyy!"