BOSTON -- Take one glance at Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo, and you’ll quickly realize the diversity of Latino players in baseball.
The ginger-red hair. The fair skin complexion. Speaking English as a first language. Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., -- a city heavily populated by Hispanics -- with a lacking ability to speak Spanish fluently made it difficult for Verdugo to identify with his culture.
“When you don’t speak Spanish but you’re Mexican, everybody gives you crap,” Verdugo said. “They’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ and all that.”
But make no mistake about it. Verdugo knows who he is, and the baseball world is seeing it. He comes from Mexican roots. His father, Joe, was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. It’s where many of his family members still reside, and it’s only about a four-hour drive from Verdugo’s hometown of Tucson.
Verdugo is proud to be Mexican American. He considers playing for Mexico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic to be one of his greatest career achievements. Now playing on the national stage of the MLB postseason, which also happens to fall during Hispanic Heritage Month, he’s using this opportunity to show off that pride.
You see it every time he’s standing in the batter’s box. In addition to wearing green, white and red Nike cleats, Verdugo’s right elbow sticks out in the direction of the mound while he's at the plate to reveal a white elbow guard emblazoned by the Mexican flag across the center.
“It means a lot to come out here and represent,” Verdugo said. “I see how proud my dad is. That look that he has in his eyes. It’s just big. I stay true to my roots and true to where I’m from. It’s special for me, man. I love the colors. Putting them on just makes me feel a type of way.”
At Fenway Park, Verdugo has introduced the Boston faithful to the legendary tune of “Volver Volver” by Vicente Fernández, an iconic singer who is revered across Mexico. The scene at Fenway isn’t quite as festive as the one Verdugo remembers seeing often at Dodger Stadium during his time with Los Angeles, but he believes it’s starting to grow in popularity.
“At first they were real confused about it,” Verdugo said of Red Sox fans. “It’s starting to get a lot better of a response now. It took them a little while to warm up to it. Now, when I walk up, I can hear the whistles. Some screams. Some ‘gritos.’ There’s stuff going on in Fenway now, so it’s fun to see that progression.”
Winning over Red Sox Nation is not easy for any player. It was only more difficult in Verdugo’s case. Since his arrival to Boston in the Mookie Betts trade of February 2020, fair or not, Verdugo was immediately viewed as the guy replacing a superstar in Betts. Through a combination of great play on the field along with an energetic charisma, the 25-year-old outfielder has endeared himself to the Boston faithful.
“They like him a lot in Boston,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He’s a big personality. He enjoys the spotlight.”
On the field, Verdugo is proving himself as someone who can deliver in clutch moments. Through Boston’s first seven postseason games, he’s batting .367 (11-for-30) with a home run, three doubles and six RBIs.
“He’s a joy,” said Cora. “He loves playing the game. He shows up every day and keeps learning on a daily basis. Offensively, lately, he’s actually kind of going back to [his production] last year. Being able to stay on pitches and use the whole field.”
The move to Boston was an adjustment. It’s a long way from Arizona and Los Angeles -- the only places he’d ever lived up until 2020. But just as the fans have embraced him, Verdugo is enjoying ‘Beantown’ and its many offerings. There is, however, one aspect of his new home that is still taking some getting used to.
“In L.A., I could play the game and go down the street and there’s a taco truck right there,” Verdugo said. “I haven’t found no places in Boston like that. That’s been the worst part about the move.”
The tacos might be few and far between, but luckily for Verdugo, Boston offers another food option he’s a big fan of.
“I’ve been crushing seafood out here,” Verdugo said. “That’s the best thing about it. Right off the water, they got seafood.”
Now that Verdugo has strengthened that bond with Boston, he’s aiming to do the same with Mexico, where he’s admired by fans who constantly shower him with support via messages and comments on social media. He realizes the influence he can have on his father’s homeland, particularly on the next generation. That’s why he’s so serious about wanting to learn more Spanish. It’s something that could bring him even closer to the country.
“I expect to speak Spanish one day and be able to fully be comfortable in my own skin like that,” Verdugo said. “You don’t see a lot of Mexicans out here in the big leagues. So everyone that gets up here, you know everyone in Mexico is watching and supporting.
“We’re getting more exposure for kids back there, and maybe they’ll want to start pursuing baseball more.”