In limbo, Draft prospect Arroyo dreaming big
Right-hander hopeful for return to US following deportation during family visit
Octavio Arroyo is a baseball dreamer. The right-handed pitcher wakes up each morning and practices, sometimes with cousins and often alone, on abandoned fields in his Los Alamos neighborhood in Tijuana, Mexico.
Arroyo hops fences to get to these lots, dodging the rocky terrain and scouts from Mexican League teams that want to sign him. He throws until security guards who monitor the property toss him out because the 18-year-old doesn't have permission to throw 90-mph fastballs on their land.
The dirt fields of Tijuana are a steep slide from the manicured diamond of San Ysidro High School, just a few miles away in San Diego. Not long ago, the 6-foot, 180-pound prospect was a star on the lush fields in the high school stadiums across Southern California.
Now, Arroyo's future is unclear.
Arroyo, who was born in Mexico and played parts of three high school seasons in the United States, was found to be in violation of his visitor's visa on March 29 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which divides the U.S.-Mexico border. He was deported to Mexico.
Arroyo has not been back in the United States since his departure, but he remains eligible for next month's First-Year Player Draft because he played high school baseball in California. The Braves, D-backs, Marlins, Pirates, Red Sox and Rangers watched Arroyo throw on Tuesday at a municipal stadium in Tijuana, and other teams are starting to express interest. The pitcher was once projected to be selected between the 15th and 20th rounds, but he could go lower, given his situation.
At his best, Arroyo threw a 92-mph fastball, a sinker and a changeup. But that was when Sabino Loaiza, a former Minor League pitching coach and the brother of retired Major League pitcher Esteban Loaiza, was his high school pitching coach.
Now, Arroyo throws to his older cousins -- Wesley Aguilar, 22, who plays at Texas A&M Kingsville; and Ricardo Aguilar, 26, a former infielder at Cal-State Dominguez Hills -- as often as possible.
"It's a difficult situation I am in, but I'm training and working out with my cousins," Arroyo said in Spanish from Tijuana. "I'm waiting on what happens next, but I'm also preparing to play. What I want to do is sign a contract with MLB and play if I can do that."
It was Arroyo's parents, Igancio Arroyo and Yinez Sanchez, who came up with the idea to send a teenaged Octavio to live with his grandparents, Rodolfo Arroyo Sr. and Lupita Arroyo, in Temecula, Calif., in 2012. Divorced as a couple but united in thought, Octavio's parents believed he could have a better life living in the United States with his grandparents. After all, both his grandparents had become U.S. citizens, and three of their four children had followed a similar path and were living in the United States. Only Octavio's father did not become a U.S. citizen.
"The plan was for my grandparents to adopt me and get my paperwork, my residency," Octavio said in Spanish. "But I was denied. I don't know why. I was told we filled out the paperwork wrong. We tried for three years, but I never got it."
Arroyo played in a few games at Temecula Valley High School as a freshman and soon after made a name for himself in the travel baseball circuits.
Homesick, Arroyo moved south 60 miles during his sophomore year to live with family in San Diego to be closer to his family in Tijuana. He began playing at San Ysidro High School as a pitcher and outfielder, and he played a key role in the high school's San Diego Section Division III championship title in 2013. Arroyo continued to star on travel teams and in showcases, catching the eye of college and Major League scouts.
But family issues forced Arroyo back to Mexico, and he didn't play his junior year. He returned to San Diego and school last fall and eventually decided it would be best for him to cross from Tijuana to San Ysidro on a daily basis.
But Arroyo did not have a student visa, the important Form I-20 that would allow him to legally cross the border and attend school. His visitor's visa did not suffice, and he knew there was a risk of crossing into the U.S without the proper documentation.
"I was always nervous at the border, but you cross, and you act like it's another day," Arroyo said. "I did what I always did, look the officer right in the eyes to not get into trouble."
That changed this spring, when Arroyo and a group of friends were questioned after a routine check at the San Ysidro Port of Entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers on their way back to the U.S. after a weekend in Tijuana. Arroyo said he was asked where he lived, where he went to school, and for his documentation. Arroyo's friends were also questioned.
Further investigation determined Arroyo was entering the country illegally. The teenager signed a form called "Withdrawal for Application of Admission," a document that allowed him to avoid the automatic immigration consequences that come with deportation. His visa was cancelled and he was allowed to voluntarily return to Mexico. In this case, a visa can still be issued to Arroyo at the U.S. government's discretion.
"If you don't have the right documents, officers won't allow entry," said Ralph DeSio, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection regional press officer for Southern California. "You can't come in the country without documents, and that's why they check. It comes down to that, regardless of who or what they are."
The purpose of Octavio's trip to Tijuana was to deliver news to his mother: Arroyo's dream was coming true. He was going to sign a letter of intent with a junior college in New Mexico. The junior college was going to facilitate the acquisition of a student visa for Arroyo.
"What are you going to do? He knew what it meant to go through [the border]," said Ricardo Aguilar, 26, who also serves as Arroyo's advisor.
While Arroyo remains eligible for this year's Draft, it's unclear if he will be issued a work visa by the U.S. government to play professional baseball in the U.S. because he was deemed inadmissible. If Arroyo is not drafted, he could sign as a non-drafted free agent or sign with a Mexican League team that could subsequently sell his rights to a Major League team.
"Teams don't know what is going to happen," Ricardo Aguilar said. "The question is: Will the U.S. government give him work visa? We don't know, but we hope so. "
In the meantime, Arroyo waits. His San Ysidro High School went 27-3 and qualified for California Interscholastic Federation playoffs without him. Arroyo's college letter of intent rests in a folder on his desk in Tijuana.