All Padres third baseman Christian Villanueva ever wanted was a chance to show he belonged in the Major Leagues and make his family and friends back in Mexico proud.
Villanueva's dream had been slowed by injuries, but he never gave up. At one point, he was blocked at third base by Adrian Beltre in Texas, and later by Kristopher Bryant in Chicago, but he didn't quit. Now, the rookie from Guadalajara has found a home in San Diego, and he's returning to his country as a rising star.
This weekend, Villanueva will be the the lone Mexico-born starter on the field during the three-game series between the Padres and Dodgers at Estadio Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico.
Villanueva is having a breakout season -- earning the National League Rookie of the Month Award for the month of April -- and can't wait for the games to begin.
"Personally, I'm anxious and maybe a little nervous, but I know it's going to be fun and I'm so happy we are able to bring the best baseball in the world to Mexico," Villanueva said in Spanish. "I always give 100 percent, but there's going to be something special and an extra energy playing in front of your people and representing Mexico on a big stage. I can't even imagine what it is going to be like."
The games mark the third regular-season series to be played in the city, and the first regular-season games in Mexico since the Padres and the Rockies played in MLB's first international Opening Day in 1999 in Monterrey. The Padres also played a three-game series against the Mets in the city in '96.
"We are excited," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Obviously, the relationship with the Mexican fan base with the Padres and the Dodgers, it makes sense. We are trying to get through this series [against the D-backs], but once we do that, I know our guys will be looking forward to getting down to Monterrey."
On Friday, Rockies mascot Dinger and Twins mascot TC Bear will visit children at the Centro de Rehabilitacion Infantil Teleton in Coahuila. Then on Saturday, MLB, the Dodgers and Padres will dedicate the refurbishments made to the computer center at the Club de Niños y Niñas de Nuevo León. MLB and the Sultanes de Monterrey will play host to a Play Ball event at Estadio Monterrey on Monday. A Little League game will follow.
The series is the Dodgers' fourth trip to Mexico, and the first for regular-season games following preseason contests against the Mexico City Red Devils in 1964, the Brewers in '91 and the Mets in 2003.
Major League teams most recently visited Mexico in March 2016, when the Padres and Astros played two exhibition games in Mexico City. There was also a qualifying round for the '17 World Baseball Classic in Mexicali in March 2016. Guadalajara later played host to Pool D of the Classic a year later.
• Ortega expects emotions to flow in Mexico
"Being a Mexican, it's emotional for me, but also special for the Padres, my team," said Padres Spanish broadcaster Eduardo Ortega, who is in his 32nd season with San Diego. "I've been fortunate enough to call Padres baseball games in Spanish in Canada, in China in Beijing, Hawaii in '97. ... But this particular trip is, I think, the most important for me. It just means so much to bring Major League Baseball [to Mexico]."
This season, there were 11 players born in Mexico on Opening Day rosters and inactive lists, a group made up of Villanueva, Philadelphia's Victor Arano, Arizona's Jorge De La Rosa and Noel Salas, Toronto's Marco Estrada, Roberto Osuna and Jaime Garcia, White Sox pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Joakim Soria, Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias and Boston's Hector Velazquez.
On the amateur side, more than 60 prospects from Mexico have signed during the current international signing period. Last year, MLB opened an office in Mexico City and an academy in Culiacan for players ages 13-17 as part of a partnership with the Sinaloan state government.
"Major League Baseball is exposing the game to people outside of the country, and I think that's a very positive thing and I'm very supportive," said Dodgers Hall of Fame Spanish broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, who famously served as Fernando Valenzuela's interpreter during the 1980s. "I vividly remember being there with Koufax and Drysdale in 1964 and with everyone in 1991. Those trips were great, very nice, and I'm sure this will be great, too."
The Dodgers' history with Monterrey spans more than half a century. In 2009, the club played host to members of the 1957 Little League World Series championship team from Monterrey, the first Mexican team to win the LLWS, at Dodger Stadium. More than 50 years earlier, the Mexican Little Leaguers spent the day at Ebbets Field with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Overall, there have been 19 Mexico-born players to suit up for the Dodgers, with the most famous being Valenzuela, who will throw out the first pitch for Friday's series opener. The Padres have had 23 players born in Mexico play at least one game for them. More could be on the way.
Padres infielder Luis Urias, the club's No. 3 prospect, is from Sonora, Mexico. The Dodgers' No. 2 prospect Alex Verdugo, who is of Mexican descent and played for Team Mexico in the 2017 Classic, was called up from Triple-A last week.
"It's going to be a really special experience, because my family is going to come out and enjoy it with me," Verdugo said. "Playing for Team Mexico, the fans supported me and I felt like I showed well and played well, so they were definitely cheering me on. I'm looking forward to going back there and hearing them cheer us on."
Villanueva is looking forward to making his own mark in Monterrey. He'll be carrying his father, Jesus, and brother, Eduardo, both of whom died before they could see him play in the Major Leagues, in his heart.
"This is something I will never forget, and I hope the people receive me well because I am representing them and everyone in my family who inspired me," Villanueva said. "This is also for my young son. My dreams are coming true and he is living them with me. He might not recognize it, but one day he can look at what his father did and be proud."