How Tellez decided to rep Mexico in Classic

February 3rd, 2023
Photo by Scott Paulus/Brewers

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, who was born in Sacramento, Calif., to a Jewish mother and a father with Mexican heritage, is the rare player eligible to represent three entries in this year’s World Baseball Classic. For Tellez, it presented a unique choice.

Both Israel and Mexico offered a roster spot to the 27-year-old first baseman, who powered his way through his best season in the big leagues in 2022 and led the Brewers with 35 home runs. Tellez chose Mexico, so he is poised to play alongside his Brewers teammate Luis Urías and other early commits like pitcher Julio Urías of the Dodgers and outfielder Randy Arozarena of the Rays. Joey Meneses of the Nationals, a right-handed hitter, and the lefty Tellez project as Mexico’s most prominent first-base options.

“We don’t have a lot of power like that,” said Rodrigo López, the former Major League pitcher who is Mexico’s general manager for the event. “He’s clutch. And actually he has good defense, too. He’s definitely a very important part for our team.”

It’s not the first time that Tellez has pondered playing in the event. When it was last staged in 2017, Mexico offered him a roster spot and Tellez, who was 21 at the time and coming off a .917 OPS at Double-A New Hampshire in the Blue Jays’ system, wanted to play.

“You have to ask the team’s permission, and the Blue Jays were like, ‘Yeah, you can go. We just want to make sure you understand there’s a chance you can make this roster,’” Tellez said.

That’s because Tellez was going to be in big league camp in 2017, and following the old Doug Melvin adage, anyone in big league camp has a chance to make the big league roster. So Tellez thought it would be in his best interests to stay with Toronto that spring, and ultimately he made it to the Majors the following year.

Now that he’s more established in MLB, Tellez is eager to experience international baseball. He played for Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Winter League during the 2016-17 offseason and loved it, and coming into this year, it was full speed ahead for playing for Mexico in the next Classic.

Photo by Scott Paulus/Brewers

Tellez needed some time to ponder the emotional tug from both sides. He was incredibly close with his mother, Lori, who fought a two-year battle with cancer before passing away in 2018, just two weeks before Rowdy’s remarkable Major League debut. He grieved with his father, Greg, whose own father -- Rowdy’s grandfather -- played baseball in Mexico and eventually made his way to Colorado and played for the Greeley Grays, founded as early as 1925 by migrant farmers. Tellez learned about his grandfather and his baseball roots via a book.

Tellez chose Mexico for a number of reasons, including some logistical ones. The paperwork was all in order, and Mexico is in the pool including the U.S. that will play at Chase Field in Phoenix, just down I-10 from the Brewers’ Spring Training home. Israel will train in Florida. 

So, the pieces fell into place. 

“When I had a chance to talk to Rowdy during the season,” said Lopez, who does Spanish-language broadcasts for the D-backs, “he was like, ‘I want to play for Mexico.’ I think Luis Urías was a big part of that. 

“That made me feel proud of my country. I don’t know if Rowdy has spent time in Mexico, but his roots are Mexican, and he wants to be part of this. It’s pretty exciting for me.”

Tellez, however, made clear that the Brewers are his priority. He was as disappointed as anybody when they missed the postseason last season. 

“We're a team that came through this with our bull's-eye on our back,” Tellez said at the end of last season. “We let ourselves down, but we'll be back next year. There's always the year after, and I think in the long run, we're going to have a really good team.”