Somewhere down the road in Alek Thomas’s baseball career, maybe in a few years, a spot might have opened up for him with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. A lot would depend on his production and whether there will be any spots open, given that many All-Stars have donned the red, white and blue.
But in the here and now, Team Mexico has called on the American-born Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder to suit up in red, white and green. And since Thomas, whose mother has roots in the Mexican state of Sonora, helped the USA win the 2017 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup, he already has had the experience of playing in an international tournament.
“I never really thought about playing in the WBC at all. But whenever I was in the majors or minors or whatever and the opportunity came about. And, you know, the USA team is stacked,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to be amazing to play on that team. But I think I’d rather play for Mexico and represent this part of my culture and, you know, my family, so I’m really happy to get the opportunity to do this. It’s going to be really special.”
Thomas batted eighth and started in center field for Mexico in a pre-WBC tune-up game Wednesday against the Cleveland Guardians. His mother, Marcella, and father, Allen, were there to watch, and they’ll join family members from Mexico at Chase Field this weekend and next week to watch Alek play for Mexico against the U.S, Canada, Great Britain and Colombia in Pool C of the WBC.
The Thomas cheering section will be part of what figures to a be a pro-Mexico crowd in every game. Baseball is big in the northern part of the country, where Sonora is, and the large Mexican population in the Phoenix metro area and the state should give Chase Field a distinct atmosphere.
“I think I’m going to stick with the Mexican team for sure. It seems pretty fun over here and it’s different,” Thomas said. “You play in the United States your whole life and you never really get a chance to express this part of yourself. And that’s what I’m doing right now.”
The Thomas connection to Mexico’s WBC team is deep. Allen Thomas, as former longtime Chicago White Sox strength and conditioning coach, worked with two Team Mexico coaches, Ever and Bobby Magallanes, who managed in the White Sox minor league system. Mexico manager Benji Gil has known Allen and Alek for years.
“I know he has an explosive bat. But more than anything, it’s great defense. Good base running. Good IQ. And I think he can handle the stage,” Gil said. “He’s such a good center fielder that he’s an anchor back there.”
With the Diamondbacks organization, former Triple-A Reno manager Gil Velazquez, himself an ex-Mexico WBC player, started discussing Alek playing for Mexico in 2021. Last year, former Diamondbacks pitcher and Team Mexico general manager Rodrigo Lopez invited Thomas to the roster, and Thomas accepted.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, no problem. I got you. I’ll play for sure,'” Thomas said. “So that’s pretty much how it happened. It wasn’t really a call. It was more of a face to face interaction with both those dudes.”
Allen Thomas could only smile seeing his son, a former high school star in the Chicago area, patrolling the outfield for Mexico. The Thomases have resettled in the Phoenix area and helped Alek buy a home.
Clearly everyone in the family is happy about Alek representing Mexico. When Alek had made up his mind to play, he checked in with his parents.
“Alek came in and asked us what we thought, and obviously we felt it would be a great time for his mom’s side and the side over in Agua Prieta (Sonora). For them to have good time with it and kind of bring everything together,” Allen Thomas said. “Really just refreshing to see all of it manifest this way. We never would have chalked it up like this.”
2023 World Baseball Classic
Group C, March 11-15, Chase Field
Teams: United States, Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Great Britain
Saturday: Colombia vs. Mexico, 12:30 p.m. FOX; Great Britain vs. U.S., 7 p.m., FOX
Sunday: Great Britain vs. Canada, noon, FS1; Mexico vs. U.S., 7 p.m., FS1
Monday: Colombia vs. Great Britain, noon, FS2; Canada vs. U.S., 7 p.m., FS1
Tuesday: Canada vs. Colombia, noon, FS2; Great Britain vs. Mexico, 7 p.m., FS1
Wednesday: Mexico vs. Canada, noon, FS2; U.S. vs. Colombia, 7 p.m. FS1
Ticket information available at the WBC website.