In the Nationals’ clubhouse, LaRoche isn’t the only player with a blend of cultures, heritages and ethnicities. And as international competitions arise, those players are sometimes forced to choose which country to represent and which to root for.
Gio Gonzalez, of Cuban descent, will climb onto the mound on Tuesday night at Marlins Park in Miami and start for the United States in the opening game of the double-elimination round against Puerto Rico.
Christian Garcia, another Miami native with Cuban roots, turned down an invitation to pitch for Spain’s national team. Danny Espinosa, who twice played for U.S. national baseball teams while in high school and college, was on Mexico’s preliminary roster, hoping to represent his father’s heritage for the first time before withdrawing because he wanted to rehab his left shoulder.
“It was ingrained in me at a young age: ‘Don’t forget who you are,’ ” Espinosa said. “There’s a pride in being Mexican.”
When Team USA Manager Joe Torre called to extend an invitation to Gonzalez a month ago, the left-handed starter jumped at the idea. He was born and raised in Hialeah, a city in the Miami suburbs, in a Cuban American and bilingual household. But even Gonzalez knows some may see him as only Cuban. “Now people will know I’m actually from here,” he said, jokingly, to reporters when talking about accepting the invitation to wear the U.S. uniform.
Gonzalez played with LaRoche’s brother, Andy, on the Oakland Athletics in 2011 and knew that the family’s last name was Garcia.
“It’s pretty cool, man,” Gonzalez said. “To see him, he’s a big hunter, too, so it doesn’t kinda add up. Then you see it, it’s awesome. He’s Latino.”
Espinosa also knew of LaRoche’s Mexican roots, but most of his Nationals teammates don’t. Asked if he knew he could share the same last name as LaRoche, Garcia was at first confused: “Who is? Garcia is Adam’s? I didn’t know that. Is it really?”
Like other Cuban American baseball players, Garcia can trace his Cuban heritage through Spain as well, and would have done so through his great-grandparents if he had accepted the invitation to play. If the political climate in Cuba were different, Garcia said he would have considered playing for Cuba.
Espinosa, a Southern California native, accepted Team Mexico’s invitation to play but later withdrew because he wanted to fully focus on strengthening the muscles around his torn rotator cuff. But he was initially excited to represent Mexico.