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Joey Meneses, long a major-leaguer-in-waiting, might finally get his shot

If the Washington Nationals trade Josh Bell, Joey Meneses could get the call up from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Red Wings/Rochester Red Wings Staff)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Joey Meneses is 30 and has held jobs in the Dominican Republic; Kissimmee, Fla.; Rome, Ga.; his hometown of Culiacán, Mexico; Zebulon, N.C.; Jackson, Miss.; Allentown, Pa.; Osaka — yes, as in Osaka, Japan — Worcester, Mass.; Portland, Maine; and Rochester.

If it’s not quite around the world, it’s certainly around. Some of the stops have been brief. Some have lasted years (Zebulon, Jackson) or many winters (Culiacán, where Meneses has often represented his neighborhood in Mexico’s winter league). And some have been downright weird.

“Bro, have you been to Salem?” the first baseman asked in late June, sitting in the dugout at Frontier Field in Rochester. “I was there a while back; we were the road team. One of my teammates starts telling me about witches and this scary movie. I’m just like, ‘Nah man, no thanks.’ ”

Meneses’s teammate would have been referring to Salem, Mass. Turns out they were in Salem, Va., a little town near Roanoke. Meneses has spent a decade in affiliated baseball, so the games and stories run together in his head. But right now, as the calendar churns toward the MLB trade deadline, there’s reason to believe it could all be worth it.

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If the Washington Nationals deal Josh Bell in the coming days, Meneses could get the call up from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. He is the organization’s most logical replacement at first base. He first signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves in 2011. He then entered Saturday with a .292 batting average, a .346 on-base percentage, a .499 slugging percentage and 19 homers in 88 games. So even thinking about debuting — about telling his mom, dad and brothers he did it — made Meneses bend his neck backward, blinking through tears.

“I’m a person, I’m a human, and sometimes this has been really tough,” Meneses said. “I mean, I am far from my family and trying to make my dream come true. How can I say this? Sometimes I will think: ‘What am I doing here? I’m losing time.’ Or like, ‘Why did I choose this?’ But in a day or two, I’ll come back and keep working to get there.”

Playing in the Braves’ system, Meneses got stuck behind Freddie Freeman. With the Philadelphia Phillies, it was Rhys Hoskins blocking his path. Meneses’s response, though, was to go wherever there was a baseball game. At the end of each long season, he went straight into the Mexican League. He joined Mexico’s Caribbean Series team in 2015, 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

He made the national team for the Olympics in Japan. He had already been there, of course, for 118 plate appearances for the Orix Buffaloes. His rationale was that 118 chances were a lot more than zero.

“Once in a while, a funny thing happens in Triple-A,” said Matthew LeCroy, the Red Wings’ manager. “Everyone here has the same goal, right? They want to leave and be in the show. But with a guy like Joey, everyone is also rooting for him to make it. The guys know what he has put in and want him to be rewarded. It takes a special person for your teammates to really, genuinely want that for you.”

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Should Bell get moved, the Nationals have Meneses, utility man Jake Noll or John Nogowski, who has some major league experience and is currently with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators. Catcher Riley Adams, another option, was sidelined for most of July with a hand injury after the Nationals sent him down to Rochester. And Meneses is hitting the best of the group, highlighted by his spike in power. He has topped 20 homers in only one of his minor league seasons. This year, he had 11 at the end of the May.

Brian Daubach, the Red Wings’ hitting coach, has helped Meneses turn sharp grounders into line drives, then line drives into balls that land over the fence. In the past, Meneses was “too jumpy at the plate,” as he put it, lunging at breaking balls and limiting hard contact. Staying back has gone a long, long way toward making consistently solid results pop more. Maybe next it will take him to Washington.

“That would mean everything,” Meneses said. “That’s been everything to me since I was a little kid.”

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