SIDEBAR: Mike Madrigal’s Hurricane Odile
Editor Rick Cabral
Madrigal is extremely proud of the success of his son, Nick, who has been
selected to represent the USA baseball program four consecutive years. It
culminated with this year’s showing in which Nick Madrigal played brilliantly at
shortstop for the gold medal-winning 18U USA team that went 8-0 in the
2014 COPABE Pan American Championships in La Paz, Mexico.
critical match against the always potent team from Cuba, the U.S. won 5-4,
earning a spot in the medal round. In the 7th inning, the visiting
Cubans plated two runs to tie the game at 4-4. In the bottom half, the U.S.
scored the eventual winning run.
Eventually because of that victory, the
Americans ensured themselves the gold medal when the championship game against
Cuba was interrupted by Hurricane Odile.
games down there (La Paz, Mexico) were some the best baseball games I’ve ever
been to, including the (MLB) World Series and playoffs,” the senior Madrigal
notes. “The Cubans play like they’re playing for their lives.”
Saturday’s championship game was interrupted in
the third inning by Odile’s predicted presence in Baja, California. Madrigal
wondered why the Mexican officials didn’t move the start time to the afternoon
when everyone knew the hurricane was bearing down on the peninsula that evening.
He believes the contract to televise the night game may have persuaded officials
to adhere to the 7:30 p.m. start.
the United States ahead 1-0 in the third inning, lighting strikes and increasing
winds forced tournament officials to cancel the game, award the gold medal to
the United States (hurriedly distributing the medals to the team), and sent the
teams and their families to their respective hotels with advice to hunker
evening around 1 a.m. the Category 3 hurricane with 125 mile-per-hour sustained
maximum winds struck the city of La Paz. When Mike Madrigal arose early on
Sunday morning he saw devastation “like something you see on CNN. It was ugly,”
he said. He later learned that the hurricane had ripped off the roof of the
baseball stadium where they had played the night before.
drove to the USA team’s hotel, and found the hotel lobby windows blown out. Nick
and his teammates had spent part of the night in a hallway that was boarded up
for their protection, although water did seep through under the doors. USA team
officials said they would depart on the next flight out. But then Mike Madrigal
learned that the La Paz airport was closed. He drove his son back to his hotel,
as did other American parents.
at the hotel, several American men went to a nearby store to buy food and water,
and were alarmed when they saw growing numbers of local people lined up for the
same supplies. “We knew then we were in trouble,” Madrigal said. “We were
Monday, September 15:
Monday they awoke to find the electrical power was out, including wireless
service in the area. At 8 a.m. they were told the Mexican military was coming to
evacuate them with four buses. Six hours later the USA team contingent of 60
people standing in the parking lot had swelled to 200, as locals and others were
also looking to get out.
that afternoon help arrive when, as Madrigal described, one “Partridge Family
(size) old, beat up bus showed up.” The vehicle was just big enough to take the
USA team players and coaches and their three security personnel. The USA team
parents jumped in their rentals and followed the bus to a Mexican military base,
where a plane reportedly was waiting to take them out. Although the USA team bus
was admitted through the gate, the army guards refused to allow the automobiles
inside. This was nearly 6 p.m.
parents then parked their cars in a nearby lot and hurried back to the gate.
Once inside they were told the plane had already departed, although the players
said they never saw a plane depart.
USA contingent was told to return at 9 p.m. with assurances another plane would
be there to fly them out. When they returned at that time the Mexican
authorities announced “there will be no flights at night. Come back at 6
team was then taken to a nearby elementary school auditorium. “It was like a
refugee camp,” Madrigal noted. Although there was a store across the street,
many of the parents had run out of cash and credit cards were useless without
electrical power. A couple fathers purchased bread, peanut butter and jelly and
made sandwiches for the families, who realized they were now facing a dire
Tuesday, September 16:
Mexican Independence Day, the USA contingent boarded buses and returned to the
military base, where they waited on the bus for three hours without food or
water. Meanwhile, local media
arrived on the scene to report on the evacuation. Long-time major leaguer Mike
Cameron agreed to do an interview, in exchange for the use of a reporter’s
satellite phone. With it, he called New York and spoke to officials at Major
League Baseball and requested assistance. Apparently they were successful in
arranging for U.S. military to rescue the American contingent, but the general
in charge of the base held firm that only Mexican planes would land at the
this point, Madrigal learned that teams from Cuba, Argentina and Nicaragua had
already been flown out. Madrigal felt at that point “the Mexican government was
(fooling) with us,” he felt in part as retribution for the fracas that developed
in the 10-0 win against Mexico, which prevented the host country from advancing
to the medal round.
Finally a 40-seat C-130 arrived. It took
players from Team Canada and Team USA to Tijuana. The Americans learned that two
more planes were being flown in to take the few remaining players and coaches
who didn’t depart on the first aircraft, and all the parents. But the airplanes
wouldn’t arrive until the following day.
Wednesday, September 17:
Wednesday, one airplane arrived, and the remaining players, coaches and mothers
were loaded aboard. That left about 20 of the fathers from Team USA. “We’ve been
without water, power, bathrooms and WiFi since Sunday,” Madrigal says. “We’d
been dicked around by the Mexican military for almost three days
seat opened up, Madrigal was invited to take it, but he declined to allow the
father of another player. That father refused, and Cameron encouraged Madrigal
to take the last seat. “That plane (looked to be) two football fields away. (It
felt like) I ran a 4.4 (seconds) to that plane, and almost fell twice as my golf
bag was around my neck, nearly choking me” Madrigal says with just a hint of
they arrived in Tijuana late Wednesday they were met by U.S. embassy workers,
who gave them food and water. After a brief processing time, they boarded buses
that USA Baseball had arranged for them. Although the buses were bound for LAX,
Madrigal asked to be let out in San Diego.
headed straight for the airport, bought a ticket to Sacramento, and tossed his
U.S. passport in the trash. “I’ll never leave this country again,” he told
BaseballSacramento in an exclusive interview. “They don’t know how good we’ve
got it here.”
turned out, Madrigal had it better than Cameron and former major leaguer Charlie
Hayes (both had sons on the team), who were among the last ones left at the La
Paz military base. Although a third aircraft had been promised, when dusk
arrived they were told again no flights would leave at night.
wireless service had resumed, Cameron got on the phone and called his friend New
York Yankee captain Derek Jeter, who arranged for a private jet to pick them up
at noon the next day (Thursday). The Mexican military relaxed their edict about
not accepting foreign aircraft on their base.
Cameron also posted a tweet that
reflected his frustration after experiencing four days in the Odile disaster
I'm f***ing stuck in Mexico right now. After the hurricane.
Somebody from the USA get us 65 people outta this f***ing
that night all the Americans were finally home, safe,” Madrigal reported with
exhaustion in his voice.
telling his story, Mike Madrigal is mystified by the actions of the Mexican
government and military. “For all that the U.S. does for Mexico, they didn’t
make it easy for us to get out of there.”
says the great baseball played by Team USA will always live in his