USA 18U Win Gold Despite Hurricane Odile Ordeal

 USA 18U Gold
Team 18U USA team after winning the gold medal at
the 2014 COPABE 18U Pan American Championship.

by Editor Rick Cabral

Nick Madrigal, the wunderkind Elk Grove shortstop, earned his second gold medal as the USA team went undefeated in the 2014 COPABE 18U Pan American Championship.

But while accomplishing his dream of winning a second gold medal, Madrigal, his teammates and their families experienced a nightmare as Hurricane Odile struck the Baja Peninsula during the championship game, rendering the American's powerless (in more ways than one) and stranded in La Paz, Mexico, the host city for the tournament.

The USA swept through the tournament defeating teams from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Panama, Guatemala and Ecuador by an aggregate score of 90-1. In the most exciting and competitive contest staged before a sell-out crowd of 16,000, the USA narrowly defeated Cuba 5-4, earning a spot in the medal round.

In the next game against Mexico, the US went up early on a home run by Elih Marrero, who apparently agitated the home crowd as he pointed to the USA on his jersey while rounding second base. In the fifth inning when Marrero came to bat, fans in attendance were heard to chant Hit him in the head,” and the first pitch narrowly missed his helmet. This emptied both benches. Fans were seen throwing cans of beer at the US players, prompting Mexican police to restore order. The USA eventually won 10-0, earning the right to meet Cuba again in the gold medal game.

“Mexico naturally wanted the home team to win,” Nick Madrigal remembered in an exclusive interview with BaseballSacramento. But when we played Cuba, Mexico was also on their side. And it’s the US versus the world, basically. It’s pretty crazy, but awesome playing in that environment.”

Madrigal said the players on the team achieved a special chemistry, leading to their championship run. It was pretty sweet to play together against (Cuba) and win it all.” 

A couple players on the team have fathers with MLB experience, including Ke'Bryan Hayes (father Charlie Hayes) and  Daz Cameron (father Mike Cameron). 

The gold medal championship game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. last Saturday night (9/13) was cancelled around the 3rd inning when Hurricane Odile struck hard, as winds and lightning interrupted play with the U.S. ahead 1-0. Because the American team had already beaten Cuba and were undefeated in the tourney, they were awarded their gold medals and hurried into their buses along with family members where they wre returned to their hotels in La Paz with this warning: don't stay near the windows.

(For more on this aspect of the Madrigal's experience see sidebar below).

What did it mean for Madrigal to earn a second gold medal? “I’m glad I got a chance to do it again this year. I may not have another opportunity. I’ll have that for the rest of my life and never forget this experience. Not many people can say they got a gold medal, and I’m blessed to get two of them. Pretty lucky guy.” Nick won his first gold on the 14U team four years ago. 



Nick Madrigal played error-free throughout the tournament en route to earning his second gold medal for USA baseball.

During the tournament, Madrigal hit .462 and had nine walks and brilliantly served as the team's table setter.”  He was 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts and flawless in the field. All of which earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team.

“I was just happy we got the gold. That’s what we set out to do from day one. We went three weeks straight and got the gold in the end.”



SIDEBAR: Mike Madrigal’s Hurricane Odile Ordeal

by Editor Rick Cabral

Mike 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.

In the 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.

“Those 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, September 13:

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.

With 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 down.

That 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.

He 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.

Back 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 getting spooked.”

Monday, September 15:

On 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.

Early 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.

The 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.

The 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 a.m.”

The 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 situation.

Tuesday, September 16:

On 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 airport.

By 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:

On 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 now.”

When a 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 weary laughter.

When 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.

He 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.”

As it 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.

Since 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 zone: I'm f***ing stuck in Mexico right now. After the hurricane. Somebody from the USA get us 65 people outta this f***ing place. #odile

“Late that night all the Americans were finally home, safe,” Madrigal reported with exhaustion in his voice.

In 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.”

But he says the great baseball played by Team USA will always live in his memory.



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For decades, Sacramento has been a hotbed of tremendous baseball talent. A few of the locals performing in the Major Leagues at present from the greater Sacramento area* include J.P. Howell, Dustin Pedroia, Derrek Lee, Manny Parra and many more.

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Many top-name big league players barnstormed through Sacramento from the teens through the early '60s. Among the barnstormers, none were bigger than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who performed as the Bustin' Babes and Larrupin Lous here in Sacramento in 1927 (you can read more about that tour at ThePitchBook.com).

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Updated 9/21/14
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