MERIDA, Yucatan, Mexico ⎯ At the moment, San Gorgonio High product Rainier Aguilar was lost in the midst of a championship series.
We’re talking baseball in a nation that’s rampant with soccer spectacles.
“I’m not sure about the whole soccer-baseball comparison,” said Aguilar, 23, “but I would say that like in any other country, there are groups of people who love both.”
He’s playing with an affiliate of Leones de Yucatán, a Triple A affiliate in the Mexican League. Beisbol season in the Mexican League runs from mid-March through mid-August.
As of July 25, he said “I’m playing in the championship series of the league at the moment. And yes, it was a very exciting moment.”
He’s homered and caught. He’s playing in front of crowds numbering over 5,000. Since Spanish is his first language, that part of the challenge is easy.
Scout Raul Ortega said that Aguilar “has talent and here he will be followed up to improve in certain areas.”
Batting coach Carlos Sievers and catching coach Said Gutierrez were his assigned tutors south of the U.S. border. Aguilar, who hit .371 over 108 San G games in four seasons, was sent to Caborca, said Ortega, “because he already needs to play.”
Caborca is part of the Northern League of Mexico.
The challenge may well be that Mexican League heritage is rich and it’s no easy chore to find a home like he did over a 2015-2018 collegiate career at the University of Redlands, where he hit .304, .424 and .327 in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
“I’ve seen everything down here,” Aguilar said. “It’s pretty competitive. Lots of young talent, some bounce backs from the [U.S.] minor leagues, some ex-big leaguers, and a lot of young pitchers with raw talent.”
Mexico, said Aguilar, an All-CIF player at San G a half-dozen years back, “is a hotbed for young talent… an amazing place to gain experience in baseball.”
Aguilar hopes to be part of that “hotbed” to re-enter the U.S. baseball ranks.
“I believe I can play competitively back in the U.S given the opportunity.”
His future seemed so favorable upon getting drafted in 2018 by the San Diego Padres ⎯ the same draft in which the Padres also took Aguilar’s University of Redlands teammate, Felix Minjares ⎯ but the Bulldogs’ All-SCIAC catcher didn’t last long.
Aguilar, picked in the 33rd round, signed last June 23. He got 23 total at-bats in an Arizona Rookie League, knocking in four runs while batting .174. He even pitched an inning. While catching, he nailed four out of nine base-stealing threats.
In his final game against a Royals’ Rookie League, he had two hits and knocked in two runs on Aug. 27.
In spring training this past April, however, he was released.
Aguilar tried other U.S. teams, but when that failed, he went to Mexico “to earn a contract with a team there.”
He’s looking for a return.
“It’s an amazing place to gain experience,” he said. “I’m working my butt off to get to the next level.”
Yes, he appreciates the opportunity to continue his baseball journey.
“The baseball culture here is amazing and has a lot to give athletes looking to compete and continue their careers.”
Living conditions are good, he said.
“The minor league life is always a grind, but it’s been good down here.”
Speaking Spanish was okay, though he’s still “brushing up and familiarizing myself with the colloquialisms.”
Scouts from the U.S.?
“I’ve seen a couple down here,” said Aguilar, “and assume there are others I haven’t had the opportunity to meet. And I think anything is possible as long as I keep working hard and keep getting better.”
The soccer vs. baseball thing?
“From what I’ve experienced the passion is always there [in baseball],” said Aguilar. “Some of the best crowds I’ve had a chance to play in front of [have been baseball].”