Deported pitcher Octavio Arroyo hopes to be a Marlin soon

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Octavio Arroyo
Octavio Arroyo was selected by the Miami Marlins with the 716th pick in the 2015 MLB draft. (Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune)

I love human interest stories about individuals who face adversity and still manage to persevere. The true life tale I’m about to tell could make folks shed a few tears, but I have to choose my words carefully. That’s because it relates to the politically charged subject of undocumented migration, and supporters of Sheriff Joe Arpaio might have me in their crosshairs.

Perhaps you’ve already heard of teenage pitching prospect Octavio Arroyo, who was selected in the 24th round of this year’s recent draft by the Miami Marlins. That accomplishment in itself is not earth-shaking news. The circumstances are unusual, though, because the star right-handed hurler from San Ysidro High School was deported to Mexico back in March and only played in a handful of games during his senior year. ESPN did a piece on Arroyo, and additional publicity has been substantial. But I’m familiar with the plight of this Tijuana kid and have friends who know his family well, so I’ll weave this yarn my own way.

Octavio Arroyo was just like scores of other youngsters who wait in line at the international border to attend school in San Diego. The great majority of these students only possess visitor crossing cards, which are issued to visit family, shop at the mall or other general uses. Then there are other youths who might live in Mexico but easily cross on a daily basis because they have a father, mother or both who are American citizens. Another legal avenue is to obtain a student visa, but processing the form takes time and is usually reserved for foreign exchange students. Arroyo always used his “tourista” card while returning to San Diego to live with an aunt. Even though his paternal grandparents and other family members were U.S. citizens, residency papers for Octavio were denied after a three-year wait. Such stories of legal limbo are quite common and that’s unfortunate. The San Diego-Tijuana border is the busiest port of entry in the world, and millions of families think of the two cities as one. I personally lived and coached as an American in Tijuana for quite a while and never filled out any papers, so maybe I was illegal too in terms of Mexican law.

Anyway, one Sunday afternoon Arroyo was detained while crossing back into San Diego. His wallet and cell phone were examined, and he was busted for going to school on the wrong side of the tracks. The San Ysidro High ace pitcher would no longer toe the rubber for the Cougars, attend classes or hang out with his friends. The turn of events also put Arroyo’s baseball future in jeopardy. For three months, he would train daily at a sprawling baseball and soccer complex near the Tijuana airport not knowing what to expect. Representatives from Mexican League teams swooped in like vultures, hoping to entice another promising player into a dead-end career. But Octavio continued to cling to fading hopes of playing in the “show” north of the international fences.

“I wanted to do my dream,” he stated with emotion.

In order to keep his aspirations alive, however, Arroyo needed renewed exposure. So a group of cousins led by Ricardo Sanchez, a former player in the Red Sox organization, arranged a pickup game in Tijuana that caught the attention of some San Diego area scouts. And on the final day of the draft, the Marlins rolled the dice and grabbed Arroyo as the 716th overall selection. The decision was risky due to the 18-year-old’s legal status and border incident. That said, Jeffrey Loria seems to have some heavyweight connections in his back pocket. I’m still trying to figure out how the Miami owner managed to fetch the grandmother of Jose Fernandez and arrange a surprise visit, an event that occurred long before President Obama loosened up relations with Cuba.

“We are going to be patient with the Marlins,” revealed Arroyo’s agent Ricardo Aguilar, who has until July 17 to negotiate a deal. “We want to work with them.”

The positive news has made Arroyo an instant celebrity in Tijuana. He is back to his roots and ready to tackle new challenges to prove himself worthy again. Octavio’s high school teammate Gilbert Suarez, who took over the top rotation spot in his absence, was drafted earlier in the 18th round by the Atlanta Braves. Most certainly, Arroyo’s down time cost him a few dollars, although bonus money for later picks never makes a player wealthy.

Look, I’m not stupid or naive. I know that a lot of “conservative” Americans consider Octavio Arroyo a criminal for “breaking the law,” even though his family tried to do the right thing and follow the legal map. Still, he didn’t come to the United States to get free medical care or receive Welfare benefits. All the kid wanted to do is play baseball and get a normal education. And because Mexico doesn’t participate in the international pool process that begins on July 2, Arroyo would’t have been eligible to sign as a free agent.

Octavio Arroyo did what he had to do to display his God-given skills and get ahead in life. He’s a legit, three-pitch guy who had video game numbers while in high school. The fact he got caught up in an ugly situation is punishment enough in my book. That’s why I’m pulling for him to get a shot with the Marlins. And after thinking about it for a moment, I’m sure most of you will do the same.

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