Benji Gil didn’t hold back. When asked about the World Baseball Classic’s decision to move Mexico’s quarterfinal game against Puerto Rico to Friday, the Mexico coach bluntly claimed that it was unfair.
The plan was for the Pool C winner to play the Pool D runners-up on Saturday. Mexico won Pool C. Puerto Rico finished second in Pool D. But there was one fine print: Team USA would play Saturday’s quarterfinals game if they were promoted from Pool C, no matter what — whether the Americans finished first or second. As a result, Team USA meets Venezuela, winners of Pool D, on Saturday, while Mexico had a day off after being snatched from an overland flight.
“That’s a disadvantage,” Gil said a few hours before Friday’s first pitch. “100%.”
In the end, the obstacle didn’t matter. Mexico defeated Puerto Rico 5-4 after going 4-0 down in the first inning to earn the country’s biggest win in an international baseball competition. Mexico reached the WBC semifinals against Japan for the first time on Monday.
“We’re showing what Mexican players are capable of at the highest level,” Gil said.
Gil is known for his (relatively) unfiltered thoughts on subjects. One is his future. He played eight seasons in the majors – four each with the Texas Rangers and Angels – as a utility infielder and nearly two decades in the Mexican Winter League. Now he wants to become a premier league coach. That’s what he’s working towards. That’s one reason he took a job on the Angels coaching staff prior to last season and one reason he decided to oversee Mexico in the WBC.
“Anything that brings you closer to the end goal,” said Gil, 50. “And the end goal is to one day make it in the big league and win a world title.”
Gil isn’t the only manager of the tournament who could head the major league dugout in the future. Puerto Rico coach Yadier Molina began his managerial career in Venezuela’s Winter League immediately after retiring late last season after a 19-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa had never managed prior to this tournament, but he has been interviewed for several major league managerial jobs.
However, DeRosa said he didn’t take the job on Team USA with a view to a future opportunity in the majors.
“I felt like it would just be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get back in the fight with the best players in the world,” DeRosa said. “That was the motivation for it.”
Team USA were the overwhelming favorites to win Group C, but Mexico upset the Americans last Sunday. The result ultimately served as a tie-break for group victory. But, as Gil noted, Mexico was dealt a poor lot.
Mexico landed in Miami from Phoenix on Thursday at 7 a.m. Instead of training, Mexico opted to take the day off. Meanwhile, the US trained with an extra rest day on Friday at LoanDepot Park. The adjustment also meant Mexico and Dodger ace Julio Urías was taken a day off. Urías gave up four runs in Friday’s first inning before throwing three scoreless innings to end his outing. He threw 60 pitches.
“It’s nothing against the US, okay?” Said Gil. “If it’s the television, I’m telling you now, if I’m not here, if I’m not at the tournament, I would watch the game. And I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, well, I’m not going to watch the US game because it’s Friday and FS1 on Fox instead of Saturday.'”
Gil’s candor is refreshing in an increasingly closed world. It’s one of the things he’s known for from his days as a manager in Mexico. That and win. Gil gained a lot from the top tier. He compiled four championships in Mexico’s Winter League with the Tomateros de Culiacán, a team for which he spent 13 seasons as a player. They lost another year in Game 7 of the Championship Series.
Last season was rocky in Culiacan. So rocky that he was fired in November after a disappointing start, only to be reinstated within hours after players protested the decision.
“For us, he’s a leader, a leader to follow,” said Mexico catcher Alexis Wilson, who also played under Gil in Culiacan. “He’s a mentor to me and to many, someone who gave us the confidence we needed.”
In his only season in Mexico’s Summer League, he led the Mariachis de Guadalajara expansion to the league’s best record without an expansion draft filling the roster. The exploits led to his being named manager of Mexico’s Tokyo Olympic baseball team and to the country’s 2023 WBC team – the most talented Mexican baseball team ever assembled for international competition.
“He’s the best coach in Mexico,” said former major league player Edgar González, Mexico’s coach at the 2017 WBC. “And he’s the best because he’s a great motivator. Guys these days have to be able to motivate players.”
This week, Gil led Mexico to an unexpected first place finish in Pool C, buoyed by an upset over Team USA in Phoenix. It’s a tiny sample size on top of a decade of managerial experience. But none of those experiences were made in affiliated baseball.
“I want to believe that will help and that it should,” Gil said. “I think anyone who can handle that should be worth considering. Hopefully this is important and they will really value it. I would love to be literally scouted.”
Gil was born in Tijuana and grew up on both sides of the border. He went to school on the US side — at National City and Chula Vista — and played all his baseball in Mexico. He crosses the border, he said, three or four times a week. His father lived in Tijuana – he had a shop there – and would visit him for days.
Based on his experience, he not only seamlessly jumps back and forth between English and Spanish, but relates on another level to Latinos and Americans alike. About 30% of the players on major league rosters are Latinos. Gil’s ability to communicate ticks another box.
“There are a lot of people who are bilingual,” Gil said. “There aren’t many people who are bicultural. There is an enormous difference.”
Gil said he’s never been interviewed for a major league managerial job. He remains confident he can get a shot down the line. For now, he’s continuing to fill out his resume and voice his opinions with a team that’s making history.
Source : www.latimes.com