Culiacán native Julio Urías has traveled a long, challenging and at times dark road to reach Major League Baseball’s 2020 World Series.
But it will all be worth it if the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher is, as predicted, given the opportunity to take the field in Saturday’s fourth game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Urías, 24, moved to the United States as a teenager to pursue a baseball career after being signed to the Dodgers on his 16th birthday by scouting legend Mike Brito.
His talent as a pitcher was recognized at a very young age, recalls Carlos Urías, his father, in an interview with the newspaper Reforma.
“A lot of people who watched how my son played from the age of 5 said … ‘He can play good ball.’”
While recognizing his talent, Carlos Urías said he didn’t want to place any pressure on his son by making a big deal about his baseball skills, explaining that all he wanted was for him to enjoy the game.
Besides, Julio already had a significant challenge to deal with – he was born with a benign tumor on his left eye that grew larger as he did.
Carlos said he taught his son to accept the problem and see it as “something normal” but he was bullied by other kids who singled him out as being different.
Three surgeries to remove the tumor didn’t slow down Julio’s progression through the junior baseball ranks in Mexico. He began playing for the Mexican youth team in his early teens and caught the attention of Brito at a showcase event in Oaxaca in 2012.
A year later, at the age of just 16, he made his debut in the U.S. minor leagues, playing for the Great Lakes Loons in the Midwest League. In 2016, at the tender age of 19, he made the step up to the big time, debuting in the Major League as the Dodgers’ starting pitcher. He was the youngest starting pitcher to debut for the dodgers in more than 70 years.
Urías pitched 18 games in his debut season in the Major League but was sent back to the minor leagues in 2017 before suffering an injury to his valuable left shoulder that threatened to put an end to his fledgling professional career.
But after surgery and a long rehabilitation process, he returned late in the 2018 season and his career got a further boost at the start of the 2019 season when he was selected as the Dodgers’ starting pitcher on several occasions.
But just as things were looking up, his career was abruptly put on pause as he was suspended for 20 games after being arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of domestic battery.
CBS Sports reported that Urías was arrested in May 2019 after witnesses said he shoved his girlfriend to the ground in a parking lot in L.A. While he was arrested, police didn’t charge the then 22-year-old because the woman didn’t suffer any injury and “she at no point indicated to either the uniformed police officers or to civilian witnesses that she believed she was a victim.”
Nevertheless, Major League Baseball suspended Urías, concluding that he had violated the league’s domestic violence policy.
The pitcher chose not to challenge the decision, saying in a statement that he took “full responsibility” for his “inappropriate conduct.”
“Even in this instance where there was no injury or history of violence, I understand and agree that Major League players should be held to a higher standard,” he said.
“I hold myself to a higher standard as well. I have taken proactive steps to help me grow as a person on and off the field, and in my relationships, including attending counseling sessions. I am deeply grateful for all the support I’ve received during this challenging time. I look forward to proving it is well deserved.”
Urías returned to the Major League later in the 2019 season and in January 2020 agreed to a US $1-million deal for this year’s pandemic-shortened season.
In the seven-game series against the Atlanta Braves that the Dodgers won 4-3 to qualify for the World Series, Urías played an important role, throwing a career high 101 pitches in game 3 before returning to the mound after three days’ rest to throw 39 pitches and claim the final nine outs in game 7.
The Los Angeles Times concluded that the Dodgers had “removed the last layer of bubble wrap from left-hander Julio Urías, the pitching prodigy who was eased into the major leagues as a teenager in 2016 and stamped with a “fragile: handle-with-care” label for a solid year after returning from major shoulder surgery in 2018.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said much the same, telling reporters last week that “we’ve kind of handled him over the last four years with kid gloves” and acknowledging that Urías “hasn’t really liked and appreciated” the treatment. He described his young charge as “very talented, very smart and very tough.”
He hasn’t yet pitched in the World Series (currently tied at 1-1 ahead of game 3 Friday) but according to ESPN, the Dodgers are “lining him up to start game 4 on Saturday.”
If he does take the field in Arlington, Texas, tomorrow, there is no doubt that he will have massive support both in his adopted home town of Los Angeles and back home in Mexico, something that is not lost on the pitcher.
“Ever since my debut, ever since the moment I signed, we all know which team is the most popular among Latino people, among Mexican people,” Urías said recently, attributing the Dodgers’ popularity with Mexicans to the fact that Sonora native Fernando Valenzuela played for the team throughout the 1980s.
Possibly the most famous Mexican who will be cheering Urías on as he throws against the Tampa Bay Rays is President López Obrador, an avid baseball fan who took time out of his own batting practice this week to acknowledge the Culiacán pitcher’s performance in the final game of the series against the Braves.
“Julio Urías, our compatriot from Culiacán, got us out of a hole. He pitched very well and did a very good job. I’m supporting the Dodgers to be the champions of the 2020 World Series,” he said in a video message.
“[Urías’ performance] is a tribute to Fernando Valenzuela, … the best Mexican baseball player of all time, an extraordinary pitcher. Julio Urías is following in his footsteps.”
Source: Reforma (sp)