The McHeny County Youth Sports Association prides itself on its long history of international teams at its summer championship, but the return of Mexican baseball teams has been a recent development.
The Crystal Lake-based youth baseball tournament, now in its 26th year, is featuring a team from Mexico for a second straight year.
The teams have come from a connection with Jose Rivera, the team’s local coordinator and a member of Woodstock’s Cultural and Social Awareness Commission.
“Mexico was here one time in the beginning, never came back until one of the City Council members asked me if I can get involved finding a team in Mexico and bringing them over here to start again,” Rivera said.
Last year’s team came from Nogales, a town on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Mexican state of Sonoma.
The 14U team from Mexico this year hails from Woodstock’s sister city, Guadalupe, which is located in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas.
This year’s tournament also will feature international teams from Brazil, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Japan, but what separates Guadalupe’s 14U team from other international squads is that it made its 1,800-mile journey via ground transportation.
The team, which arrived Thursday in Crystal Lake, used vans supplied by the town. Donations from Guadlupe’s residents have funded the trip in its entirety, including the team’s equipment.
But even with the town’s generosity, the preparations were difficult.
Yannick Berchtold, the head of International Relations and Economic Development in Zacatecas, described the difficulty of getting the team ready to make the trip across the border and all the way to Crystal Lake.
“It’s been quite challenging because none of the kids had a passport,” Berchtold said. “So first of all we had to make appointments for them to get a passport. Because without a passport, you cannot make an appointment at the U.S. Consulate to apply for a visa.”
It was a two-step process, Berchtold said.
The players first needed to get passports in Guadalajara, a more than 200-mile drive from Guadalupe. Once the passports arrived, the players then needed to make a second trip to Guadalajara to obtain their visas.
The process came right down to the wire.
“The U.S. Consulate is very busy right now, and after waiting a month and a half, the team was able to get approval [July 9],” Berchtold said.
Rivera was relieved that the process ended up working out after he took multiple flights to Mexico to help convince families about the trip, and to help the players through the process.
“Each one had to go to the embassy and apply, so it wasn’t easy,” Rivera said. “We’re very happy that everyone go their visas, and everyone is coming over.”
The team earned its spot in MCYSA’s Summer International Championship by winning a separate tournament against local Mexicans teams. Berchtold was excited for the players to get a chance to experience a new culture through baseball.
“I think for them, it’s a great opportunity to see a bigger world, and to have a cultural exchange with other boys the same age, to see what it’s like in the United States,” Berchtold said. “Most of them have never been to the U.S.
“It’s also great that they will be staying with the host families. It really gives them the full local experience. It will be something they never forget.”