TUCSON, Ariz. — Big league brothers Jerry Hairston Jr. and Scott Hairston were born in the United States but are a natural fit for Team Mexico in this year’s World Baseball Classic.
Call it their birthright.
“It is a tremendous honor to be asked to play for Mexico,” Jerry Hairston Jr. said. “We understand the culture and how important this team is to the country. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and I’m very thankful.”
Junior should probably thank his dad first. You can argue Hairston’s father, former Major League player Jerry Hairston Sr., made it all possible. Baseball also probably deserves a little credit, too.
Hairston Sr. played most of his summers in his 14-year career during the 1970s and 1980s with the Chicago White Sox, but he spent every winter in Mexico, playing primarily for the Hermosillo Naranjeros.
The elder Hairston smiles when he thinks of his time south of the border. He is especially proud to be the first player to hit a home run at Hermosillo’s famed Hector Espino Stadium in 1972.
“I don’t know if people really know how much I appreciated being down there and what the Mexican people mean to me,” said Hairston Sr., now the hitting coach for the White Sox Rookie League team. “When you go down there as a young kid at 21 having never experienced another culture, you embrace it. They knew I wanted to learn the language, and they tried to help me.”
Hairston Sr. became a baseball hero in the country, winning a Mexican League batting title and playing on a pair of Caribbean Series teams for Mexico.
He also became a husband.
Hairston Sr. met his wife-to-be, then known as professor Esperanza Arellano, at a dinner party after one of his Winter League games. The attraction was instant. She was pretty, smart and kind. Fortunately for Hairston Sr., she was also bilingual. Arellano was born in Navojoa, Mexico, in the northern state of Sonora and moved to Hermosillo to teach English. She’s been teaching her husband Spanish ever since.
“There was this teacher friend of Esperanza’s that was always at the ballpark with the children, and I would sign autographs for the kids,” Hairston Sr. said. “I guess she thought I was a nice guy, so she invites me to this party and I meet Esperanza there. We hit it off, and I get her number. I guess you can say the rest is history.”
The couple married on Jan. 6, 1974, at a church named Santuario Guadalupano in Hermosillo. A few hours later, the newlyweds were recognized in a ceremony near home plate at Hector Espino Stadium, complete with bridesmaids and an aisle created by players’ raised bats.
The Hairstons returned to the United States, and Jerry Jr. was born about two years later, on May 29, 1976, in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott was born on May 25, 1980, in Fort Worth, Texas. The couple also has three other children, all born in Illinois.
“They were all born in different places, but my children know where they come from and what their heritage is,” Hairston Sr. said. “We Hairstons, we just fly under the radar. Live life, play our game and do what we do. I’m very proud of them.”
Papa should be proud.
Hairston Jr. is currently an infielder with the Reds. In 11 big league seasons, he has a .260 batting average in 898 games. In five seasons with the Diamondbacks and Padres, Scott Hairston has a .246 average in 344 games starting in 2004.
Hairston Jr. will see some action at second base for Team Mexico but can also play in the outfield. His brother will likely start in the outfield on Sunday, when Mexico opens up World Baseball Classic play against Australia in Mexico City’s Foro Del Sol.
But first, Team Mexico will play three exhibition games, including a matchup against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday in Hermosillo on the same field the Hairstons celebrated their nuptials 35 years ago. This week also marks the first time the brothers will play on the same team as adults.
“A lot of people think because I don’t speak Spanish that I’m not proud to be Mexican, but I am,” Scott Hairston said. “It just turned out that growing up we spoke English at home and at the schools we went to. I want to learn. I’m committed to learn Spanish so I can better communicate with my family in Mexico and my teammates.”
If it seems as if Scott is starting to sound like his father, it’s because he is. And it’s fitting because it is going to be like the 1970s all over again. Look for Esperanza in the stands at Hector Espino Stadium cheering on a Hairston. Only this time, Hairston Sr. will be seated next to her.
“My wife is so happy and so excited about them representing Mexico, her country, their country,” Hairston Sr. said. “She was a little upset they weren’t selected the first time around, but she can’t wait to get down there for this one.”