Raul Rojas is not even a teenager, but already he has achieved legendary status in his hometown.
After striking out the final batter in Mexico's 6-0 semifinal victory over Japan at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, Rojas and his teammates from Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little League officially put their hometown of Reynosa on the map.
And this time, it was good publicity.
Since his inauguration in 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon has made it one of his goals to rid his country of widespread drug trafficking operations that have been entrenched throughout the nation for years. Six months ago, while Rojas and the other Little Leaguers were still in school, Reynosa made headlines as one of a number of towns near the US border which were rocked by the latest violent run-in between Mexican authorities and drug traffickers.
On February 19th, twelve people were shot in Reynosa as gunfire and bazooka shells tore the town apart, shutting down four bridges that access the US and throwing the city into chaos.
This was the environment into which a few young boys bravely took the field to play baseball this spring and summer.
Fast forward to late August. Inspired by a congratulatory phone call from Reynosa native and Florida Marlin Jorge Cantu, the Little Leaguers wasted no time in going undefeated in international pool play, riding the dominant pitching of aces Marcelo Martinez and Raymundo Berrones. Each pitcher carried no-hit bids into the later innings of their starts.
On Thursday, Berrones handed the ball to Rojas, who worked the last five outs to secure Reynosa's spot in the International Championship.
"Honestly, I feel like I'm famous," Rojas said at the time.
As of 5PM this afternoon, "el sueño está muerto" (the dream is dead). Two rain delays and six errors threw Reynosa out of its rhythm, ending in a 9-4 loss to Chinese Taipei that is anything but easy to swallow.
Little League prides itself on the sportsmanship, and there's no doubt that Martinez, Berrones and Rojas will have that awkward feeling of accomplishment and loss that accompanies the act of keeping your head up after a loss. For these kids, though, championship or no championship, it's a testament to their courage for them to have just come this far.
It's a long way home for the Mexicans, but every mile was worth it. For the families and residents of Reynosa who cheered them on, this was the lone bright spot in a year of trouble, and that's worth hanging on to. If any of the teams who have competed so brilliantly this week deserved our admiration, this one certainly does.