Verdugo makes return to Arizona in series against D-backs

Tucson native Alex Verdugo is in his fourth season with the Boston Red Sox. (Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox)

Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo grew up in Tucson watching Diamondbacks baseball.

The Sahuaro High School alumni said he would “come home from school or practice, sit on the couch, eat some food and watch baseball,” and with the D-backs being the local team, it would oftentimes be them on the TV.

“The Diamondbacks were always on in Tucson,” Verdugo said. “Like it was always playing — every one of their games. So, I was like, ‘Man, I get to watch it.’ And just ended up being a fan of the D-backs. Obviously, they won (the World Series) in ’01, and I was relatively young at that time, but I still was watching. Just kind of growing up, that’s all I did.”

“It’s just fun; it really is. It just brings back childhood memories.”

The Diamondbacks weren’t the only team he found himself watching games of. From afar, he also rooted for the team that employs him.

“My theory is, is that when I was younger, I really, really liked the color red,” Verdugo said. “So, I kind of already gravitated toward the teams that were wearing red. … I think ESPN always played the Red Sox-Yankees games, and so I was kind of always already gravitating toward that.”

Verdugo will be back in Arizona as the Red Sox are set to play a three-game series against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field from Friday, May 26, through Sunday, May 28.

He said getting to play in Phoenix is always a little extra special for him because of its proximity to Tucson.

“It’s kind of like a second home to me and my family,” Verdugo said. “My mom, my dad and my brothers — everybody — we’re all so used to making that drive and that commute that it’s not far at all,” said Verdugo, who added he played a lot of travel baseball games in Phoenix as a kid.

He said he is looking forward to having his family come out to see him play.

“I’ll be able to have my parents come out there and watch me, and that’s just something that, being all the way over here in Boston, we don’t get to do too much anymore,” Verdugo said. “It’s going to just be nice. It’ll be really refreshing to see my family and have them go to the games.”

Verdugo became a first-time father in August 2021.

“Since we’ve been (in Boston), they (his parents) haven’t really seen my son too much,” he said. “I’m just excited to see everybody and just show up and spend some good quality family time.”

Verdugo hasn’t played at Chase Field in a Major League Baseball game since June 26, 2019, but he got the chance to play there with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in March. It was the second time he represented his country and said he really enjoyed the guys he got to play with.

“The teammates that I had for Team Mexico, they were awesome,” Verdugo said. “You would have thought we played for years together. We just had a good vibe, and everybody was just happy. The way we celebrated, the way we had fun and just went about it, and then, obviously, playing well. Winning is the ultimate thing. That’s the thing that brings you the most joy.”

Team Mexico ultimately fell short in the semifinal game against Team Japan, who won the championship game against Team USA, but Verdugo said it was some of the most fun he had ever had on a baseball field.

“The emotions that you have there, it’s hard to compare,” he said. “It’s like, every single play you see guys running out on the field yelling at a single or a base hit. It’s just like, you just lose it.”

Verdugo, who was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, made his debut with the team in 2017. By 2019, he had worked his way into a starting role.

“I just felt like I really progressed,” said Verdugo, who added 2019 was his “breakout” season.

“It’s just one of those things when you have a really good team like that — a really good franchise — it’s hard to make it in the big leagues and stay there and be a starter every day. I remember we had a very stacked outfield, so once there was maybe an injury…it was like that’s my opportunity.”

In his first full season in “The Show,” Verdugo hit .294/.342/.475 in 106 games with 12 home runs and 44 RBI’s.

After an oblique injury cut his season a bit short, Verdugo went into the offseason with a mindset that he was going to do some “cool things” with the Dodgers in his career, but he wound up being traded.

On Feb. 10, 2020, the Dodgers sent Verdugo, catcher Connor Wong and shortstop Jeter Downs to the Red Sox in exchange for superstar outfielder Mookie Betts, pitcher David Price and cash considerations.

“That whole trade was really weird for me,” Verdugo said. “I didn't think I was going to get traded from the Dodgers.”

Verdugo said he was mad about the situation, but being dealt, he added, was a “blessing in disguise.”

“I was just in a bad spot from when I got injured in ’19,” Verdugo said. “I just wasn’t really feeling good at all, and the training staff with the Red Sox, they were great. They had me feeling really, really good… Once I saw that, my eyes opened up and I was like, ‘Man, this is a great organization.’”

On top of that, getting to play for the team he grew up watching on TV wasn’t such a bad thing either.

“I was already kind of happy with that,” Verdugo added. “And I knew at some point, I’m going to run into David Ortiz, and I was like, ‘That’s freaking awesome.’”

Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox, opened in 1912. The oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, the field is arguably the most storied in the league.

Now in his fourth season in Boston, Verdugo said he has felt lucky since his first season there to call that park home.

“When you go out there and you see Fenway; it’s a special place,” he said. “Historic feeling, special feeling, and it’s just one of the coolest ballparks that you’ll ever step foot in. For me, I don’t take it lightly. I’m very blessed and honored to play there.”

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