Midwest Recruiting: GR Catholic Central sophomore Demi Lopez to compete on the Mexican Junior National Softball team
Grand Rapids - Demi Lopez has always been proud of her heritage. Now it's led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The Grand Rapids Catholic Central sophomore, whose parents and grandparents were born in Mexico, elected on a lark to fly to California in February to try out for the Mexico Junior National softball team. The tryouts attracted hundreds of players, including nearly two dozen pitchers. Lopez thought she did well in the multitude of pitching, hitting and running drills, but wasn't one of the few players held over for exhibition games against the Japanese national team.
So Lopez, a pitcher/first baseman on Catholic Central’s varsity softball team as a freshman, went home thinking her chances of making the Mexico club were virtually nil.
"To be honest, I thought I had no chance," said Lopez, 15, who trains at the Diamonds facility in Grand Rapids. "There were a lot of California players there and they play all year where we just play in the summer. They were really good and I thought there would maybe be like a one-in-10 chance of making the team before I even went."
All Lopez could do was shrug her shoulders, take solace in the fact she made the attempt to support her Mexican heritage, and prepare this spring to help a young Cougar softball team that has nine freshmen and sophomores on the 12-player roster.
That all changed when her father, Jesus, checked his email a month after returning home.
There they found a stunning message from Carlos Caro, president of the Mexico National Softball Federation, informing Lopez she had made the junior national team, a team comprised of players born after Jan. 1, 2000.
Lopez and her new teammates will have a busy summer with tournaments in three countries.
"I was shocked," Lopez said. "I think, at the tryouts, they picked 20 players, mostly 16- and 17-year-olds. They didn't call my name to play in the exhibitions, but then (Caro) emailed my dad to say I was selected.
"I was thinking I wasn't going to make it, that my chance was over. Little did I think it wasn't over."
The road to the junior national team was an unlikely one for Lopez. As a freshman, she made 22 starts and had 52 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. This year she's off to a 0-2 start with 34 strikeouts in 44 innings. Lopez, who also plays first and the outfield, is batting .286 with three doubles.
The idea of playing abroad was actually hatched during a summer tournament last year in Battle Creek where a parent told Jesus Lopez that the Mexico junior national team was assembling players for a tryout in Irvine, CA, last winter. Lopez began researching eligibility and eventually took his daughter to the Consulate of Mexico in Detroit where Lopez was granted a dual citizenship.
Because she thought being selected was a longshot, Lopez, who began her softball career at the Pinery Park program in Wyoming, said there wasn't necessarily pressure at the tryouts. It was still, however, an eye-opening experience.
"Nerve-wracking," she said. "To know there were so many good players. It takes confidence. When I was there I talked to some other players who had just gone through it and thought I could give it a try."
Catholic Central softball coach Shannon Bennett said it doesn't surprise her that Lopez has both the ability and the mental toughness to make the Mexican team.
"She's very strong and a good athlete," Bennett said. "She has a strong future in the game. She always has a smile on her face. She doesn't let a bad game get her down."
Lopez said the best part about making the team is bringing her Mexican heritage to light. Her father was born in Durango and her mother in Michoacan, Mexico.
"There was some pressure to do well. By being hand-selected, you know if you mess up you'll be sad," she said. "I know my confidence level has to go up. But it's amazing, the chance to travel and represent Mexico. It's something I never imagined."
The team will be busy beginning with a May 19 orientation in Mexico. The team is scheduled to play in a June 9-10 tournament in Sinaloa, Mexico, and then a national tournament in Guanajato. Also on the schedule is the July 9-15 U.S. International Cup in California and the July 17-23 Canada Cup Women’s International Softball Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"It's mind-blowing," said Lopez, whose ultimate goal is to play for Mexico in the Olympics. Softball returns as an Olympic sport for the 2020 games in Japan.
"If I ever had that opportunity I'd take it. That would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Jesus Lopez said whatever happens with his daughter, he's thrilled with the idea it includes playing for his native country.
"We're very proud of her," he said. "She's worked hard and it's been a long road from T-ball to now."