Arizona baseball: Freshman outfielder getting unexpected chance to play

is a UA walk-on

OMAHA, Neb. - Carlo Mejia opened the greeting card and read the message inside.

You're going to Omaha.

The father of Arizona Wildcats shortstop Alex Mejia didn't quite understand. His son was flying to the College World Series Wednesday, and Carlo - sitting in his Sylmar, Calif., home two days before the UA's opening game - didn't have the money to go, or tickets.

It wasn't until he saw the envelope full of cash that everything made sense.

The College World Series is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the athletes who compete in the two-week, double-elimination tournament. For friends and family, Omaha - a single word that represents college baseball's highest level - is a chance to share in their sons' successes.

Even if they sometimes need a little help.

Flattered, humbled and fueled by $1,600 in family donations, Carlo and Norma Mejia drove 22 hours from southern California to eastern Nebraska on Thursday to watch Alex's Arizona team play at TD Ameritrade Park. The money was a godsend for the Mejias, parents of four who - like many - are struggling financially.

"They gave us a sign that said 'U of A: Omaha or bust.' I like to say, we're in Omaha, but now we're busted," Carlo said. "I couldn't believe it when I saw it, and I know my wife wanted to go. We were going to forgo paying the mortgage for the month, then we decided against it.

"Even now, we can't believe we're here."

The Mejias witnessed two Arizona wins in three days, and got to spend quality time with their son.

There may not be much of it left.

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Mejia in the fourth round of this month's amateur draft, and the Pac-12's player of the year is widely expected to sign once the Wildcats' playoff run ends.

"The way it's going, it looks like this might be my last year here," said Alex Mejia, a junior. "It's great to have them here to support me. They love to see their kids play their sports."

Carlo was an All-America third baseman at Pepperdine in 1975 who instilled a love of baseball - and softball - in his kids. In fact, it was Carlo's connection to UA coach Andy Lopez that got Alex noticed.

The UA shortstop was a high school junior when he attended one of Lopez's camps in Tucson. Lopez recognized Alex's last name and hometown, and asked if he and Carlo were related.

"I told him, 'If you're anything like your father, I'm not going to let you go back to Los Angeles,' " the UA coach said.

Lopez played against Carlo Mejia in high school, and the two attended rival junior colleges in Los Angeles. Mejia, Lopez and former big-leaguer Rob Picciolo - a Tucson Toro in 1976 - took college recruiting trips together before deciding on schools.

Lopez makes a point to find Carlo Mejia every time he visits for games; Monday, the coach thanked his shortstop's father in Spanish por todo - for everything.

Alex is the third to play sports collegiately. Mejia's two older sisters, Krystal and Bianca, played softball at Long Island University; Bianca was named the conference player of the year and played professionally for the Tennessee Diamonds of National Pro Fastpitch.

That meant a lot of cross-country drives for Carlo, who says his car has about 200,000 miles on its odometer. He's driven to New York and back a handful of times.

By comparison, last week's trek to Nebraska seemed relatively short. The Mejias stopped just once on their drive, at a rest stop in Denver, where they spent a few hours. They arrived in Omaha late Thursday night.

The Mejias' trip - and others like it - "make it worthwhile," Lopez said.

"How many times are you going to see your son playing in the College World Series?" Lopez asked. "I heard their story, too, and I was blessed. You go through a lot of headaches in the course of the year, and that kind of washes them away."

The Mejias will go back home sometime today, with memories and experiences that money can't buy. They went to Omaha, and they loved it.

"We didn't think we were going to get a chance to see him play," Carlo Mejia said. "With the excitement, the scenery and everything, it's been euphoric."

Up next

• Who: Arizona vs. UCLA/Florida State winner

• Where: Omaha, Neb.

• When: 2 p.m. Thursday