Family Comes First for Mederos

by David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Victor Mederos is all about family.

Born in Santa Clara, Cuba, the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher is proud of his heritage and the family-first culture that Cubans share. But, like so many other Cubans, Mederos and his family have had times of struggle.

His father, also named Victor, left Cuba for the United States when Mederos was just two months old. Victor Sr. hoped to build a better life for Mederos, whose full name is Victor Victor, his mother Odalys and older brother Victor, who goes by “Vitin.”

While in the U.S., Mederos’ father sent money back to his family in Cuba to help them survive while establishing residency in Miami and becoming a U.S. citizen.

Five years after his father left Cuba, Odalys, Vitin and a six-year-old Victor were granted a visa to travel to Costa Rica. The family planned to reunite with Victor in Miami, as Mederos’ father paid for his wife and sons to be led to the United States from Costa Rica.

But this would not be an easy trip to freedom.

The group made a dangerous trip north, sneaking across the borders of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico before crossing into Texas with legal paperwork as asylum-seekers. After an 11-day trek, Mederos and his family successfully entered Texas and were granted political asylum. They then boarded a plane for Miami and the family was whole again.

Shortly after arriving in Miami, Vitin encouraged Mederos to try playing baseball and he was an instant success. Mederos is entering his freshman year at the University of Miami, where he hopes to do the same for his family that his father once did for them: make a better life for the three people who have sacrificed most.

“I went through a lot of troubles to get here and by the time I got here I was brought into the game of baseball and I loved it and I gave it my all,” Mederos said. “I am where I am now to because of people like my family and my friends that encouraged me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you go out there and compete?’ I’m a very competitive guy and I take a lot of things to heart. I can mess around with you and have fun with you, but I take a lot of things to heart because, at the end of the day, I’m just trying to put food on the table for my family.”

Mederos quickly emerged as an elite young talent. When he was 14, he crushed a 414-foot homer at a showcase event inside Marlins Park — the baseball home of one of his favorite players, Jose Fernandez. Mederos didn’t just look up to the former National League Rookie of the Year — he felt a connection to the two-time All-Star that went back to the very beginning of Mederos’ life.

“I was born in the same hospital as Jose Fernandez. He’s someone people have compared me to a lot as a pitcher,” Mederos said. “We lived basically two blocks away from each other. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me, but my mom’s best friend in Cuba was his cousin, so we had some connections.”

Like Fernandez, Mederos is a pitcher that can hit. He is also very passionate and energetic when he plays, taking pride is doing whatever he can to help his team win.

“He definitely is someone I try to emulate on the mound,” Mederos said of Fernandez. “I think the biggest thing about Jose was the competitiveness that he had and that he wanted to beat you at all costs. That’s something that I definitely relate to. We both have that same competitiveness and that feeling that there’s no way you’re going to beat my team. If I had to go out there and take a fastball at 97 to the ribs to win the game, then I have to do it. No matter what, at the end of the day, a win is a win.”

While Mederos is a good hitter, his future is on the mound thanks to his size and power arm. He was ranked the No. 59 overall prospect in the 2020 MLB Draft by Baseball America and features a fastball that sits between 92 and 94 miles per hour, but tops out at 96 miles per hour. He also throws a power slider that usually sits 84-88 mph and gets a lot of swings and misses.

“He’s got a chance to be great, depending on how hard he works and how good he wants to be,” head coach Gino DiMare said. “He has one of the best breaking balls in the country when he’s throwing it well. And, of course, when he’s throwing his fastball, too, he’s even better. When he’s good, he’s as good as anybody in the country and any scouts will tell you that.”

In Mederos, Hurricanes pitching coach J.D. Arteaga sees an advanced talent and believes the right-hander could be a major factor for the Canes from day one.

“He’s not your typical high school power arm that is all fastball and nothing else. He’s got really good secondary stuff,” Arteaga said. “He’s a local kid that’s been committed to us since his freshman year in high school. We’ve been watching him for a very long time and anticipating the moment he steps on campus and there was probably not a very high likelihood of him showing up at campus because of the MLB Draft. Needless to say, we’re very excited that he decided to go to school and is here on campus with us.”

Victor Mederos committed to Miami as a freshman in high school and arrives in Coral Gables as an elite pitching prospect.

Mederos first spent time at the University of Miami when he was just a freshman at Coral Reef High School. The Hurricanes were the first program to offer him a scholarship and he immediately fell in love with The U.

“As soon as I saw the campus, it’s kind of breathtaking and I loved it,” Mederos said. “I love how everybody’s family and I love how Gino runs the team. I think the biggest factor was knowing that a guy like J.D. is going to be coaching me every day. He’s a guy that I know is going to make me a better player and he’s going to make me compete, and that’s what you want. At the end of the day, you want somebody who’s going to push you to your max and be able to show you the right things to do and how to avoid the wrong ways to do it. You want someone who will congratulate you when you do it right, but tell you when you do it wrong. Your coach is kind of like a father figure and I’ve had a great relationship with J.D. and I think he’s going to really help me and this team go to the next level and be able to win in Omaha.”

In addition to the first-class education and outstanding baseball team, Miami offered something that means a lot to a family-oriented guy like Mederos: proximity to his loved ones.

“I remember being on the visit and seeing my mom’s face and knowing that my family is going to be happy that I’m going to be home and that they’re going to be able to see me play and I’m not going to have to go anywhere for school,” Mederos said. “They’re not going to have to go anywhere to go see me play and that played a huge part in what got me to commit. I am a big family guy, so being able to go to a great school and play for a great program here in the same city that my family is in was something that I couldn’t pass up.”

Mederos spent his sophomore and junior seasons at Monsignor Pace High School in Miami Gardens. He helped the Spartans win a state championship as a sophomore and Mederos learned a lot about personal sacrifice for team success in the process.

“I went to Monsignor Pace for two years and I lived on 216th street in Homestead, so I would have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to go to school,” Mederos said. “When we had early morning workouts, I had to wake up at around 4:30, so it would be even worse. I made a name for myself just because I knew that that’s what it took to be successful. I would sleep maybe two or three hours, but I had to do what I had to do. Now that I look back at it, I would do it all over again, just because it has made me the man that I am today.”

As a senior, Mederos enrolled at Westminster Christian, DiMare and Arteaga’s alma mater, and became high school teammates with his UM roommate, right-hander Jamar Fairweather. The COVID-19 pandemic cut short Westminster’s season, but the three-time All-American’s status as an elite prospect was cemented long before the coronavirus stopped sports.

“He’s pitched at a high level. High school baseball in Miami is different than most places in the country. Maybe some places in Texas and in California compare, but high school baseball in Miami is at a very high level,” Arteaga said. “Then you have the travel teams and international travel teams and he’s been very successful at all those levels. He’s used to pitching on big stages and that’s one of the reasons we think he will be successful for us. When he pitches at The Light, it will be a big stage and everybody is going to be out to beat him and he’s used to competing at that level.”

No stranger to the limelight, Mederos played in both the Under Armour and Perfect Game All-American Games over the summer of 2019. In his return to the UA All-America Game, Mederos was named the game’s MVP after he struck out the side on 13 pitches.

“We’re looking forward to getting Mederos because he is so talented,” DiMare said. “He’s a big kid that’s got a very high ceiling. We’re looking forward to getting him in the weight room and getting him developed in terms of his body, his strength. I think J.D. is going to be a huge asset to him.”

Mederos finished with a 3.15 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 66.2 innings pitched in his high school career, but he does not let his previous success dictate how he approaches his future.

“I had a great opportunity that God gave me that I was able to make it to all these events and be able to do well in them and make a name for myself,” Mederos said. “But Maels Rodriguez, who is a Cuban pitching guru and has been my personal pitching coach, once told me that everything’s good in the past, but don’t worry about the past, focus on the future. Now that I’m at the University of Miami, that’s my focus. Yeah, I was a three-time All-American. Who cares about that? At the end of the day, what I need to do is focus on winning a College World Series. That’s my goal now.”

My goal in life is to help my family. When I die, I want people to say I did something to help the Mederos family.

Victor Mederos, Miami RHP

In August, Mederos officially began his first semester as a Hurricane. He is planning to major in business administration and expects to have a lot of success in the classroom and on the mound.

“Now that I’m here at UM, everything just seems real and I feel at home,” Mederos said. “Everybody’s really, really friendly with me and we all have the same common goal. My mom has always told me, ‘You’ve got to surround yourself with people that have the same common goal. When you surround yourself with those types of people, you will always succeed.’ If we all have the same goal, we will win, no matter what it is. Here at the University of Miami, we all have the common goal to win a championship. I think that all of us are going to be able to unite and be the best that we can be.”

The high-profile recruit is one of the headliners of Miami’s top-ranked recruiting class. Mederos joins fellow true freshman Alejandro Rosario and JUCO transfer Jake Smith as three newcomers hungry to win a spot in a starting rotation that will look to replace MLB draft picks Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon, as well as All-American ace Brian Van Belle.

“I think it was great that we had all those guys like Slade and McMahon and Van Belle. They did everything that they could for the program and I, as an incoming freshman, truly appreciate it because now I have pressure on myself and I love pressure,” Mederos said. “Those guys were great here and that’s something that I want to compete for and something that I want to do. I love being able to have that pressure that I need to fill in their shoes.

“All of the new pitchers need to show everybody in Miami that the Hurricanes still are the best pitching rotation in the country. I truly believe that those pitchers that came before us have done a lot for us. Now with all these incoming freshmen, I think we’re just competing for our spots and whoever gets those spots will have earned them. Those rotation spots will be well deserved, and they won’t be won by somebody that took the easy way out. I’m excited to work hard and see what happens and what comes out of all this competing because, at the end of the day, we’re all competing for the same goal. Whoever wins those jobs is just going to make our team better.”

No matter when he takes the mound, Mederos cannot wait to pitch in front of the Hurricanes faithful at Mark Light Field.

“Living in Homestead, I didn’t really grow up in Miami. I never really came to a lot of UM games, but I started coming once I committed, and I saw how the program was a family and I saw the environment at The Light,” Mederos said. “What is there not to love? You have fans that support you. The fan group here, I think, is probably one of the best in the world,” he said. “It’s amazing the amount of people that come to watch games and support the team. I love the fan support and I think just the culture in general at Miami is just breathtaking. I’m so excited to be able to get on the mound and have those people all behind me that will support me.”

Mederos knows there will be some very important fans in the stands whenever he pitches, and he plans to make them proud.

“In everything I do, if I say I’m going to do something, I have to represent my family,” Mederos said. “I’m a big family guy. I do everything for my family and I do whatever I have to do to provide for my family. My goal in life is to help my family. When I die, I want people to say I did something to help the Mederos family. My goal in life, in general, is to just tell my parents, ‘Hey listen, you don’t need to work anymore.’ All those long hours that they stayed up working for me and all those things they did for me, I want to repay. It would mean a lot to me to be able to tell my family, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you guys. You don’t have to really work anymore to provide for yourselves because you’ve already done all you have to do to make me the man that I am today.’ I’m going to repay them by giving everything I have.”