Rigo Beltran has only two victories in parts of five major league seasons, but he still may not have to buy a Dos Equis back home in Tijuana, Mexico.
Journeyman left-hander Beltran played a major role in one of his country’s biggest international victories, pitching seven three-hit innings in Mexico’s 2-1 victory over Team USA in a quarterfinal game of the regional Olympic qualifying event in Panama in 2003.
It was Mexico’s first victory in the tournament and Team USA’s only loss, but it prevented the U.S. from defending its 2000 gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Although most of the U.S. names have changed, Beltran is expected to pitch the rematch Wednesday during the Olympic sub-regional qualifying tournament in the Valley today through Saturday.
"This is huge, since we didn’t qualify for ‘04'’ said Bob Watson, who in addition to his duties in the commissioner’s office is the general manager of USA Baseball.
The U.S., Mexico, Canada, Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala will play a 15-game round-robin tournament, with the four top finishers advancing to the Americas Olympic qualifying event in Havana, Cuba, in August, 2006.
The U.S. team is composed of players who are not on their major league team’s 25-man roster but are considered among the best young prospects.
Team USA outscored the regional field 20-0 in winning its three pool games in 2003 before being eliminated, with Cuba and Canada advancing to Athens.
"We just got a little pitcher (Beltran) we didn’t adjust to,’’ Watson said.
"We’ll see some little lefties throwing below the hitting speed. (But) the guys we have on this club . . . this is a way better offensive club than we have ever had in the past.’’
Horizon High School product Brandon Wood may have the most pop of any on the U.S. team. Wood, a shortstop, hit 43 home runs at Class A Rancho Cucamonga of the California League this summer before setting an Arizona Fall League record with 14 home runs.
Catcher Jeff Mathis, first baseman Ryan Shealy, third baseman Brendan Harris, center fielder Shane Victorino and reliever Jonah Bayliss spent time in the major leagues this season.
The U.S. opens play against Guatemala in Maryvale today, with St. Louis Cardinals prospect Chris Lambert scheduled to start.
Beltran is expected to start in a rematch against Team USA on Wednesday, opposing Jered Weaver at Phoenix.
"We’re not going to take anything for granted,’’ Watson said. "But my thoughts are, let’s run the table and leave nothing to chance.’’
Regional Olympic qualifying tournament
Why: The top four finishers in the round-robin event will advance to the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Havana, Cuba, in August, 2006.
Where/when: All games 1:05 p.m.
Today: U.S. vs. Guatemala, Maryvale Baseball Park; Panama vs. Mexico, Phoenix Municipal Stadium; Canada vs. Nicaragua, Hohokam Park
Wednesday: U.S. vs. Mexico, Phoenix; Guatemala vs. Canada, Hohokam; Nicaragua vs. Panama, Maryvale
Thursday: U.S. vs. Nicaragua, Maryvale; Guatemala vs. Mexico, Hohokam; Canada vs. Panama, Phoenix
Friday: U.S. vs. Panama, Hohokam; Mexico vs. Canada, Maryvale; Nicaragua vs. Guatemala, Phoenix
Saturday: U.S. vs. Canada, Maryvale; Mexico vs. Nicaragua, Mesa; Panama vs. Guatemala, Phoenix
Tickets: $5 and $6 at the gate; all seats general admission.