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On and off the field, USI baseball's international trio embraces their cultures

EVANSVILLE — Long considered America's pastime, baseball has blossomed into a global game.

Approximately 1 in 4 MLB players on Opening Day rosters this season were internationally born, representing 19 countries. The sport's worldwide influence also was especially prevalent during last month's exciting World Baseball Classic.

That global reach is impacting the University of Southern Indiana as three baseball players hail from outside of the United States. The trio embraces its cultural upbringings that have led them to play collegiately on the West Side.

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Daniel Lopez, the younger brother of former USI slugger Manny Lopez, is a first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ricardo Van Grieken, a native of Venezuela, is a shortstop with a knack for getting on base. And everyday outfielder Ren Tachioka was born in Japan.

"They're good young men and play hard," USI coach Tracy Archuleta said. "When we were recruiting them, they wanted an institution to where they can both get academics and athletics from. And USI was a good fit for them."

University of Southern Indiana’s Daniel Lopez (17) takes a swing at home base as the Screaming Eagles play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks at the USI Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind., Saturday afternoon, April 8, 2023.
University of Southern Indiana’s Daniel Lopez (17) takes a swing at home base as the Screaming Eagles play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks at the USI Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind., Saturday afternoon, April 8, 2023.

They particularly enjoyed rooting for their native countries during the World Baseball Classic. They take pride in where they're from and dream about possibly representing them someday. When Van Grieken’s Venezuela bested Lopez’s Dominican Republic, they went back and forth with friendly trash talk. Then Tachioka’s Japan took home the title. He enjoyed watching Shohei Ohtani strike out Mike Trout to clinch the championship.

"It was a great game," Tachioka said. "Shohei is great. He's like a warrior right now."

All three have taken different roads to Evansville.

Tachioka and Van Grieken each began their college careers at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, where they played critical parts for the Warriors reaching the 2021 NJCAA World Series. It was their first experience living in the U.S., but that team's diversity eased their transition. Five different languages were spoken in the dugout, including Dutch and French.

"We had a lot of guys from all over the world," Van Grieken said. "It was just great to experience that World Series with them. We had a lot of fun."

University of Southern Indiana’s Ricardo Van Grieken (9) throws the ball from the outfield as the Screaming Eagles play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks at the USI Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind., Saturday afternoon, April 8, 2023.
University of Southern Indiana’s Ricardo Van Grieken (9) throws the ball from the outfield as the Screaming Eagles play the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks at the USI Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind., Saturday afternoon, April 8, 2023.

He didn't speak any English when he joined the team in Iowa, so he spent his first three months taking ESL classes. As he acclimated, he made friends and even met his girlfriend. It was also at Indian Hills where they met future USI teammate Tucker Ebest and assistant coach Nick Gobert.

Van Grieken is third on the team in batting average while Tachioka ranks second in hits and third in runs scored.

“I really like my team here,” Van Grieken said. “They always have their doors open for me. They’re great teammates.”

Lopez had examples to look toward with his older brothers Emmanuel and Manny. Plus, they learned English twice per week after grade school since Lopez was in first grade. Their parents wanted them to be prepared for an eventual move to the U.S.

Lopez now is in his third year at USI after attending prep school and a junior college in Florida.

“Each time I went to a different place, it became easier and easier,” Lopez said. “My English got better and I got more confident. I loved every place I’ve been to. I’m loving the new experiences and met a lot of good people.”

University of Southern Indiana’s Ren Tachioka (8) walks off the field after the Screaming Eagles strike out against the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks during their game at the USI Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind., Saturday afternoon, April 8, 2023.
University of Southern Indiana’s Ren Tachioka (8) walks off the field after the Screaming Eagles strike out against the Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks during their game at the USI Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind., Saturday afternoon, April 8, 2023.

All three are proud to represent their home countries at USI, where last year only 132 of the university's nearly 8,000 students were internationally born.

They have plenty of baseball role models inspiring them, too. Tachioka looks up to Ohtani and Masataka Yoshida. Van Grieken grew up a fan of Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve. Lopez cherished his opportunity to see Albert Pujols in person last summer and always will remember Pujols hitting his 700th home run.

“It was definitely a great moment for him and for his fans all over the world,” Lopez said.

While there always will be more room for the sport to grow, USI's international trio is happy with the progress made in their sport. MLB will further add to that by playing games in Mexico City and London this year after the fifth WBC was considered a great success.

"I think baseball is on a good track right now internationally," Lopez said. "It's amazing to see new countries join the game. Watching the Czech Republic in the WBC was so fun because you didn't expect that to be a baseball-playing country."

Archuleta added: "If you look at the MLB with the amount of players from different countries playing in the big leagues and doing different things, that's probably the most important (thing). There's a lot of talent out there."

Courier & Press sports reporter Treasure Washington can be reached via her email, treasure.washington@courierpress.com, and on Twitter @Twashington490.

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: USI baseball's international trio proud to represent home countries