CORPUS CHRISTI - Every four years, thousands of outstanding athletes flock to a major city to showcase their talents for love of country.
No, these aren't the Olympics, these are the Pan Am Games. And in 2015, two members of the Corpus Christi Hooks will represent their respective homelands in Toronto.
Josh Hader, a native of Millersville, Md., has been chosen to pitch for the United States, as his battery mate, catcher Roberto Pena of Eloisa Pascual, Caguas, suits up for Puerto Rico.
"It's always great to play for your country," Pena said. "When you have that name on your chest, you are so excited to go and play for your country."
"It's a big honor to represent your country, especially while getting to do the thing you love," Hader said. "When I got the call to ask if I wanted to go, it was a no-brainer, that's a big achievement."
The Astros will send a third representative, Canadian Brock Dykxhoorn, who has spent the 2015 season in Low-A Quad Cities.
""It's definitely a sign of the growth of this organization, as far as replenishing the talent within our system," Astros Director of Player Development Quinten McCracken said. "[General Manager] Jeff Luhnow and our scouting director (Mike Elias) have brought in a plethora of talented kids through our player development system and they are just starting to scratch the surface. It's great for them to get the recognition they deserve by going out and representing their country."
The Pan-American Games began in 1951 and signal the coming arrival of the Summer Olympics, as the Pan Am Games are traditionally held one year prior to the global competition. Only athletes from the Americas are eligible to compete in the Pan Am Games.
The 2015 games play host to 41 countries and 48 sports, with thousands of athletes congregating in the capital of Ontario.
Opening Ceremonies take place July 10, and as luck would have it, the first time Hader and Pena take the field, it will be against each other. Puerto Rico and the U.S. are scheduled to play on July 11.
Who has upper hand?
"Obviously me," Hader said with a smile.
"Not a chance," retorted Pena.
"It'll be fun," Hader said. "I think it will be a good matchup. [Pena] can stroke so hopefully I hit my spots."
Since joining the team on April 16 from extended spring training, Pena has caught 10 Hader's 15 appearances. So if anyone knows the scouting report on Hader, it's Pena.
"I mean, you've got to hit his fastball," Pena said. "It's going to be tough, though."
Even with that confidence from his catcher, Hader isn't taking any chances.
"I'm going to have to take him out to lunch and dinner - treat him right - so he doesn't hit me."
In addition to Hader and Pena, former Hook Brian Bogusevic (2007-08) will suit up for the U.S. Team.
Toronto will be a new experience for Hader and Pena. The closest either has been to America's neighbor-to-the-North is Hader, who visited Niagara Falls once. Neither of the young prospects know what to expect, but they say life in minor league baseball has trained them for this moment.
"You learn to adapt quickly," Hader said. "Just like when I got traded here (Hader was dealt from his hometown Baltimore Orioles to the Astros in 2013), I had no idea who would be here, but now I have so many friends in the organization. You've just got to go out and meet people and be open-minded."
Though he will be almost 2,000 miles from home, Pena welcomes the trip.
"It's going to be a great experience for us, just being in a new country," Pena said. "Every country will have all their athletes living in the same spot so I'm always down for meeting new people."
With competition in almost 50 other sports, both Hader and Pena are anxious to see fellow athletes.
"From Puerto Rico, we love basketball and volleyball because they're really big there," Pena said. "And we have tennis - Monica Puig - she's good."
Hader intends to check out women's baseball, a sport he's never seen but is excited to witness. Watching sports may take a backseat to another of the 21-year-old Hader's goals.
"First off, we're just going to walk in and see Drake. We'll give him a little dap and say, "What's up?""
Whether Hader and Pena get to meet the rap icon remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain, these two Hooks are looking forward to representing their countries in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.