Something brought Israel Baeza back to Mexico.
The 24-year-old soccer player was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, but moved to Missouri as a child when his father, Efraín, took over pastoral duties at First Hispanic Baptist Church of Sedalia. Baeza returned to Mexico in January to train with the Real Zamora soccer club after a call from its athletic director.
“There was just something in me that wanted to come back to Mexico,” Baeza said. “I came here last January. I was just practicing with a team, not signed. When they got promoted, they knew I was looking for a team, they said ‘We know you. We know you’re looking.”
By July, the Segunda División Profesional Liga Premier club had been promoted from the Liga Nuevo Talentos, lost two goalkeepers to transfers and signed Baeza to a one-year contract.
Baeza was goalkeeper for Warrensburg High School his freshman, junior and senior years and graduated in 2009. He played one season at Maple Woods-MCC before playing on the Sporting Kansas City U-18 youth academy and eventually training with MLS club, Sporting KC.
Despite covering much of the central Missouri region, Baeza said his family is in Sedalia.
“A lot of my relatives are in Sedalia,” Baeza said. “That feels like my second hometown. I feel like I’m Sedalian.”
He is currently the backup goalkeeper for Real Zamora. The club finished its first match of the regular season in a 2-2 draw against Cruz Azul Hidalgo, Sunday, Aug. 14. The league’s short-tournament format ends in November and resumes with a second leg of games in the spring.
Baeza said there were many reasons for his return to Mexico. Zamora is the third-largest city in the state of Michoacán and about 2 hours from Guadalajara, one of the biggest cities in Mexico.
The distance is a vaguely practical comparison for Sedalia to Kansas City — where Baeza hopes to return to play soccer — but Baeza said there are more similarities.
“The way of life here, it’s actually a city not too different from Sedalia, size-wise,” Baeza said. “People have a small-town way of living here.”
Another geographical distance of practical concern, was one between Baeza and his girlfriend, who lives in Mozeltahn, Mexico in the state of Sinaloa.
“I was coming back every two months or so, and it was kind of expensive,” Baeza said. “But, then again, my goal coming here is to come back to Kansas City and play. That’s really my ultimate goal. Get minutes here, maybe get noticed here. And I have a good relationship with the people in Kansas City.”
Real Zamora plays its next match Saturday, Aug. 20, hosting Tepatitlán de Morelos.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2