Padres dominate Giants in MLB’s Mexico City Series

MEXICO CITY – One day before Major League Baseball was to be played here for the first time, San Diego Padres outfielder Nick Martinez had an idea. On Friday, accompanied by a few teammates, he visited the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was a day off for both the San Francisco Giants and Padres.

On the way to the church, Martinez notices several shops selling piñatas. He bought a few, hoping that they would be crushed by the game player after each of the contests.

“Being in San Diego, Mexican culture is a huge part of our culture,” Martinez said. “And being here in Mexico for this series, the piñata was an opportunity to preserve the Mexican culture in our club.”

So, after the Padres defeated the Giants, 16-11, Saturday, in a fiendish fiesta made possible by Mexico City circumstances, Padres designated hitter Nelson Cruz donned a sombrero in the colors of the Mexican flag as he struggled to crack open a buzz-light-year piñata. His teammates cheered him on while wearing lucha libre Mexican wrestling masks. And after the Padres won 6-4 Sunday, first baseman Matt Carpenter sent candy to the club floor when he opened a star-shaped pinata.

Cruz later explained his piñata problems: “It was a real short bat.” In the end he gave in and opened it with his own hand. “If it were an ordinary bat, it would have been done in one fell swoop.”

For two days at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú, MLB games are a celebration of Mexico and its love of baseball. The league previously played regular season matches in Monterrey in 1996, 1999, 2018 and 2019. Exhibition competitions have been held in Mexico City in the past, but playing important matches in the nation’s capital was different.

MLB wanted to do it in Mexico City sooner, but the $166 million stadium, which holds 20,000 fans, isn’t completed until 2019. The facility is home to the Diablos Rojos of the Mexican League, a team owned by Mexican billionaire Alfredo Harp Hilo. , also a part owner of the Padres.

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world, a more populous metropolis (22 million) than New York City (20 million) and 2,000 feet higher in elevation than Denver, which is home to MLB’s Colorado Rockies and famously towering a mile above it. sea ​​level. It is also the largest city in North America without a franchise in the region’s four major men’s professional sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB).

Football may be the biggest sport in Mexico, but baseball has a strong foothold, particularly in certain regions of this country of 127 million people. Given that the Toronto Blue Jays are an All-Canada MLB team, baseball officials and fans have dreamed of the possibility of an expansion franchise in Mexico City.

“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” said Juan Soto, a star defenseman from the Dominican Republic. “It makes me think of football, where these players live as they travel from one city to another.”

Although MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has praised Mexico City’s business prospects and the Mexican market as a whole in the past, he recently said he “wasn’t as close to the idea of ​​Mexico as an opportunity for expansion.”

“The challenges are utility-based,” he said last week. “Even the ground we’re playing in this weekend probably isn’t big enough for a permanent home for one of the top clubs in the league. And then, of course, our season is a very long one. I have a union case there which has to be bargained over to get players to live for a long time from time in Mexico.”

Manfred said Mexico’s current goal is to improve MLB’s relations with the existing professional baseball leagues there and make the country the equivalent of Japan in North America, with “vibrant domestic professional play” and “giving superstars a chance to come and play Major League Baseball”. He said having more Mexican players in MLB would help baseball attract the large Mexican American audience in the United States and create more broadcast interest in Mexico.

Based on the weekend of the games in Mexico City, there was already an appetite for the sport. The scenes in the stands and on the field reflected baseball’s lively culture. Tickets for the games sold out quickly in November. About 20,000 fans attended each match but it looked like more.

Mexican food—including micheladas, tacos, aguachels and churros—sold out in abundance. A mariachi band played throughout the games, and performed a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning. Hundreds of fans turned out outside the stadium after the final to kick both teams off with cheers and waves.

“It was great,” said Manny Machado, a Padres third baseman and his family from the Dominican Republic. “What impressed me the most was the fans and how passionate they are, especially for us Latinos who play with so much passion and energy.”

After each of the seven runs they hit over the weekend, the Padres, the MLB team closest to the Mexican border, put a sombrero on the head of the player who hit the ball over the fence. Fernando Tatis Jr. bought it on Friday during a trip to the famous Xochimilco canals in Mexico City. When the Padres relievers came out to the bull arena, they did so in lucha libre masks gifted to the team by American-Mexican professional wrestler Rey Mysterio.

“It means a lot,” Tatis said of playing in Mexico City. “For us in Latin America, it’s nice to play in front of our own people and take the game to children who don’t usually see us play in the United States.”

Nearly three-quarters of the tickets sold online were purchased in Mexico, according to MLB, while the remaining tickets were purchased in the United States, primarily in California. But walking the stands, I sensed more Padres fans were visiting from the United States and many said they had purchased their tickets online through secondary market sellers in Mexico.

In the left stands, Felipe Perez, 44, said he met many fans from the United States as well as many Mexicans who traveled from all over the country. He was one of them; He said he took a seven-hour bus ride on Saturday from the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz, arriving in Mexico City just in time for the 4 p.m. He came home at 11 am the next day.

Perez said all of the effort was worth it, as he loves baseball. In Spanish, he added, “I’m happy. To see a big league game here, it’s the best.”

Perez was waiting for these games. He and his family bought tickets for the April 2020 series in Mexico City between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Padres that were wiped out by the pandemic. He was amazed at the atmosphere around him on a Saturday grazing on a beer.

“Mexicans have a way of enjoying performances and life,” Perez said, as fans stomped their feet for Tatís at the plate. “People are standing behind a team. See how the people are cheering.”

In recent years, Mexican baseball has improved on the international scene. On opening day of MLB rosters this season, there were 15 players born in Mexico, the highest total since 2005. In March, the Mexican national team finished third in the World Baseball Classic, their best showing in the tournament. And Mexico’s strongest fan is its president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who hosted Sunday breakfast at El Palacio Nacional with, among others, Trevor Hoffman, a Hall of Famer who starred for the Padres; Sergio Romo, the reliever who won three World Series titles with the Giants; and Harp Helu.

Romo, who is Mexican-American, said he didn’t think the hurdles for Mexico City as MLB’s future home were as great as some might think. He said that a lot of English is spoken in the International Center and there was a lot of tourism and history here.

“I feel like Mexico has a bit of a bad reputation in terms of safety and such,” he said. “But here in Mexico, you’re safe. There are so many wonderful things going on, and obviously every city has its neighborhoods that you don’t want to go to. But this place has so many other places that are so welcoming and open.”

Regular season games are expected to, at the very least, return to Mexico City. As part of its overseas campaign in recent years, MLB played games in London for the first time in 2019, expanding a world tour that included Japan, Puerto Rico and Australia. In its latest working agreement, MLB and the players’ union agreed to more regular season games in London, some in Paris in 2025 and annual trips to Mexico City from 2023 to 2026.

Mexico City’s altitude and turf will present some ongoing challenges – or advantages – for players. On Saturday, the ball came close to thin air and the teams combined for 11 home runs and 30 strikeouts. Defenders said that the ball jumped off the ground and rocketed in front of them.

Their pitchers didn’t move as well as usual, the pitchers said, explaining that it was more of a problem than it is at Coors Field in Denver. After running the bases on Saturday, Cruz said he felt short of breath. Padres pitcher Yu Darvish said the umpires told him he could call a coach during his start on Sunday if he was feeling too upset. Giants quarterback Alex Cobb said his team’s coaching staff provided extra fluids and electrolytes to avoid dehydration.

But for a team expected to make the playoffs, who had previously been struggling at the plate, perhaps a memorable trip to Mexico City is exactly what the Padres need.

“I’d like to stay here another week,” said Machado, who has attended twice.

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