Delgado: Baseball thrives in Mexico

MEXICO CITY – As I waited at the red light traveling to Benito Juarez International Airport, the growth of baseball here was evident. Across the street was a small, shabby park with lawns where two little boys were playing ball.

One of the guys looked like he was playing catch with an old, worn Rawlings glove. The little boy didn’t seem concerned about the appearance of his glove as he chatted and laughed with his buddy.

Baseball has grown tremendously in Mexico. The conclusion of this year’s Mexico City Series between the Astros and Rockies was a testament to how evolved the sport is played here.

“I think it’s grown tremendously,” Alan Trejo, a Mexican-American Rockies utilityman, said of baseball in Mexico. “That is something we strive for every day. Baseball should be bigger here. I know it’s behind football because it’s just a lot more accessible here, but baseball is coming.”

Team Mexico shone at WBC 2023

Trejo’s parents are from Morelos, Zacatecas, Mexico. Last year he played with the Mexican national team during the World Baseball Classic. The Mexican-American and his teammates came close to upsetting eventual champions Japan in the WBC semi-finals.

Unfortunately for Mexico, Shohei Ohtani and Japan came back in the ninth to beat Mexico 6-5. Although Mexico lost in the semifinals, the WBC performance showed that baseball has slowly emerged as one of the most popular sports watched and played in the country.

The Yankees played an exhibition game against Mexico City at the end of March Diablos Rojos. It was the first time the Bronx Bombers played in Mexico City since 1968. A month later, the Astros and Rockies agreed for the seventh regular season series to be played in Mexico.

A sea of ​​Astros orange and navy blue took over the stands of Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú. It seemed like there were 90% Astros fans and 10% Rockies fans in the hall. Yet you still see people wearing different jerseys and hats walking into the stadium. One person was wearing a Dodgers jersey. Another person wore a Padres hat.

Astros manager Joe Espada knew that Astros fans would be traveling from Houston to support their team, but he also sensed that there would already be a large crowd of Astros fans in the room. La Ciudad de Mexico.

“Obviously baseball is super big here in Mexico,” Espada said. “The fans are always very enthusiastic. We also have a large fan base here.”

Fernando Valenzuela’s legacy continues

Espada grew up in Puerto Rico and always played short stop. Instead of admiring midfielders and learning their craft, he praised a well-known starting pitcher from Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela. The legendary southpaw inspired legions of Latinos and Mexican Americans like me.

El Toro Valenzuela was considered one of the best, if not the best Mexican baseball player of all time.

“One of the guys I really admired growing up was Fernando Valenzuela,” Espada said. “Just the way he threw and competed was something that always appealed to me.”

Valenzuela had a great track record with the Dodgers. The 1981 season in particular was a year to remember for most Dodgers fans. Chavez Ravine often lit up like a Mexican celebration when No. 34 took the mound during his magical rookie season.

MORE FROM OUR ESQUINA

Mexico takes on Brazil at Texas A&M’s iconic Kyle Field

Mexico and the US withdraw their bid for the 2027 Women’s World Cup

Mexican baseball history is rich and storied

Fernandomania took off. Valenzuela won the 1981 National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards. He also helped the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the 1981 World Series. Valenzuela finished his 17-year career as a six-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner.

El Toro was a pioneer for many Mexican ball players. Three-time Silver Slugger Vinny Castilla played 16 years in the major leagues. The Oaxacan native became the first Mexican-born player to reach 300 home runs and collect 1,000 RBIs.

More work is needed

The Rockies legend likes the way Major League Baseball is globalizing the game in different countries. Furthermore, Castilla believes there is much more work to be done for the future generation of ballplayers in Mexico.

“I think in order to have more Mexican players in the U.S., we need player coaches,” Castilla said. “We need more academies to continue polishing these children. There is a lot of talent here in Mexico. We just have to find them, help them and take them to the next level.”

There were 15 Mexican-born players on the 2023 Opening Day rosters, the most since 2005. This year, there were 12 Mexican-born players on the Opening Day rosters. To increase this number annually, MLB must continue to promote baseball in the Mexican and Mexican American communities.

So far, the MLB is doing a great job of bringing the American pastime back to Mexico. In 1996, Valenzuela pitched for the Padres when they faced the Mets in Monterrey for the first Mexico series. There had never been an MLB regular season series outside of Canada and Mexico until that two-game set, which was billed as the Primera series.

More to come for Mexico

Mexico has hosted regular season games in five of the past seven years (excluding the Covid-shortened 2020 season). This is the second year in a row that Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú will host the Mexico City Series. MLB isn’t ready.

Rodrigo Fernandez, the organization’s head south of the border, says there are plans to bring more regular-season games to Mexico every year through 2026. It is not expected that all these matches will be played at the same location.

Football can be considered the most popular sport in Mexico, especially because of the prestigious FIFA World Cup. Nevertheless, the future of baseball looks bright in this beautiful country and it is only a matter of time.