The Great American Game: South of the Border

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By Carole Reedy

The New Yorker writer Katy Waldman describes the baseball field as “a place of illusion and possibility.”  Fans old and young will agree. The sport of baseball, known to many as the Great American Game, is met with as much enthusiasm here in the southern portion of North America as it is by our gringo neighbors in the north. Admittedly it’s not as popular in Mexico as the beloved futbol (soccer to US fans). But be it Big League or Little League, the hearts of men, women, and children skip a beat when they hear the words that start every baseball game: PLAY BALL!

Even in Mexico the crowd and umpire alike shout PLAY BALL! at the start of the game, no translation needed.

In an essay from 1973, Philip Roth describes the game as “a kind of secular church that reaches into every class and region of the nation and binds us together in common concerns, loyalties, rituals, enthusiasms, and antagonisms,” a thought that holds true regardless in what country the game is played.

The Mexican League (LMB) could be viewed as a cousin to baseball in the US. We have the same genetic structure, but with some variations. For example, when we play a double header, we play two games of seven innings each. Our season is shorter, usually mid-March through mid-August, followed by playoffs and finals.

This year a new schedule has been initiated. There will be two seasons, April through June (complete with playoffs and finals) and then another from July through September. There’s also a seventh inning stretch with a bastardized version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the same tune enthusiastically played on the organ, but with different words and sung in Spanish.

And, yes, there are hot dogs and beer, but the more popular food to accompany the shouts of “Umpire, pendejo!” is a plate of tacos de cochinita pibil with a Corona or Modelo Negro cerveza.  One significant difference: in Mexico there is no last call for beer or tequila.  You can drink and eat well after the last ball of the final inning is pitched.  The celebration continues in the park, especially on weekends.  Music lovers will enjoy the variety and decibel level of the extra entertainment that accompanies the games.

History and current day Mexican League

Founded in 1925, the Mexican League is the longest-running professional league in Mexico, a class Triple-A league in organized Minor League Baseball, just one grade below Major League Baseball.

There are 16 teams at present, divided geographically into ZONA NORTE and ZONA SUR, with eight teams in each. The teams represent 16 of the 32 states. As is custom, a fan usually roots for the home-town team, but there are exceptions.  For example, Mexico City used to have two teams: The Diablo Rojos and the Tigres. The Tigres moved to Quintana Roo, but some die-hard fans here in the distrito can’t seem to switch loyalties to the Diablos. Therefore, when the Tigres are the visiting team in Mexico City, half the crowd is cheering for them.  Notably, those games are always sold out.

The majority of the players are young, enthusiastic Mexican men, but there are also some from Cuba and the Caribbean, along with retired players from the Major League in the US.

Mexico’s most famous player is Fernando Valenzuela, the youngest of 12 children born in Etchohuaquila in the state of Sonora, Mexico. Although many major-league-team scouts came to Mexico with an eye on Valenzuela, it was Los Angeles Dodgers scout Mike Brito who suggested the Dodgers gamble on the young pitcher and bought out his contract with the Mexican Baseball League for $120,000 US.  El Toro, his nickname, went on to set Major League records, and for Mexicans he remains a hero.  Coincidentally, he bought the Tigres team of Quintana Roo in 2017.

The names of the teams in Mexico are at times as mysterious as the ones for the Major League. “Where did that name come from?” many wonder. The choice of mascots accompanying the teams often evokes the same question.  Mexicans love their mascots.  In fact, in Mexico City we have two.  Our tried-and-true wolf Rocco now has a girlfriend, Rocci, who, along with Rocco leads the crowd in cheers as well as performing entertaining antics during the game.

Mexican games are loud, full of music, singing, and even dancing in the crowd. The umpires take a lot of grief, but the crowd is sympathetic and supportive of good plays and injured players. Sure, you can watch the game on the internet or TV, but there’s nothing that compares to jumping out of your seat in the company of a few hundred other fans in anticipation of that long ball headed toward the outfield wall.

 

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