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Delgado: Baseball thrives in Mexico

Mexico City Series shows how baseball has grown in Mexico

MEXICO CITY – As I waited at a red light while I traveled to Benito Juarez International Airport, baseball’s growth here was obvious. Across the street was a small, scruffy park with patches of grass growing where two little boys played catch. 

One of the boys looked like he was playing catch with an old, beat up Rawlings mitt. The little boy didn’t appear bothered about the appearance of his glove as he talked and laughed with his buddy.

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

“I think it’s grown a lot,” Rockies’ utilityman Alan Trejo, who is Mexican American, said of baseball in Mexico. “That’s something we strive to do every single day. Baseball should be bigger here. I know it falls behind soccer because it’s just a lot more accessible here, but baseball is coming up.”

Team Mexico shone at 2023 WBC

Trejo’s parents are from Morelos, Zacatecas, Mexico. He played with the Mexican national team in last year’s World Baseball Classic. The Mexican American and his teammates were close to upsetting eventual champion Japan in the WBC semifinals. 

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

The Yankees played an exhibition game in late March against the Mexico City Diablos Rojos. It was the first time the Bronx Bombers played in Mexico City since 1968. A month later the Astros and Rockies matched up for the seventh regular-season series played in Mexico.

A sea of Astros orange and navy blue took over the stands at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú. It looked as if it was 90% Astros fans and 10% Rockies fans on the concourse. Nonetheless, you still see people walk into the stadium wearing different jerseys and hats. One person was wearing a Dodgers jersey. Another person was wearing a Padres hat.

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

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

Fernando Valenzuela’s legacy endures

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Espada used to play shortstop. Instead of admiring middle infielders and learning their craft, he praised a well-known starting pitcher from Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela. The legendary left-hander 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 pitched and competed was something that always gravitated toward me.”

Valenzuela had a tremendous track record with the Dodgers. The 1981 season specifically was a year to remember for most Dodgers fans. Chavez Ravine lit up like a Mexican fiesta often when No. 34 stepped onto the mound during his magical rookie season.


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Mexican baseball history is rich, 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 a Gold Glove winner. 

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

More work needed

The Rockies legend loves the way Major League Baseball is globalizing the game in different countries. Furthermore, Castilla believes there’s still a lot more work to be done for the future generation of ball players in Mexico.

“I think in order to have more Mexican players in the U.S., we need to have player coaches,” Castilla said. “We need more academies to continue polishing these kids. There’s a lot of talent here in Mexico. We just need 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. There were 12 Mexican-born players on Opening Day rosters this year. To increase the number annually, MLB has to continue to drive baseball in the Mexican and Mexican American communities.

So far, MLB is doing a great job bringing America’s 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 Serie.

More to come for Mexico

Mexico has played host to regular season games in five out of the last seven years (excluding the Covid-shortened 2020 season). This is the second consecutive year Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú has held the Mexico City Series.  MLB is not done.

Rodrigo Fernandez, the head of the organization south of the border, says there are plans to bring more regular-season games to Mexico every year through 2026. All of those games are not expected to be played at the same venue.

Soccer may be considered the most popular sport in Mexico, especially because of the prestigious FIFA World Cup. Nevertheless, the future of baseball is bright in this beautiful country and it’s just a matter of time.

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