At the weekend, the Mexican League had its Juego de Estrellas–its All-Star Game–in Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of the state of Oaxaca. It’s around 290 miles southeast of Mexico City where I live; six hours or so on a bus. I’ve never been to a Major League All-Star Game before, I’ve barely watched one all the way through, frankly; but I have a friend in Oaxaca, so it seemed like a good chance to see how Mexico does these things.
The city itself didn’t seem to be fanfaring the event in any extravagant way. Some thoroughfares had small banners attached to lampposts announcing the event, but from what I could tell, that was about it.
On Saturday afternoon, the fun began. First with the mascots race, then the home run derby. The weekend’s events were taking place at Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos, a small park (7,200 capacity) that was built in 1950, and re-modeled in 2008. It’s a nice wee park, one of the nicer parks in the Mexican League. The outfield has only a slender strip of bleachers with a high wall of advertising boards behind it. The park is the home of the Guerreros de Oaxaca, a team owned by Alfredo Harp Helú, the super-rich former owner of a Mexican bank, cousin of also-super-rich Carlos Slim, and owner of another Mexican League team, Diablos Rojos del México. As well as that, he’s a part of the investment group who own the San Diego Padres, which accounted for the huge advertisement for that team next to the video screens in right field.
The mascot race was as you’d expect. A whole bunch of people in furry costumes of varying attractiveness (a dolphin with human legs!) mucking around and dancing before flopping around over inflatable obstacles and tires and hurdles around around the edge of the infield dirt. Chacho, the Tigres de Quintana Roo mascot, quickly ignored the first bouncy thingy, went around the back, and pushed it over. Mascot carnage. Furry arms and legs everywhere, all flapping around to try and stand up and get going. Out of the carnage, Rocco, the mascot of my favourite team, the aforementioned Diablos Rojos, took a lead. He cheated a bit, too, using his lead to stop every now and then to throw tires at the mascots in his wake. He had a decent lead as he entered the home stretch, and sprinted along the third base line and dove into home plate.
Next up, the home run derby. I have never watched an MLB home run derby. And after seeing one in person, I can’t say I will ever watch one again. The specialness of a home run during a game is lost when you see 65 of them over the course of an hour or so. But, y’know, there was 25-peso beer, it was sunny, so not much to complain about. There were four hitters from each division (the Zona Norte and Zona Sur). Some of them were players you might recognise from the majors: José Castillo, Luis Terrero, Carlos Rivera, Bárbaro Cañizares, Rubén Rivera, Jorge Cantú. But it was 26-year-old Mexican Japhet Amador who put on the show: hitting fifteen homers in the first round. Amador, Cañizares, Terrero and Rubén Rivera advanced to the second round where things calmed down a little: they only hit 14 between them.
In the final, Cañizares hit just one home run. Amador matched him on his first swing, and soon after, he was trotting around the bases as the 2013 home run derby champ. For his efforts, he got to wear a hideous camo jersey with “Campeón” written in gold on the front, squeezed between the sponsors’ logos. Plus he now owns the world’s greatest trophy: a life-sized golden baseball bat in the claws of an eagle.
Here’s Liga Mexicana’s edited highlights. Note Amador’s Diablos teammate, Luis Terrero doing that dorkiest of things: filming him with an iPad.
Sunday morning, I was up early, and took the bus downtown, got a fantastic cup of coffee at Cafe Brújula (if you’re ever in Oaxaca, go there), had some breakfast in a cafe at the Zócalo, the downtown central plaza, where there was already a pleasant amount of baseball fans milling around. In Mexico City, baseball isn’t overly popular, and most of the caps one sees here are those of major league teams. It was nice to be in a place where I saw people wearing the caps or jersey of not only MLB teams, but most of the Liga Mexicana teams, too. Soon after 10 a.m., I headed a few blocks north to the Museo de la Filatelia de Oaxaca, a stamp museum. I’m no philatelist, but there was an exhibition I wanted to see: Beisbol & Filatelia. Minutes after opening time, there was a handful of nerdy baseball dudes, myself included, oohing and aahing at the players on stamps from all over the world: the United States, Mexico, Japan, China, Belgium, Angola…
Back at the park, the right field seats where I was sitting were general admission. I got there a couple of hours before game time, found one of the few seats in the shade, and watched the stands fill up. Several groups of people asked if the seats near me were free. Mostly groups of people who needed more than were actually free. Eventually a couple on one side of me moved, so I was sat alone flanked by two empty seats on either side. A group of four asked about them, I told them they were free, and asked if they wanted me to move to the a little so they could all sit together. The woman was very nice and insistent that I was here first, I didn’t need to move for them despite repeatedly telling her I didn’t mind.
Soldiers lined up in ranks on the field. Four groups of them stood around the edge of the infield dirt, and individual soldiers evenly spaced on the warning track. With guns. Some with dogs. I try to not let Latin American cliches enter my head, but there was a feeling for a moment there that we were dissidents awaiting our fait after a military coup. Mexican baseball doesn’t often do the whole patriotic anthem stuff that is popular in the majors. We have the anthem on Opening Day, and before the first game of the Serie del Rey (Mexico’s version of the World Series). But they did it in style before the Juego de Estrellas. A bunch of soldiers strode out from center field to the area just behind second base with a big flag. Everyone sung the anthem, and then, to my surprise, three jet fighters flew over our heads with trails of green, white, and red smoke in their wake. I’m one of those lefty dudes who feels uncomfortable when the military and sports are put together, but the flyover was fantastic. Absolutely great to have that noise and visceral thrill of seeing planes so close.
The Zona Norte (road) and Zona Sur (home) teams lined up along the third and first base lines, and we were off. The first four Zona Sur pitchers allowed just one hit (a Saúl Soto double) in the first five innings, by which time, they already had a 10-0 lead. The game was essentially over as a contest. In the sixth, the team from the north got their only runs, off a Luis Suárez (not that one, soccer fans) home run. So far this season, Suárez, a Mexican who plays for the Pericos de Puebla, has been on fire, batting .472/.547/.630 with an OPS of 1.177 through 151 plate appearances. Zona Sur added another run in the eighth, and that was it. An average game, to be honest, but it was fun to see a game where players on the same team all wore different jerseys (not just whites and grays: some of them in their alt red, purple, green, or blue jerseys), and to see a game where the mascots from all of the teams took turns to come out and goof around in the outfield foul territory while the game was going on.
Here’s some video highlights from the game.
At the end of the game, Luis Borges, the Zona Sur’s shortstop who plays for the Leones de Yucatán, was awarded the Jugador más Valioso (MVP) trophy, a crappy little glass thingy, for his performance: 3-for-3 with 2 runs and 3 RBIs. To finish us off properly, there were a few fireworks, and then we all left the park. As we all shuffled towards the one of the exits, ahead of us were three dudes holding Tupperware tubs with coin slots hacked into the lids. The dudes were wearing parts of their mascot costumes. The mascots were panhandling for tips! Without their costume heads! I’m an adult. This is not a kid being shocked that the tooth fairy or Father Christmas aren’t real, but it was so odd and disconcerting to see mascots as normal Mexican fellas. I passed by the Delfines and Leones guys and then saw Rocco, my hometown team mascot. I grabbed some coins out of the back pocket of my jeans, and put them in his tub. He noticed my Diablos Rojos cap, said “gracias, amigo” and we fist-bumped. It was the best moment of an enjoyable all-star weekend.