Writing > Opening Day in Mexico

March 23, 2011: Opening Day in Mexico

The Liga Mexicana de Béisbol season began on Saturday. Mexican baseball is what I will mostly be watching this season. Triple-A baseball. But more than that, it's baseball in a different country. A different culture. And while it would be stupid to pretend I wouldn't rather be watching the Yankees play the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, I now have the opportunity to do something I've never really done before: support a local team.

I grew up a Liverpool F.C. fan living in Lincoln, so that was television fandom mostly. There was one season (1987-88) when, as a newly solvent teenager with a job in the warehouse of my local Asda supermarket, I went to a fair few Lincoln City F.C. games. But apart from that, I've always supported from afar. I tried to get into Hertha B.S.C. in Berlin, but it never really became more than a passing interest. And since getting into baseball, I've been a fan of a team in a city that I've visited more than any other: New York. And after that initial exposure in 2005, I've returned to New York on trips timed around series of Yankees home game in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. I spent last summer in Toronto watching the Blue Jays. I went to 32 Blue Jays games, and I enjoyed getting to know their team better, but I could never really be a fan, because they are division rivals of the Yankees.

But this season could be different. I'm in a different country, there's a baseball league, and I live in a city with a team in that league. So it's time for me to become a Diablos Rojos del México fan. (The irony is not lost on me that my new local baseball team is called the Red Devils, and, as a Liverpool fan, I loathe the English football team with that nickname.) And on Saturday, I went to the game, the inauguración temporada. Not only was it season opener, it was the guerra civil, the civil war. Diablos Rojos were playing Tigres de Quintana Roo, a team that until 2001 played in Mexico City. I guess it's the Yankees-Red Sox of Mexican baseball.

My mate Scott was here visiting for the weekend. He's also a baseball fan, so we went along early to soak things up. The Metro journey wasn't so full of fans, but the closer we got, the more noticeable they were. And there were fans of both teams. Walking across the pedestrian overpass to Foro Sol, the Diablos Rojos' ballpark, we chuckled at a kid's jersey. A Yankee home jersey with GEHRIG 4 written on the back in marker pen. I assume this (above) is his father. And I assume he tried to have a Randy Johnson jersey. But he spelled it wrong. And got the number wrong, too: Bernie Williams wore 51 during Johnson's time as a Yankee. (Thanks to Scott for whipping his camera out quick enough to take a photo, and for allowing me to use the photo.)

From the overpass, the outside of the stadium looked pretty busy. Lots of people milling around. Scott and I began taking note of the MLB teams represented with caps and jerseys of fans. In the end we saw merchandise of all but four of the major league teams (no Mariners, Marlines, Rockies, or Royals). But, of course, most people there were Diablos fans. The place, though, did have what I'd estimate was about 10-20% Tigres fans. I'd bought tickets in advance, and my crappy Spanish had thought I'd bought tickets in a decent, shaded section behind the infield. Not so. I'd bought tickets for the concrete bleachers that extended along the first base line in the outfield. Can't grumble, though, considering the price: 30 pesos (2.50 US dollars).

We were there early enough to sneak into the better section, though. Flashing the tickets at an usher, talking in English, he let us through to go and look in the Diablos store, which was fairly sparingly stocked. Even though a lot a Diablos fans had a lot of different era jerseys and caps, the store only seemed to sell the most recent items, sadly. I could really go for one of these 1980s era caps.

Having gotten ourselves into the area of the park where we could access the better seats, we sat down, got a beer and I did something that one doesn't get to do very often at a sports venue these days: had a cigarette. No smoking ban here. Because it was the first day of the season, the players of both teams were all announced one by one. They lined up along the base paths, and then la popular actriz mexicana Carmen Salinas wobbled onto the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. In the outfield, a brass band stood erect waiting their moment. The loud voice through the PA system announced that we should stand for the anthem. And... it was really quiet. The band were quite far away and not mic-ed up. As the anthem progressed, the spectators picked up the slack and started singing along. There a few fireworks, too. And they looked as good as fireworks always tend to look in daylight: rubbish.

After the anthem, and as the players warmed up, my Mexican pal Samuel called me. Running late, where are you? I went down to meet them, but the usher wasn't letting them sneak through. So we went to join them in the section we'd actually paid to watch from. There was a bit more space there, too, considering that a few members of Sam's family were joining us. We sat on the not-as-uncomfortable-as-I'd-imagined concrete bleachers, drank Coronas, ate esquites, smoked cigarettes, chatted, and enjoyed real live baseball.

The Diablos got off to a good start with a three-run home run in the first. Tigres came back with four runs in the third, Diablos getting another in the bottom of the third, tying it up. A couple here, a couple there, afternoon gave way to evening, and it was tied 6-6 at the end of the ninth, so we got some free baseball. An extra inning. Tigres got two runs, which the Diablos couldn't match. So my first game of the season, my first proper game as a fan was a defeat. The smattering of Tigres fans amongst the 28,700 crowd (a new LMB attendance record) made some noise. Ti-gue-res! Ti-gue-res! Turning a two syllable word into a three syllable word for better chanting opportunities. Time for some tacos.

My new team will be playing on the road until next Tuesday. But they've won the three games they've played since that first game against the Tigres. But I'll be there again on Tuesday evening, hoping to see the Diablos beat Vaqueros Laguna (Laguna Cowboys). I think I'm going to enjoy baseball here.