In less that two weeks, something will begin that I never ever imagined I’d care about. In less that two weeks, I’ll begin my seventh season caring about that thing. That thing is baseball. Specifically Major League Baseball; played by all but one of its 30 teams in the United States. In 2005, I went to a game with friends at Yankee Stadium. And since then, my interest and love of the game has grown and grown. I did some drawings, some charts and graphs, made a Web site about the game, and last year, wrote/drew/infographicised a book about the game. That book, fine and distinguished credit card owners that you are, will be published on July 5th. The game, though, isn’t solely played within the borders of the United States and in Toronto. It’s played in Japan, and more pertinently for me, in Latin America.
Before we go on. Seeing as though the readership of this blog is shrinking and shrinking I imagine those who are bored of reading about baseball will have stopped paying attention by now, so I’m going to stop doing that thing I occasionally do: apologising for writing about baseball. If you’ve stuck around this long and are still reading, I’m gonna guess that you either a) like baseball and like reading about it, or b) just skip the baseball stuff without deleting the RSS subscription in your news reader thingy.
As I said, the Major League Baseball season begins in less that two weeks. But the Liga Mexicana de Béisbol season began on Saturday. Mexican baseball is what I will mostly be watching this season. It is Triple-A calibre baseball. That, in football (soccer) terms is like the second division. 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 New York Yankees playing the Boston 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 on the whole. 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. Since then, having started enjoying baseball, I’ve been a fan of a team in a city that I’ve visited more than any other, and after that initial exposure in 2005, have returned to New York on trips timed around series of Yankees home game in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. (For reasons I always seems to be mentioning, I didn’t see go to Yankee Stadium in 2010, and I doubt I’ll go again this season either.) I spent last summer in Toronto watching the aforementioned only non-U.S.-based MLB team, the Toronto 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 fucking 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 close we got, the more noticeable they were. And there were fans of both teams. On the pedestrian overpass approaching Foro Sol, the Diablos’ ballpark, I saw what I assume were a father and son. The son had a pinstripe Yankees jersey with GEHRIG 4 written on the back in faded black marker pen. The father, again in a Yankees home jersey, had JOHONSON 51 on the back. This sent my mind darting around, like old documentary film of room-sized computers with lights flashing and tape reels spinning around. If, as I suspect, this was meant to be a Randy Johnson jersey, it was a) spelled wrong, and b) has the wrong number. Randy did wear number 51 for the vast majority of his major league career. Apart from his first few games with both the Expos in 1988 and the Mariners in 1993, the only time he didn’t wear number 51 was for his two seasons with the Yankees, where he wore 41. This was because tip-top coming-to-the-end-of-his-career-Yankee-player Bernie Williams already wore 51.
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/1.52 British pounds/1.76 euros/0.00175 gold ounces).
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. Joy. 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 baseball. Lovely, lovely 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.