America's Game Yet to Catch on in Mexico Visionary Hopes Academy Puts Baseball on Map

By Hill, Thomas | The Florida Times Union, June 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

America's Game Yet to Catch on in Mexico Visionary Hopes Academy Puts Baseball on Map


Hill, Thomas, The Florida Times Union


MONTERREY, Mexico -- As Jorge Humberto Alvarez Montanez, a stocky 23-year-old house painter, prepared to play a softball game on a riverbed field one afternoon early last month, he recited the names of Yankees players.

"Bernie Williams -- Roger Clemens -- Darryl Strawberry," Alvarez said, beaming. Then he added in Spanish, "Champions again!"

And what of his hometown Sultans, who play in the Mexican League? "Boring," Alvarez said with a scowl.

Few Mexicans take a serious interest in baseball, though they share a national border with the game's homeland. The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, even Japan, 14 time zones away, have embraced the game more than Mexico has.

"In the Dominican Republic, the first sport is baseball," says Vinny Castilla, the Colorado Rockies' Mexican-born third baseman. "In Venezuela, the first sport is baseball. In Puerto Rico, the first sport is baseball. But in Mexico, the first sport is soccer."

Attendance at Mexican League games has recovered slowly since the collapse of the peso in 1994. Monterrey led the league last season, drawing just more than 12,000 fans per game.

By contrast, when the Rockies and the San Diego Padres opened the major league season in Monterrey on April 4, they drew a sellout crowd of 27,104 fans.

Baseball is a popular recreation in some parts of Mexico, but it is mostly pursued by very young players. In fact, with more than a third of the country's Little League programs located in or around Monterrey, the third-largest city (population: 3 million) qualifies as Mexico's baseball capital.

One of those leagues, the Liga Independencia, plays in little Parque Roma, a well-maintained dirt field with covered stands that can seat 1,500.

The league's coordinator, Jesus Leal Cervantes, cites the 1997 Little League World Series championship won by the nearby community of La Linda Vista de Guadalupe and proudly mentions that the Liga Independencia has produced five professional players. He also points out that it is rare for boys to continue playing after age 13.

That trend is not peculiar to Monterrey. Throughout Mexico, players are not moving on to the upper levels of baseball, particularly not the major leagues. Mexico had just 12 players on Opening Day major league rosters this year, far below the the tiny Dominican Republic's total of 66. Since 1933, in fact, Mexico has had just 78 major leaguers, and not since Fernando Valenzuela rocked the Dodgers in the '80s has Mexico produced a bonafide superstar. …

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