Letter from Mexico
Friday 29 June @ 14:14:10
The Mexican League
by STAN GOTLIEB
While it is little known north of the border, there is strong support for both baseball and basketball in Mexico. So far, there is no national basketball league, but Mexico has had a Big Show for years.
Here in Oaxaca, our Guerreros (warriors) are always among the finalists for the league championship and have won more than their share of trophies. With the bottomless billions of native son and local resident Alfredo Harp Helu on the board of Citibank, retired from running Banamex (The Bank of Mexico), philanthropist and culture vulture to draw from, our version of the Yankees does not lack for funds.
The Guerreros play in a stadium that nominally belongs to the University, but is hardly ever used except for Guerrero games. It holds a few thousand fans, and is rarely full during the regular season, despite a general admission price of 40 pesos ($3.70 in U.S. dollars), about 5 pesos more than a movie ticket. There is a discount of 25 percent for senior citizens. Preferred seating right down on the field, behind foul ball protection, is 60 pesos, with no discount. It takes up less than 5 percent of the available seating. There are no sky boxes.
My buddy Max and I attended our once-yearly game the other day. Being rich gringos and thinking it unlikely that we would make a habit of it, we opted for seats right behind and slightly to the right of home plate.
I confess I have never been that close to home before—never that close to the action, period, except for one time as a kid when I sat in Stan Musial’s box in Wrigley Field (but that’s another story). It was both a thrill, and a little eerie: When you are sitting where we were, just about everyone else in the stadium is behind you.
Vendors ply the stands. There are trays full of candies, cigarettes, peanuts and tiny bottles of fruit drink; pails of iced beer, soda and fruit juice; coffee; personal size Domino’s pizza—room temperature although brought in a hot bag, usually Hawaiiana (a combination of ham, and pineapple); micro-waved popcorn served cool with a hot sauce; donuts and sweet rolls: all priced at the same cost or less, than what one would pay in most entertainment venues. Alas, if you want a hotdog or a torta (sandwich served in a hard roll) you must go to the stand on the far end of right field, in the basement (although, take it from me, the walk is worth it).
Attendance was poor when we were there, but the attendees were definitely hard core, creating enough noise for 10 times their counterpart in the Humpty Dome. Partisanship is definitely an important element of the game down here, and politeness is left behind on the other side of the entrance gate. Oaxacans take their role as fans seriously. They critique their players’ mistakes with acerbic humor, in a loud voice. They let the ump know when they don’t like a call, making suggestions for sex acts with various members of his family or barnyard. When the stands are sufficiently full, they are known to make ollas (waves), just like you do.
We were unfortunate enough to be seated just below a party of dedicated noise makers. They had a fire engine siren, which they cranked up to almost unbearable levels; they had a clacker that could be made to imitate the Gatling gun. They drummed out a beat on their seats. If they weren’t already working for the management, then the management certainly ought to consider hiring them. They could easily inject animo into the whole stadium. They certainly kept us awake.
Baseball has to be an incredibly difficult game to play, judging from my own experiences and observations. I say this because all my life I have watched all but a handful of paid athletes, who have trained most of their lives to play baseball, fumble and bobble and miss what appeared to me to be easy moves.
In that respect, the Mexican League does not disappoint. In fact, there are so many unforced errors in the average ballgame that most are ignored. Even so, many times, the scorekeepers will post more errors than runs (and generally the games are not low-scoring).
No ballgame would be complete without the dancing girls, and the Guerreros have a dozen of them. They wear very short skirts over black spandex shorts, and abbreviated halter tops that manage, against what seems impossible odds and the laws of gravity, to hold their bouncing breasts in place. As they run off the field, a couple of politically incorrect wags yell leche (milk). There is some laughter.
The game was a little slow, what with breaks for the dancers, introduction of ticket drawing winners, and clever crowd pleasers like the young men from the audience who volunteered to spin round and round, and then fell down.
After five innings in two hours, and with the Guerreros looking like hopeless losers at 7-3, Max and I took our leave. We didn’t want to overdo it.
Baseball, while popular, is not likely to supplant soccer as the number one spectator sport in Mexico: We saw at least two personal portable TVs in the stands, tuned to a Cup game. One was in the row in front of us. When the Mexican team scored, cheers of “GOAL” went up all over the place, including from the home-team dugout.
Stan Gotlieb lives and writes from Oaxaca, Mexico.