MLB presence in Mexico goes beyond just hosting another regular-season series

Houston Astros team mascot Orbit and fans, pose for a photo backdropped by the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City, Thursday, April 25, 2024. The Houston Astros will face Colorado Rockies in two regular season game beginning Saturday, at Mexico City's Alfredo Harp Helú stadium. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

By CARLOS RODRÍGUEZ Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — When the Houston Astros take on the Colorado Rockies this weekend, it will be the seventh regular-season series played in Mexico. Major League Baseball’s presence in the country, however, goes far beyond that.

Mexico became one of only six countries in the world with an MLB office in 2016. For Rodrigo Fernandez, the head of the organization south of the border, the regular-season series may be the biggest event, but it’s far from the only one held in the country.

Among those, the MLB office runs a program called First Pitch to promote the game among kids. Another is the MLB Cup, a nation-wide tournament for 11 and 12 year olds that recently finished its fifth championship.

“For us (the series) is the cherry on top of the cake because we have many activities through the year,” Fernandez told The Associated Press. “The MLB Cup is broadcasted by ESPN and is the biggest tournament of its kind in Mexico. Those kids are Mexico’s future.”

The MLB office in Mexico, alongside the Mexican baseball federation, held the tournament with 28 teams. The finals were played in Mexico City.

“We want to send the message to kids that we are interested in them playing baseball. Many of them will probably end up being signed by the Mexican Baseball League, but also, they are going to play for the national team in their age group,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez has been the only director of the office since its creation in 2016. Before taking over, he worked as general manager of operations for World Wrestling Entertainment for Mexico and Latin America.

Besides Mexico, Major League Baseball has offices in London, Tokyo, Beijing and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The office is inside a luxury tower adjacent to the upscale Artz Pedregal shopping mall in the southern part of the city.

Even though Fernandez’s position remains the same, some of the goals from MLB in Mexico have changed. In 2016, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he wanted to see if Mexico could be a potential site for expansion. But a year ago, Manfred said he’s “never been close to the idea of Mexico as an expansion opportunity.”

“Commissioner Manfred has a commitment and very high interest in Mexico, however there are several factors that have made us change our strategies and now solidifying the local leagues is the main step for us,” Fernandez said.

The MLB office in Mexico already works closely with the Mexican baseball federation and they are trying to forge a closer relationship with the Mexican Baseball League, led by league president Horacio de la Vega.

Since de la Vega took over in 2021, the league has seen increased attendance at stadiums, the games are broadcast on national TV and on streaming services. That has helped grow the sport’s popularity among a new generation of fans.

“I think (fan attendance) has increased, before there were a lot of old people in the park,” 63-year-old fan Carlos Hernandez said before a game between the Diablos Rojos and Tigres in Mexico City. “And now there are more fans, especially young ones.”

According to Othon Diaz, the Diablos Rojos president, nine years ago 53% of the team’s fans were 55 years or older and now 74% of them are under 45. Also, they averaged 3,000 fans per game and now it’s up to 11,000.

For some of those hard-core fans, having an MLB regular-season series is nice, but only for those who can afford it.

Fernandez said tickets for the Astros-Rockies series sold out in an hour and now the asking price on the resale market goes from $70 up to $580.

“It’s a good show, but the ticket prices are a little bit high. With the cheapest one you could come (to see the Diablos Rojos) for half of a season,” said Hernandez, who went to see the Diablos with his wife and two sons.

Mexico first hosted MLB games in August 1996, when the San Diego Padres faced the New York Mets in Monterrey. The Padres faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018. And in 2019, the Cincinnati Reds played the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Houston Astros faced the Los Angeles Angels.

Mexico City was due to host a series between the Padres and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2020, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, the Padres played against the San Francisco Giants.

According to Fernandez, there are plans to bring regular-season games to Mexico every year through 2026, though not necessarily at the same venue. Meanwhile, the work continues to help spread the popularity of baseball in the country.


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