Earlier this year, as long-empty sports stadiums finally started letting fans back in, Mexico was forced to go in the other direction. The national soccer team is known as El Tri (the tricolor of red, white…and green, as Martin Lawrence said in “Blue Streak”). Well, it seems that the many followers of El Tri have been so vulgar in their treatment of the players on visiting teams that FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, has banned all fans from all home games at Aztec Stadium for the remainder of the qualifying period for the 2022 World Cup. Despite pleas from Mexican officials, as well as from members of the national team, thousands of people in the stands—you can’t really call them “fans”—have been chanting a homophobic slur at visiting players. (Also, a player on the United States team was hit in the head by a thrown cup of beer.)
So now, El Tri will have to play home matches against Jamaica and Canada in a totally empty stadium, COVID-style.
Fortunately, fans of baseball in Mexico never display any kind of negative behavior in the stands. (That may sound sarcastic, but it mostly isn’t. Although there was that incident, many years ago, when I was playing in a game in Mexico. Somebody in the stands called me a “gringo” and then threw a head of cabbage at me. Cabbage! And that woman had an arm on her. I was still in my knucklehead stage, so I picked up the cabbage, wiped the dirt off and took a bite, To this day, I hate cabbage.)
In all seriousness, ardent fans of Mexican baseball teams are a delight. They take the game seriously but there is also a festive air to the games. It’s not just a game, it’s an event. And fortunately, Tucsonans can take in the entire experience without having to travel as the 10th Annual Vamos a Tucson Mexican Baseball Fiesta is coming to town at the end of September. The Fiesta will feature four of the top teams from the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana Del Pacifico)—the Yaquis de Obregon, Aguilas de Mexicali, Mayos de Novojoa and the local fan favorites, the Naranjeros de Hermosillo.
Just for your edifications, Aguilas means eagles. Yaquis means, well, Yaquis. It’s doubtful that they will soon (or ever) change their name to Guardians. Mayos is tricky. On their decal, it looks like a native male Mayan dancer, complete with elk antlers on his head. But the official mascot looks like the San Diego Chicken. And finally, we have the Naranjeros, which either means Orangemen or Orange Pickers, depending on whom you ask. Either way, they and their many fans wear orange…all the time.
Fans of the four teams (and of baseball, in general) will be treated to two games per night at Kino Stadium from Thursday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 3, with a special surprise game to close the Fiesta.
The tournament’s popularity is such that it now takes place in three locales over a three-week period. The fun kicks off with a two-game set in Las Vegas between Hermosillo and Mexicali the weekend of Sept. 16-17. After a week off, it moves to Phoenix with games in Mesa and Maryvale Sept. 23-26.
Just as potential Broadway productions start off in Connecticut somewhere to work out all the kinks, after the stopovers in Las Vegas and Phoenix, the Fiesta hits the big time with its culmination in Tucson.
The teams will play a round-robin schedule the first three nights. A live performance by the popular Sonoran band, La Brissa, will follow Friday’s games.
On Sunday, Oct. 3, Mexicali will face Navojoa at 3:30 p.m. Immediately following that game, Obregon will take on the new-look University of Arizona Wildcats. Much has happened since Arizona made in to the College World Series a couple months back. So successful had been UA Coach Jay Johnson that he got poached away by perennial national power LSU. Apparently, they offered him twice as much money as he had been making in Tucson, plus all the humidity he could stand.
The UA moved quickly and brought in Wildcat legend (and highly respected throughout all baseball) Chip Hale. This game will give fans the first look at Hale’s Wildcats as they open up a brief Fall schedule before shutting down for the winter and coming back in February.
Tickets for the games are now on sale at MexicanBaseballFiesta.com. Box seats are $15 and general admission is $10. The price for senior citizens or kids age 6-16 is $6. Ticket sales, which started Aug. 25, are already brisk and in this (sorta) post-pandemic time, the crowds at the Fiesta should be huge.
One thing is certain: the energy level will be off the charts.
EXTRA POINTS: In the season opener for both teams, Amphi got by Flowing Wells in a football game that was uglier than Steve Buscemi’s less-attractive brother … Flowing Wells jumped out to a 12-0 lead, thanks to an interception return for a TD and a short TD run set up by a botched punt attempt by Amphi … But the Panthers stormed back behind a powerful run game, led by Kiko Trejo, to take a 13-12 lead into halftime … Amphi eventually opened up a two-score lead before a late Caballero touchdown made the final score, 27-24, Amphi … The game lasted almost three hours, dragged down by nearly 30 combined penalties for the two teams … Arizona State beat up on Southern Utah in its season opener … The Sun Devils are co-favorites to win the Pac 12-South title and are undisputedly favorites to get hammered by the NCAA for egregious recruiting violations … Maybe both things will happen at the same time…