it is little known on this side 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. currency) 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 Musials 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 Dominos 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 ball game 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 personable
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.