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Sunday, March 19, 2023

The importance of baseball in Mexico

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This past weekend, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres faced off in Monterrey, Mexico. The first pitch on May 4th marked the first time a regular season game had been played in Mexico since 1999. On Friday night, May 4, the Los Angeles Dodgers threw a combined no-hitter behind Walker Buehler and company, but the story in Mexico has been of Padres’ third baseman, Christian Villanueva.

Christian Villanueva was the NL Rookie of the Month in April after hitting .321 with 9 home runs and 20 RBIs, but he is also the only player on either the Padres or Dodgers from Mexico. He was honored with being able to catch the ceremonial first pitch from Fernando Valenzuela as a result. Unlike the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, or Puerto Rico, baseball’s popularity has not spread in Mexico nearly as effectively as those other countries. Only eleven of the two hundred and fifty-four MLB players born outside of the United States on the 2018 Opening Day roster were from Mexico. There were 877 players on the Opening Day Rosters and disabled lists, and only ELEVEN were from Mexico. The spread of baseball in Mexico has become extremely important, and the MLB offices are obviously placing a high priority by playing a series in Mexico.

The player that changed the entire face of Mexican baseball, the man that was mentioned already, was Fernando Valenzuela. There were Mexican-born players before and after him, but there was perhaps no player that made a bigger impact on the league for players born outside of the United States than Valenzuela. Fernando was a contributor in shaping the fan base for the Los Angeles Dodgers from businessmen to a true depiction of the Los Angeles community. The landscape for Mexican-born players in baseball could not have had a larger shift after Valenzuela dominated in the 1981 season. Valenzuela became the first and only pitcher thus far to have won both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season.

Fast forward to May 4-6 of 2018 where the Padres and Dodgers played in Monterrey, Mexico. There has not been a player from Mexico with nearly the same amount of importance as Valenzuela, but Vinny Castilla was a product of the door that Valenzuela knocked down. The stadium in Monterrey is not nearly as large as an MLB stadium, but the fans in attendance are more or less irrelevant to the point of having baseball in Mexico.

The entire point of having the third ever regular season series in Mexico (of which the Padres have participated in all three) is to help a large country contribute a number of players to the MLB that is similar to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, or the Dominican. Also, the game of baseball is working to become a larger sport, internationally, in terms of popularity. Baseball has taken a dip in popularity in the United States, and the effort to spread the game of baseball in Mexico is critical for the success of Major League Baseball, especially as the cost to play the game continues to rise dramatically.

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