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Trip to Mexico shows that baseball truly is a global game

For one Saturday night each month of the season, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays Double-A affiliate) are throwing a nine-inning celebration to honor our local Latinx and Hispanic culture. The initiative is called Copa De La Diversion (The Fun Cup), and we’ve joined more than 70 teams across Minor League Baseball by changing our team name, logo and jerseys to a new identity: Gatos Feroces de New Hampshire. Before our final Gatos Feroces game on Aug. 24, I wanted to get a taste of how it’s done in Mexico. I took a trip to see the Toros de Tijuana play the Diablos Rojos de Mexico and reconnected with one of our former Fisher Cats, who reminded me that baseball truly is a global game.

When I first sat down with Francisco Rios at Delta Dental Stadium back in early May, I figured we’d talk again later in the season – I just didn’t think it would happen in Tijuana, Mexico. As I began to pack my bags for a business trip from Boston to San Diego, I couldn’t help but wonder: How many times in our lives are we truly making the most of an opportunity at hand? From personal experience, it’s our human nature to miss what we know best from home. Our families, friends, native food, bed and very own culture. 

When Francisco and I had our first Q&A, we both were feeling a little homesick at the time; I had recently moved from California, and Francisco hailed all the way from Coahuila, Mexico, as he entered his third season here in New Hampshire. We both agreed that we missed our favorite dish that both our mothers and abuelitas used to make: Chicken Mole. Since Rios was loaned to the Diablos Rojos de Mexico on May 28, I’m sure he’s had plenty of it.

I entered Tijuana via San Ysidro via the Puerto Frontera El Chaparral, and was quickly taken aback by the sights and sounds of the most heavily populated border crossing in the entire world. After navigating through the port of entry, I asked a taxi driver how much it would take to get to Estadio Chevron. “100 pesos,” he said. I hopped in.

We traveled from Zona Norte to La Colonia Capistrano, where the Toros de Tijuana have played since 1977. The Toros, along with the Diablos Rojos, are part of a 16-team Triple-A league organized by Minor League Baseball.

I’ve heard stories about the energy and atmosphere of baseball games in Latin America, and Tijuana lived up to the hype. This place was packed, and never left a dull moment. Noise makers, sirens, music, chanting — you name it – these fans were having a nine-inning fiesta, and that’s what we want to create in Manchester for Copa De La Diversion.

My good friend DJ Gregorio, the Official DJ of the Toros, gave me the grand tour, starting with the best ballpark food south of the border. Tacos de Puerquito Horneado, Gorditas de Picadillo con Papas, Tamales de Puerco en Salsa Roja, Churros, Elotes, Ensalada de Fruta and Tacos al Vapor had my stomach and my heart full.

I figured we’d enjoy the rest of the game and hopefully see Francisco afterward, but the next thing I know, DJ Gregorio turns to me and says, “Do you want to go see him?”

In New Hampshire, we let the players do their thing. No outside distractions once the first pitch is thrown. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Mexico, and I couldn’t let it go to waste.

We made our way down to the Diablos Rojos dugout on the 3rd base side of the stadium, but Francisco was nowhere to be seen. “Should we check for him in the bullpen?” suggested DJ Gregorio. “Suena como un buen idea (sounds like a good idea)!” I replied, and we were on our way toward the left field fence. When walking to the outfield, you can’t help but notice the aroma of fresh carne asada being cooked on traditional charcoal from the Sonora region of Mexico. One of food items that both Francisco and I craved for the most was now 30 feet away from the pitcher’s rubber. 

As I got closer towards the home plate area of the bullpen, a Diablos Rojo pitcher yells out, “Francisco, tienes un amigo aqui (Francisco, you have a friend here)!” With quick hop from the front part of the bullpen, Francisco emerged with a big smile. I knew he was at work and wanted to ensure his focus remained on the game, but I made sure he knew that his teammates back in New Hampshire missed his presence in the clubhouse. As Fisher Cat’s Coach Andy Fermin put it, “Dele que lo queiro mucho (tell him that I love him very much)!” Francisco mentioned throughout our talk that he can’t wait to be back in New Hampshire and pitch for the Gatos Feroces some day soon. With any luck, it’ll be on August 24 for our final Copa De La Diversion game of 2020. Once a Fisher Cat, always a Fisher Cat.

Art Romero is the diversity outreach coordinator for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays Double-A affiliate).