|A big crowd gathered at Esadio Gasmart in Tijuana for the Toros' game against Ensenada on June 8.|
Minor league baseball can be wacky. My experience with entertainment from Mexico (mostly the Bee Guy from “The Simpsons”) has shown it to be wacky as well. So what do you get when you combine minor league baseball AND Mexico? That’s right, infinite wackiness.
Knowing how much Christina and I like minor league baseball, her friend Cynthia suggested that we might enjoy a visit to Estadio Gasmart for a Toros de Tijuana game. Cynthia has visited Tijuana a few times with Turista Libre, which runs day trips in northern Baja California.
The Toros play in Mexico’s Northern League, which is not to be confused with the AAA-level Mexican League. We were still trying to figure out the particulars, but it seems like this six-team league – with teams also located in Ensenada, Tecate, Mexicali, San Luis Rio Colorado and San Quintin -- plays at a AA level. The Tijuana roster included a few players who had been part of major league organizations here in the United States, most notably Reggie Abercrombie, who worked his way through the Marlins chain to play parts of two seasons in Miami, and also saw some time as a Houston Astro.
Still, a lot of this was unknown to us, so it was with some trepidation that we headed to San Ysidro earlier this month to meet with with Cynthia and about 15 other folks to seek out authentic Mexican cuisine and a Toros game against the Ensenada Marineros. We were met near the border by former Union-Tribune writer Derrik Chinn, the brains behind Turisa Libre, which he admits he started after having difficulty convincing friends from nearby San Diego to visit him and see the sights in Tijuana.
|We parked on the U.S. side and walked into Tijuana.|
The crossing into Mexico on foot was quick and before we knew it we were walking toward the spot where the bus would pick us up. We were waiting for two more groups who would meet us there and then we were on our way. Since this was more of an overall tourist venture, the group stopped for some authentic Mexican cuisine -- Christina had a tripe taco -- and then picked up some beer before continuing on to the stadium.
The bus driver had to take us on a couple of back streets to get around traffic, and it was already the fourth inning when we got inside the stadium, but we still had plenty of time to get a sense of what minor league baseball is like south of the border.
Christina and I had just found seats a section or two past first base when Javier Brito, a former Astros and Padres prospect, and Abercrombie hit back-to-back home runs to give Tijuana a 2-0 lead. When Brito hit his homer, we noticed that everyone came out of the dugout, but his first congratulations came from the team’s gorilla mascot, Chango 0.
As it turned out, the mascots pretty much had the run of the place, with a chicken named Pollo Layo getting much more involved with the umpire at first base than the San Diego Chicken or Philly Phanatic would dare. The chicken even transitioned from the Ensenada side of the field to the first base line during one at bat. Toro Torin (the bull who serves at the main mascot), Pollo Layo and a gorilla named Chango O were seldom out of sight, and filled much of the 2 ½-minute changeovers with help from cheerleaders. During one of the skits the chicken came out dressed as a police officer but eventually ended up nearly naked. I am still quite shaken.
|This was a little more over the top than the work of the San Diego Chicken or Philly Phanatic.|
|At one point, Pollo Layo ran from the Ensenda side of the field between pitches.|
|A nearly naked masot...still scary.|
Music was played between pitches during each at bat, including some tunes familiar to ballpark denizens in the U.S. At one point, the scoreboard showed people in the stands, such as a guy wearing a cowboy hat, and appropriate music was played to the delight of the crowd.
Another time, a guy who looked like Pitbull (thanks for clearing that up, Christina) was shown and they played a Pitbull song and would not leave him alone until he obeyed the request that he dance (“Que baile! Que baile!”) displayed on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the public address announcer talked very fast and was quite boisterous; delivering the name of each Toros batter twice (JAVIER BRITO!!!! Javier Brito.)
|These items were 50 pesos, or about $4.|
In the stands, the vendors got a workout, selling everything from plates of shrimp and meat to churros filled with several kinds of icing and even American ice cream.
We recognized the cotton candy despite different packaging, but there were bags of other items we had no idea about. The vendors also sold $1 Tecate beers with paper cups dipped in a hot pepper powder. Hot dogs and hamburgers were available from stands throughout the concourse.
|The vendors even sold plates of meat and shrimp in the stands.|
The atmosphere was amazing. As Christina noted, it was almost like something from a dream. The excitement was palpable, even if some of the baseball was a little less sound than one might like. (We got to see two rundowns between first and second base within 15 minutes of sitting down.)
|Former Marlin and Astro Reggie Abercrombie|
As the game winded down with the Toros up 3-0, I wanted to head down behind the Toros dugout because I had brought along two cards to be signed by REHHIE ABERCROMBIE (as the PA guy was calling the former Carolina Mudcat and Albuquerque Isotope). We got there just as the game was ending, and called out Reggie’s name. He stopped, and was nice enough to autograph the cards.
It was a great time, and going in a group with Turista Libre certainly helped allay any fears I might have had about going to the stadium, which recently underwent $2 million in renovations. The bus ride and game ticket was only $15 for each of us, so it was a great deal.
Christina and I had such a good time that we might go back, although the league’s season only lasts from May to July, so it would have to be next year.The parking lot had a lot of cars with California plates, and it turns out the stadium is not far from the border crossing at the 905, which is not quite as busy as the station right in downtown Tijuana.
|Reggie Abercrombie is congratulated after fourth-inning homer.|
For those who wonder about these things, the businesses we went into and all of the stadium vendors and concessions accepted U.S. dollars at 12 pesos each, which is a good rate, and yes you need a passport even if you are only going to Tijuana. Most of the fans we encountered in the ballpark were friendly, even if we could not converse very well. The smile after a home run does not require translation.