Part of my goal for this summer is to experience as much baseball as possible. As such, I couldn’t pass up the Mexico Series. This year, MLB scheduled three, two-game, weekend series in Monterrey, Mexico. My two days in Mexico was the last of the three. The Angels were playing the Astros, so I got the chance to see Mike Trout a few more times as well.
The morning after my visit to Angels Stadium, I drove back to Los Angeles for the flight to Monterrey. I bought my plane tickets early so I could get the only nonstop flight on Delta. And I only fly Delta because the points get me perks.
I have to say, I learned a few things on the trip. The good people of Mexico people have a sense of humor and are tolerant — I’m very grateful for their help. I had a great time and saw a great example that “baseball is like a liquid.”
So what did I learn?
Understand The Language – Even a Little Bit
Silly me, I just got on a plane with a passport, camera, and iPhone and assumed that the Mexican would cater to my inability to speak the language. I jokingly tweeted 1 about my lack of knowledge in Spanish and said I needed to prep better for the London trip.
It was difficult to order at a restaurant, take an Uber or cab and so many more things. It’s a good experience to have if you want to understand what refugees experience when they come to the U.S.
Research is Good, as Well
It would have been a good idea to research and find restaurants that made traditional Mexican food but accommodated English speakers. I didn’t do that.
Moreover, I didn’t read about the stadium rules and learn that cameras were not allowed. I can get into ballparks with my camera and a short lens (55mm) and a small zoom lens (70mm to 250mm). Occasionally, I bring my long lens that extends to 400mm, and I can see players up close.
So, I showed up with my small sling camera bag and security told me “no cameras!” What to do? I found an English speaking guy who worked with MLB security, and we discussed it. My suave, New York communication style did not change anyone’s opinion. The result was, I couldn’t come in with any cameras, and there was no place to store them. So I quickly jumped into an Uber and made a 45-minute round trip back to the hotel. I had a good Uber driver who waited while I went to my room and dropped off the camera. Luckily, I get to stadiums early, so I had time.
Finally, I had to continue my tradition of buying the home team’s cap at the stadium and taking a selfie in the stadium. To that point, I have a new page, devoted to the subject that is almost ready to launch. It has a selfie at each game with a different cap – kind of cool.
I needed my Mexico hat! However, I had to wait about 45 minutes when I finally got inside the stadium to get into the merchandise store. I should have known better and realized that everyone would want a Mexico Series cap or two. So I waited, waited, and waited. By the time I got inside the shop, the fitted hat I wanted wasn’t available in my size.
I know better now. For London, I’ll buy online before I leave or at the merchandise store, that was set up in another part of the city.
Baseball in Mexico
Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey
The Baseball Stadium in Monterrey, also known as Sultan Place, opened in 1990, but it seemed older when I visited. It is the home of the Mexican League team, Monterrey Sultanes.
The cement structure, handrails, concession stands, hallways just made it seem older than roughly 30 years old. MLB and other websites 2 say that the stadium holds 27,000, but the Monterrey Sultanes web site says 22,061. 3 Either way, the Sultan Palace is a cute if somewhat utilitarian ballpark. The fans seem to have fun.
The city of Monterrey is 1,772 ft. above sea level. The only MLB stadium that is higher is Coors Field in Denver. 4 I’m not sure if it was the climate or the altitude but the ball seems to carry well. Frankly, what do I know? I was up in the third level (“tank”) and it was just my impression that batted balls seemed to carry. I later found this quote that confirms my suspicions “it rewards hard contact on the ground or in the air. 5
The upper deck in the stadium is very steep. My seat (both days) was in the second to last row of the upper deck, so I had a bit of a climb. My thought was, what will it take for me to go down and up again. I mean how bad will I need to pee to make that dangerous trip.
However, then I turned around and saw the view! The view is beautiful, possibly the prettiest view from a ballpark that I have ever seen. The view of San Francisco Bay from (what they now call) Oracle Park is excellent, but the view in Monterrey is much different and better. Tall mountains surround the ballpark.
The Mountains of Monterrey
When I looked to my left from my seat a little past third base, I saw the Cerro de la Silla over the left field fence. It’s tallest point, Pico Norte (North Peak) is 5,740 ft. tall. 6
As I panned to my right, I saw the Cerro de Chipinque in center and right field, over the scoreboard. Its elevation is 7,313 ft. tall. 7
Finally, way to the right and almost behind home plate is the Cerro de las Mitras standing 6,752 ft. tall. 8
Not something you see every day at the old local ballyard.
Surprisingly, the games weren’t sold out. Approximately 18,000 attended each day. Moreover, it’s not clear how many local fans attended as opposed to American tourists. It seemed like many people from Houston made the less than 500-mile drive to Monterrey and cheer for their team. On Saturday, the people sitting next to me were from Houston and bilingual – which for me was very helpful.
Whatever their origin, the atmosphere was electric and festive. People were celebratory. It didn’t hurt that the Astros beat the Angels 14 – 2 on Saturday and 10 – 4 on Sunday.
The fans were very enthusiastic between innings with the normal scoreboard activities “kiss cam” etc. However, they did one I had never seen before and love. It’s called “Simba Cam.” They play the music from the Lion King while fans hold up their children above and in front of them. Just like the movie. Of course, the camera pans and captures the action on the scoreboard. It looked like fun, and here I was not speaking the language with no toddler to display. I almost thought about renting one. However, that may not have gone over well.
I didn’t eat much but was fascinated by the differences between the concession practices in American ballparks and Mexico. Vendors tend to sell packaged, finished products in the U.S. Not so in Monterrey, where they assemble the food in front of the fans.
For example, I saw a food vendor carrying a tray with six containers filled with various nuts. I guess that the fan requests their preferred assortment, and the vendor puts it together. He likely adds a nice shot of chili powder that is prevalent in Monterrey.
Speaking of chili powder, the seasoning (possibly mixed with a few others) is dispensed from a squeeze bottle commonly used for syrup. Yes, they have syrup bottles filled with chili powder that they use as needed.
The chili powder is used everywhere, including on corn chips. So the vendor walks around with a tray filled with bags of Fritos and other types of chips. When a fan orders one, he opens the bag and “whoosh” he dispenses another big puff of chili powder.
They serve beer in big plastic cups that hold two bottles worth. The vendor holds two bottles, uses a bottle opener two open both at once and then pours them into the cup. They do this in the stands. Moreover, the bottles are carried around in giant metal tubs and were placed at the bottom of the stairs and halfway up the stands. The vendors would run up and down the stairs, get the beers, deliver to the patron and get paid. Much different than a vendor carrying a plastic tub of beer cans.
Mangos, Chamoy, Chili Powder and Lime
My favorite food was a revelation. The vendor walks through the park with 10-ounce plastic cups filled with various fruits, mangos, pineapple, and possibly strawberries. The fan has a choice of three toppings: chili powder, chamoy, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Chamoy is a sauce made of pickled fruit that “will make your summer sweet, tangy, and a little spicy.” 9 I didn’t understand the experience, but “Alex” the very accommodating, bilingual, Astro fan sitting to my left explained it to me. When it was my turn to order, a woman in his group said I should get all three toppings. Who was I to argue?
The vendor grabbed a cup of mangos cut into cubes and squeezed some Chamoy from a plastic syrup bottle. Then he grabbed the ubiquitous chili powder squeeze bottle and added a nice shot of spice. Finally, he took out a lime squeezer and squeezed fresh lime juice over the entire concoction.
I dutifully mixed it all around a took a taste. There was the fruity mango taste, mixed with sweet and sour, spicy with a hint of lime. Fantastic on a hot day with a cold beer.
It’s something I’m going to try at home. I’ve already ordered my Chamoy.
The Sultanes Monster Dog
An excellent dog and possibly a famous one as it was part of the 2019 MLB Food Fest in Los Angeles. 10 With that said, I’m not exactly sure what I ate, and internet research only goes so far.
The dog was long and thick – clearly a “jumbo” dog – served on a hearty roll. It was topped with a creamy, spicy sauce and some crunchy things – bacon bits? The pictures on the internet tend to show a dog smothered in cheese sauce. These were available but not what I got.
It’s a grilled dog, so it was crunchy with some char, and it had a spicy taste. Further research indicates that it may be Chorizo sausage or have Chorizo mixed in. I think it was the latter.
It’s served with some potato chips, and cut in half, so it’s easier to manipulate. There are additional condiments, but no brown mustard, and I didn’t feel the need to have much more.
I couldn’t finish it, but it scores very high on my lihttps://4bases4kids.com/ballparks-hot-dogs-and-other-lists/#Hot_Dogsst.
There is no need to repeat what good baseball writers have done. Here are links to a recap for each game if you want to read about them. May 4th/Game 1, May 5th/ Game 2. Here are a few things that struck me as impressive:
I was surprised to see Pujols playing first base in the first game. I thought he only DH’d and no longer played the field. In that game, he hit a home run for his 1,999 RBI. Only four other hitters in history have 2,000 RBI – Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Cap Anson, and Alex Rodriguez. Although, I would have stayed anyway, the chance to see him get his 2,000th was another incentive.
Harvey is an ex-Met, so his performance interested me. As many know, he suffered a series of debilitating injuries. He missed the entire 2014 after Tommy John surgery. In 2016, he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which required surgery to remove his first rib. In 2017 he didn’t pitch well and missed time due to a stress fracture in his scapula. 11
Last year, his pitching never improved, and he landed in Cincinnati after he and the Mets disagreed on an improvement plan. After showing some promise with the Reds in 2018, he signed a free agent deal with the Angels.
In the fifth inning on Sunday, he hit Robinson Chirinos with one out. After Adremys Diaz flew out for the second out, George Springer singled, and then Harvey walked Jose Altuve. At that point, Manager Brad Asmus replaced him, with Cam Bedrosian. Removing Harvey surprised me since he was pitching well, throwing strikes, and hadn’t thrown a lot of pitches. Bedrosian’s first two pitches to Alex Bregman were balls. Possibly feeling the pressure to get a strike, Bedrosian grooved the next pitch. Bregman hit it over the centerfield wall, and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Another ex-Met, Hansel Robles, is now the Angels closer. Robles was ineffective with the Mets and released. I was surprised to find he had resurfaced in Los Angeles.
More surprising is Robles’ absurd entrance routine. They play the “undertaker theme” over an ominous video, with a white horse and flower petals. Yeah, I don’t get it either. Moreover, they play the gong from the song each time Robles records a strikeout.
This type of grand entrance may be appropriate for some. For example, Mariano Rivera the greatest of all time deserved the “Enter Sandman” entrance “off to never-never land.” But in the Angels’ case, we’re talking Hansel “f’ng” Robles who doesn’t have the record to justify this treatment.
Any pitcher has to live up to the entrance or will look foolish. On Sunday, the Astros blistered Robles, and he looked foolish as did the Angels.
Please read my post about “The Angels of Anaheim” where I discuss Trout’s impressive play.
Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was not at his best. He seemed to struggle at times. Additionally, he was surprised by the way the ball carried. David Fletcher greeted him on his first pitch with a bomb to left field. From my perch, it seemed like Verlander might be thinking, “WTF that should be a fly out!”. The critical point is that Verlander is a master, and there was no question that he was in control. He would find a way to win. All in all, he pitched seven innings, gave up three home runs, but won the game.
Every team needs a stud pitcher. A leader that the team has total confidence in and knows he will do battle as needed. They will follow him into the breach and do battle as well.
Verlander is one of those guys.
As far as I can tell, the Astros are the best team in baseball. They dismantled a pretty good Angels team.
The Astros are a result of a lot of high draft choices from their “tanking” days. They simply decided for four years that they would not make an effort to win in the major leagues. They would save their money, lose games, and earn the draft choices needed to rebuild their team. It’s a sad way to manage a ball club, but it works. Just ask the Braves, Phillies, and Cubs who did the same to a certain degree.
With that said, the Astros are also one of the best analytic teams and know how to pick and develop players. That’s why their draft picks are still with the club and are playing well. It’s also why they have a second baseman who stands 5′ 6″ and is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Most teams wouldn’t add a young, unproven Jose Altuve to their organization. The Astros and are reaping the benefits.
I can’t wait to see them again in Houston on May 20th.
After Mexico, I traveled back to Southern California to visit Petco Park and Dodgers Stadium before I headed home.
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- Please follow me on Twitter at @nomadbaseball
- See “Stadiums of Mexico“
- See Sultanes web site.
- Jeff Mallet, “The Drill: Highest stadiums above sea level”, 2011
- “Homer-happy Bregman launches 2nd slam of ’19,” MLB.com
- Wikipedia – Cerro de la Silla
- Wikipedia – Cerro de Chipinque
- Wikipedia – Cerro de las Mitras
- Tommy Werner, “Chamoy Sauce Will Make Your Summer Sweet, Tangy, and a Little Spicy,” Epicurious, April 24, 2019
- “The Monster Dog Is Part Of The MLB Food Fest Menu”
- see Wikipedia for Matt Harvey’s sordid injury history