San Diego Padres starting pitcher Yu Darvish works against a San Francisco Giants player during the third inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 30, 2023, in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
MEXICO CITY — Major League Baseball’s first regular-season foray into North America’s biggest market has been a resounding success, with sellout crowds, passionate fans and rave reviews from players (yes, even the pitchers). So, with Commissioner Rob Manfred already talking openly about expansion, why not Mexico City?
The atmosphere, with a cacophony of loud people, karaoke from a crowd that put “Sweet Caroline” to shame at Fenway Park and alternating chants of “Let’s go Giants!” and “Let’s go Padres!” is second to none, and even a pair of losses to the Padres – falling in the Finals on Sunday, 6-4 – can’t spoil the Giants’ perception of the trip.
“I think it’s great,” infielder JD Davis said. “It’s a bit of a launching pad and everything. Apparently, pitchers probably don’t like him that much. It’s fun. The atmosphere is great. I think it’s electric. It’s just a great place to play. I have nothing bad (to say) about it.
However, the launchpad is putting it lightly, as there was no bigger story than the offense this weekend, mostly through home runs – 11 on Saturday and four more on Sunday – meeting little resistance from the thin air 7,350 feet above sea level. MLB has played exhibitions here before, but never games that count in the stat column, which can have financial implications for pitchers.
Asked after his start Saturday if the middle is viable for pitchers, Sean Manaea said: “Yeah, I mean if the average ERA is 6.00.
“If guys are getting paid like that, then why not. It’s going to be a very interesting dynamic here.”
While assistant John Brebbia had perhaps the most complete cultural experience of any, visiting the famed archeology museum, taking in a lucha libre wrestling match, walking many miles and even visiting some pre-approved local restaurants, he chuckled at the idea of a team full time in CDMX.
“From what we’ve seen so far, it’s so drastically different than a typical regular-season baseball game,” Brebbia said. “But the city is great. And the fans are great. … God forbid someone goes through arbitration or becomes a free agent and has to come up here. Arbitrage doesn’t give (expletive) where you play, so there’s not a lot of fairness if you happen to stay here — you’re not staying here, again, it’s a great place — but you have to play here against a place like San Francisco, they’re not comparable to anything. So there would have to be some type of pretty extreme buffer or system to figure out how to equate the two.”
Manager Gabe Kapler said this weekend’s venue, Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú, home of the Mexican League’s Red Devils, who have made baseball work here for more than 80 years, is comparable to a premier Triple-A ballpark. With a capacity of just over 20,000, MLB will almost certainly require a brand new venue with more seating in line with the rest of the league, especially in a market with more than 20 million potential fans.
The new course would also allow for more appropriate dimensions, even after those here were adjusted from 325 to 331 feet to each foul and from 400 to 410 in center field. Outfielder Mitch Haniger offered 430 feet to center and an additional 20 feet to the corners, though even those fences wouldn’t hold up to either of his two huge hits this weekend, including a 460-foot solo shot Sunday (one of nine total to travel 440- plus feet).
Haniger was playing his second international series after traveling to Tokyo with the Seattle Mariners in 2019.
“Both of my experiences playing at the international level were really fun,” Haniger said. “In front of these crowds here and when I was in Japan, the energy is a little different. I’d say it’s a little better than sometimes in the states. It’s definitely fun to play here.”
That said, “I think it’s going to be a challenge,” Haniger added. “I don’t know the answer. Playing at that altitude is certainly different.”
There are other potential complications. More than 600 miles south of the border, the closest MLB city is Houston, where the Giants head next, a 2½-hour flight away. While the Giants stayed in the posh Polanco neighborhood, with more Top 50 restaurants in a square mile than in all of San Francisco, and the city is as safe as any major metropolis, some players may be dissuaded by misconceptions about foreign city.
A half-mile higher than Coors Field in Colorado, catcher Blake Sabol sipped on supplemental oxygen to keep him fresh through all nine innings behind the plate Saturday, and Brebbia said he toned down his usual workout routine to avoid exhaustion , before entering the game.
There’s also no shortage of domestic markets that could be a good fit, such as Las Vegas, Nashville and Charlotte.
And then the beef, some of which contains traces of steroids, is causing teams to supply their own meat for this series and discourage their players from eating out. Is this a sustainable way for players to live through a 162-game season?
“Every time we walk past some of these taco stands,” Davis said, “I’m like, man … take a chance?”
While Manfred said in 2016 that Mexico City would be one of his two “personal favorites” for expansion (along with Montreal), in comments to the San Francisco Chronicle this weekend, the commissioner said the hope is to turn the country “into something like Japan, with a burgeoning domestic product, great players coming to the big leagues, everybody’s boats are rising.”
Additionally, Manfred said he “can’t say enough good things” about the build-up to this weekend’s games and that MLB has “clubs lining up” to play in the next series here.
“Mr. Harp has done a phenomenal job,” Manfred said, referring to Alfredo Harp Helu, the Red Devils’ owner who also has a partial stake in the Padres. , great atmosphere (and) facilities.’