WBC Diary: Imagine if Tucson really tapped into Mexican baseball hysteria

Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Alek Thomas, a member of the Mexican baseball team in the World Baseball Classic, gets interviewed in front of a throng of Mexico fans behind him (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

This is the second installment of a daily diary from World Baseball Classic in Phoenix. I am in Phoenix freelance reporting for Field Level Media, a wire-service agency for major media outlets.

PHOENIX — Couldn’t help but think walking among a large contingent of Mexico baseball fans singing “Canta y No Llores” on the main concourse of Chase Field after the win over U.S. on Sunday night that Tucson needs to tap into this fanaticism.

Mexico fans seemed to outnumber those cheering for the U.S. in the 11-5 win in front of a sold-out Chase Field. They frequently chanted “Me-xi-co! Me-xi-co!” Mexican flags were practically in each section of the stadium.

Our city has experienced this Mexican baseball sensation with the country’s impassioned fans since 2011 with the Vamos A Tucson Mexican Baseball Fiesta at Kino Stadium.

The MBF, of which Tucson sports personality Mike Feder is the president, involves a partnership with the Liga ARCO Mexicana Del Pacifico (Mexican Winter League).

Four teams from the LMP, including the highly-popular Naranjeros de Hermosillo, come to Tucson for four days in early October for exhibition games that amount to their “spring training” games before the league starts in Mexico.

Fans pack Kino Stadium not only to watch baseball but also to be entertained by live Latin music, including a concert after each game.

Why not make it more than a weekend? How about an entire season?

Why not have Tucson feature a team in that league?

“We’ve been talking about getting a LMP team in Tucson for years,” Feder messaged me Monday. “We thought of having a regular-season series here last fall be a good start, but unfortunately, there were problems with the Mexican TV network.

“We hope to get that going again this fall. The Mexican baseball fans have proven to be so passionate over the years, it would be a great addition to the Tucson sports scene. The league is definitely aware of our interest.”

Mike Feder (left) and Francisco Gamez are active with the Mexican Baseball Fiesta (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

A series in November was scheduled at Kino between Yaquis de Obregon and Aquilas de Mexicali but it was scrapped because of the LMP’s contract with a Mexican television network. It would have marked the first time Mexican professional regular-season games were played in the United States.

Having known Feder since his days as GM of the Tucson Toros, he will work diligently to make that possibility happen again this fall.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the last time a minor-league baseball team involving a professional organization played in Tucson. The Tucson Padres, the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, ceased operations in our city and moved to El Paso after the 2013 season.

Getting baseball back in a professional capacity is long overdue for Tucson. Incorporating the impassioned Mexican fans would be a boon for Southern Arizona.

An MLS soccer team could have the same success with fans from Mexico in Phoenix, but an indoor stadium of at least 20,000 to 30,000 would have to be built to avoid playing in the hot summer days and nights.

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Had the pleasure of running into fellow former Arizona Daily Star reporter Jack Magruder on the field before the U.S.-Mexico game. Magruder, nicknamed “The Bull” by fellow journalists for his unrelenting work ethic, is in his fourth year as the official scorekeeper with the Colorado Rockies.

He is serving in that capacity with the World Baseball Classic games at Chase Field. Magruder, who resides in the Phoenix area, covered Arizona football when I began my newspaper career at the Star in 1985 as a high school sports stringer.

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Tucsonan Alex Verdugo waves to the Mexico fans after concluding batting practice Sunday (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The most famous players representing Mexico by far are Sahuaro High School graduate Alex Verdugo and pitcher/captain Julio Urías, When they emerged from the dugout for batting practice before Sunday’s game, the crowd greeted them with a loud cheer.

Both walked to the outfield waving at the fans. If they went to the foul line to sign autographs like some of their teammates, they would not be able to get ready for the game.

Exhibiting the lack of time the teams have experienced with each other since MLB players arrived from spring training last week, Verdugo walked up to the Mexican coaching staff and asked if he could take some swings after fielding balls in the outfield. He does not have to ask the Red Sox coaches. He is scheduled for it.

Verdugo is receptive of the fan support. He like many of the other outfielders here throw the ball they catch for the last out of the inning into the stands so folks can take home a souvenir.

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Great Britain won its first World Baseball Classic in the history of the country’s baseball operations when it upset Colombia 7-3 on Monday afternoon.

It’s refreshing that a feel-good, homely story can evolve from an international event watched by millions, including royalty in Great Britain.

Great Britain manager Drew Spencer, a former standout at Dartmouth, had no intention of coaching baseball before taking his son to tee-ball practice 15 years ago in London. He has resided there for two decades building his career as a digital design director.

A coach of the team asked for help from any of the parents who was knowledgeable of baseball.

Spencer, a four-time All-Ivy League selection at Dartmouth, mentioned he took coffee and a newspaper to the practice hoping to take some “time off.” He raised his hand when the coach asked for help and he’s been involved with coaching and instructing baseball in Great Britain since.

After coaching youth teams there, he became the country’s U23 national team manager in 2020. In September, he led Great Britain to its first appearance in the World Baseball Classic, beating France, Germany and Spain in the WBC Qualifier in Regensburg, Germany.

Spencer was asked after the win over Colombia what he will say if either the prime minister or the king calls to offer congratulations.

“Well, thank you, your majesty, but we’ve got one more game to win,” Spencer said.

Great Britain (1-2 in Pool C play) completes its schedule here Tuesday against Mexico.

Former Arizona outfielder Justin Wylie, who played with the Wildcats in 2019 after transferring from San Diego State, is on the Great Britain roster. His mother Cheryl was born in Trinidad and Tobago, a Great Britain territory, so he is eligible to represent the country.

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Thank goodness no beer for me here. Have to keep it professional. No drinking beer or cheering (although foreign media are openly supportive of their country’s team).

The 20-ounce beers here are $15.99. You can buy a case of beer for that much at the store.

Not that I’d do that either.

At least presently.

The last time I’ve had a beer (or any alcohol for that matter) was on Jan. 3 (69 days ago) when I had one michelada. It’s been a while.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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