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Mexican Tijuana loves the most American of sports

Mexican Tijuana loves the most American of sports

Posted by PanamericanWorld on May 23, 2017

Baseball in Tijuana, like many of the city’s residents, migrated to the border region and, perhaps surprisingly, found a permanent home. In 1948, as Tijuana was looking to rehab its image and maintain its strong connection to the United States, the most traditional of American sports found its way there. After two incarnations, the Potros (Colts) de Tijuana were on the field in 1951, following a short spell in Salinas, California, cementing pro baseball in the region.

Though it became the main baseball brand in the city for the next half-century, Potros' very existence was sporadic in nature. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Potros would compete in international leagues against teams from Mexico’s northwest region, as well as the Southwest United States. In those days, the squad would do battle with the likes of the Phoenix Stars, the Tucson Cowboys and the Las Vegas Wranglers.

In 1969, the San Diego Padres debuted in Major League Baseball and gave fans in the region a big league club to root for, and fandom for the Southern California club has been a staple for those across the border ever since. Due to years of outreach programs in Mexico and an official team store operating south of the border for more than a decade, the Padres have long been connected with their fans.

With the Padres gripping the spotlight south of the border, Potros returned to the fold in Tijuana in the late 1970s. Its prior international leagues having already shuttered, the team was accepted into the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico, Mexico’s premier winter ball league. The move prompted stability and the opportunity for fans to view a more polished product than the earlier incarnation of the franchise.

In 2005 one of the incarnations of the Potros de Tijuana played in the Mexican League, in this game action at Estadio Nacional de Tijuana against Saltillo. AP Photo/David Maung

“Baseball was the most popular sport in the region for a long time after that,” noted Manuel Medina, a newspaper columnist in Tijuana for El Mexicano. “Even now, there’s talk of returning to the winter league.”

During a particularly strong period spanning from 1987 to 1991, the Potros conquered their domestic league twice and made it to the Caribbean World Series. In those days, top MLB prospects would often be a sight in Tijuana. In 1991 alone, the Potros fielded a roster with future big leaguers Al Martin, Vinny Castilla, Luis Gonzalez and Jose Tolentino, among others.

“You have to understand, guys like Mike Piazza and John Kruk played Mexican winter ball back then,” said Alex Asuaje, a longtime Venezuelan broadcaster and baseball analyst who has lived in Tijuana since 2014.

“That team in Tijuana,” Gonzalez would recall in 2015, “had many players who went on to the big leagues and stayed there.”

Gonzalez and Tijuana would turn in a last-place showing at the 1991 Caribbean Series, held in Miami. Soon after, the team would be disbanded amid rumors that it had engaged in illegal cash bonuses for superior player performance. Three years prior, when Potros won its first Liga del Pacifico title, team owner Jaime Bonilla was banned for similar offenses.

At the turn of the 21st century, the baseball void had stretched on for more than a decade, eventually filled by a new franchise, the Toros. The team competed in the country’s Liga Norte, a regional summer circuit comprising teams in the northern part of the country that served as a feeder to the Mexican Baseball League.

The Toros quickly made an impression on fans.

“Those weren’t so much games as they were parties,” said Tony Alvarez, a journalist for Uniradio.

A season later, the Toros were taken over by a group who reinstated the Potros moniker. In 2008, the new Potros folded once more. Baseball came back in 2014, when the Toros were accepted into the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, the country's summer circuit that was considered Triple-A ball. Big spending and positive results have made the team very popular, to the point of overtaking the Potros' legacy and even that of the Padres across the border.

“You look at the stadium, it was renovated by the team. Ownership is interested in the fan experience, and you can see that at the park,” said Asuaje, the Toros' play-by-play voice, who described the raucous atmosphere that included peculiar mascots and mariachi bands for the seventh-inning stretch.

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