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Pirates

Will Mexico City series continue?

Joe Rutter
| Monday, March 19, 2001

MEXICO CITY - It remains to be seen whether this two-game experiment known as Fiesta de Primavera will become an annual ritual.

The series between the Pirates and Tampa Bay Devil Rays ran smoothly, giving baseball officials reason to think another foray here could be successful.

Yet, it also is apparent that the major leagues has no permanent place in Mexico, aside from the occasional in-season series.

If baseball hopes to expand to an international destination outside of Canada, it had better cross Mexico City from the list.

'There is too much poverty here,' said Roberto Mansur, owner of the Mexico City Red Devils, a team that competes in the Triple-A equivalent Mexican League. 'The people don't have the income to support baseball. Ticket prices are too high.'

Sponsors for this series charged $1,000 pesos - or roughly $100 - for the best seats at 25,000-seat Estadio Foro-Sol.

That is one reason the two-day event attracted only 22,249 paying customers.

Another reason major league baseball won't fly in Mexico City is the weather.

'The first thing that would have to be built is a domed stadium,' Mansur said. 'It rains so much here in the summer.'

In addition, Mexico City has problems with smog and air pollution because of its vast population that exceeds 20 million.

And so it is that Mexico City will continue supporting two entries in the Mexican League without hope of drawing a major-league franchise.

The Red Devils have a working agreement with the Pirates and general manager Cam Bonifay that dates to 1988. The Mexico City Tigers have been affiliated with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays since the expansion team's inception.

The current arrangement is just fine with Mansur, whose father had a similar relationship with former Pirates general manager Joe L. Brown in the 1970s.

'Because Cam comes down here several times a season, he gives the Pirates a presence,' Mansur said. 'We're proud to have given him some of our players.'

Francisco Cordova is the most notable pitcher to be produced by the Red Devils in the past decade. Ricardo Rincon, Esteban Loaiza, Elmer Dessens and Mike Garcia also have pitched for the Pirates in recent seasons.

Other pitchers from Mansur's team to find employment in the major leagues include Roberto Ramirez, Miquel Del Toro and Dennys Rayes.

'When Cordova and Rincon went right from here to the Pirates two years in a row, that was something that had never been done before,' said Oscar Suarez, the agent for Cordova. 'That was a big accomplishment for us.'

The most notable Mexican pitcher, of course, is Fernando Valenzuela. The country also has produced Vinny Castilla, the Devil Rays third baseman who was the fan favorite of the series.

'We want to show that there is talent here,' Suarez said. 'It is possible for our players to go from here straight to the big leagues.'

Mansur and Suarez are confident that the Mexican connection can continue to be milked by the Pirates, as well as other major-league teams.

A baseball academy was constructed in Monterrey several years ago, providing a feeder system for Mexican League teams.

'We already have two or three young pitchers in our system that Cam is aware of,' Mansur said.

One is Randy Galvez, a 23-year-old right-hander who pitched a scoreless inning of relief Sunday.

Galvez was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in October, completing the Bruce Aven trade from August.

Bonifay watched Galvez pitch during one of his scouting trips here.

'We think we can produce more pitchers, especially since the major leagues are in need of more good pitchers,' Mansur said.

Next week, the Red Devils will announce plans to build their own academy in Oaxaca, which is located about an hour from Mexico City.

'This is something that can benefit the Pirates, as well as us,' Mansur said. 'They could send their good, young talent here in the winter to play at our academy if they are unable to play in other winter leagues.'

One stumbling block for the growth of baseball in Mexico is soccer. In much of the country, baseball is a second-class citizen.

That's what made this goodwill series important to the locals, Mansur said.

'The only way our fans get to see major-league games is on TV,' he said. 'This gives them a chance to see that our version isn't that much different from the major leagues.'

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