Monday, October 12, 2009

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #2): Culiacan, Sinaloa

This week, we pay a visit to Culiacan, home of the Tomateros. Culiacan is a two-hour drive north on Highway 15 from our Road Trip starting point, Mazatlan, and is set a few miles inland from the Gulf of California. While Mazatlan is a better-known place among North Americans, Culiacan is itself a thriving city and the state capital of Sinaloa. The name “Culican” is an old native word which means “place where they adore the God Coltzin.”

A city of over 600,000 residents, Culiacan was a small village when Spanish conquistador Nuno Beltran de Guzman founded the villa of San Miguel de Culiacan on September 29, 1531. From the end of the sixteenth century and throughout much of the 1700’s, San Miguel de Culiacan served as an important staging area for the Spanish conquest of the Mexican West. However, independence from Spain was eventually won for Mexico in the early 1820’s, and Culiacan was granted the status of “city” in 1823. At that time, Sinaloa’s state capital was in Mazatlan, but was eventually shifted to Culiacan in 1873.

As with most of the Mex Pac cities, Culiacan is an agricultural center, surrounded by some of the most arable land in Mexico of which the major crop is tomatoes. While Culiacan has a reputation as a tough town, it is also, in fact, a thriving and busy place with a fine State university in the city center, a lovely 19th Century cathedral sitting three blocks away from the ubiquitous Mexican mercado, there are beaches on the Gulf a few miles away in Atlata and El Tambor, and Ernesto Millan Escalante Park features gardens, pools, an open-air Hellenic theater and the longest water slide in northern Mexico. The Centro Cultural Genaro Estrada contains two theaters, several museums and a cafĂ©, and is a centerpiece for the arts. There are several good restaurants in town, and one of the most popular regional dishes is steak cabreria, which features six different toppings and side dishes…it’s definitely worth a try.

Something else worth a try is catching a Tomateros game at Estadio General Angel Flores, which is the largest ballpark in the LMP with 16,000 seats. The Tomateros have given their fans a lot to cheer about over the years, with nine Mex Pac pennants since 1967. Five of those came under manager Francisco “Paquin” Estrada, who also brought two Caribbean Series titles home to Culiacan. The city hosted the CS in 2001, one of two times the event has been held anywhere other than Mazatlan or Hermosillo in the twelve times the Series has been played in Mexico.

NEXT WEEK: Mexican Baseball Road Trip (Guasave, Sinaloa)

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