Saturday, January 30, 2010

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #18): Veracruz, Veracruz

Veracruz is a city full of life and history. With about 500,000 residents, it sits on the Gulf of Mexico and ranks as one of the wettest and most humid cities in the country. It was the first town in Mexico to be founded by the Spanish conquistadores, just days after Hernando Cortes landed on Good Friday of 1519. The original site was just to the north of the present city, but the Spaniards finally settled on the current location by 1589. Veracruz immediately became Mexico’s most important seaport, a position it would hold well into the last century. As a result, it has also been the scene of many military battles over the centuries.

In addition to the Spanish, Veracruz has been occupied twice each by French and U.S.A. forces during the past 200 years, most recently in 1914 when U.S. Marines took over to protect their government’s interests during the Mexican Revolution of that time.

Despite a somewhat somber military history, Veracruz is one of the liveliest cities in Mexico. The annual nine-day winter Carnaval celebrated there ranks among the most-raucous on the American continent, and the Festival del Caribe in late August features a huge celebration of the arts. While tourism has never been a centerpiece of Veracruz’ economy, people who do visit find it one of the most fun-loving and enjoyable places in the country.

The cultural center of Veracruz is the Plaza de las Armas, a tree-filled square that has been occupied by locals and visitors (some of them belonging to invading armies) for generations. There is perpetual activity at this Zocalo from morning through night. The Plaza de las Armas is surrounded by shops and restaurants, as well as the Municipal Palace (which was built in 1608 and renovated in the 1700’s) and the Virgen de la Asuncion cathedral, which dates back to 1731. Veracruz’ port features the Pemex Tower, a crafts market, several prominent old buildings and a miles-long Malecon seaside walkway similar to that in Mazatlan.

Baseball has had a long, storied history in Veracruz, too. The Rojos Aguilas team in the LMB dates back to the 1930’s, and the city has been home to five Liga champions (although the last pennant came in 1970). “Cool Papa” Bell won the first Triple Crown in Mexican League history in 1940 playing under legendary strongman owner Jorge Pasquel. Veracruz has been one of the true hotbeds for baseball in Mexico for many years, and today many players call the state home.

The modern-day Red Eagles play their Liga home games at Parque Beto Avila, one of the smallest venues in Mexico with seating for about 7,000 fans. Veracruz is also home to a winter baseball league that draws many Mexican League veterans, and is said by some to be on a par competitively with the western Mexican Pacific League.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#19): Minatitlan, Veracruz

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