Monday, February 22, 2010

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #21): Villahermosa, Tabasco

The state of Tabasco in the southeastern part of Mexico was largely ignored during the nation’s turbulent history over the centuries, but the development of oil drilling within the past century changed all that and has resulted in the growth of the state capital of Villahermosa (which means “beautiful town”).

Centuries ago, Tabasco was the center of the Olmec culture, which is considered by many archeologists as the mother culture of Mesoamerica. Hernando Cortes landed at the mouth of the Rio Grijalva in 1519 and easily conquered the native Mayans, but found raiding pirates more difficult to deal with and moved inland to what is now Villahermosa.

The Tabasco region was fairly untouched during the colonial period because the Spaniards found the steamy, insect-ridden jungle climate less than hospitable, and Tabasco was largely bypassed during former president Porfirio Diaz’ industrialization efforts in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Oil was discovered in the 1930’s, but wasn’t fully exploited until the 1970’s. The oil boom has led to tremendous growth in Tabasco and Villahermosa, which is now a metropolis of over 500,000 residents.

While one would be hard-pressed to call Villahermosa a “beautiful town” in a literal sense, it is not without its charms. The nearby Olmec site of La Venta was discovered by oil drillers years ago and is now a popular park with a zoo. In the city itself, the impressive CICOM complex includes a concert hall, theater, museum, research library and a restaurant. The Carlos Pellicer Regional & Anthropological Museum has four levels, and is very popular with visitors.

Villahermosa is home to the Tabasco Olmecas baseball club, named after the original inhabitants of the region. The Olmecas play their home games at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero, which seats 10,500 fans.

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