Monday, March 1, 2010

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #22): Campeche, Campeche

While our next stop on the Road Trip, Merida, was marked by invasions of Mayan rebels from the south, Campeche was plagued by attacks from pirates such as Henry Morgan, Jean Lafitte and Francis Drake (who was considered a buccaneer by the Spanish) cruising the Gulf of Mexico. The city was founded in 1540 by Spaniards on the site of a former Mayan fishing village. It was the most important port on the Yucatan Peninsula during colonial days, a fact not unnoticed by English, French and British buccaneers who wreaked havoc on Campeche several times. After a particularly grisly massacre in 1663, thick walls were built to protect the city, including eight bastions (seven of which can still be visited). Things calmed down a bit after that, and Campeche flourished within the fortifications, although only the Spaniards lived within the walls while the natives were kept outside. The city was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1999.

As one might expect, Campeche is full of stately reminders of its prosperous past. Many pastel-colored centuries-old buildings can be enjoyed, as can a lovely botanical garden built around one of the bastions. Like Cancun and Merida, Campeche sits in a tropical climate. Unlike their Liga rivals to the east, however, the city of 212,000 has been relatively untouched by tourism and retains its genuine feel of an old colonial working town.

The Mexican League’s Campeche Piratas (or “Pirates”) play at 6,000-seat Parque Nelson Barrera, named after the beloved third base great and manager who tragically died a few years ago when he was struck by a powerline while cleaning debris from his home rooftop after a storm. The field measures 330 feet down both foul lines and 400 feet to straightaway center field.

Campeche reached the Mexican League playoffs last season with a 56-51 overall record, but fell to Quintana Roo in the Southern Zone semifinals, 4 games to 2. Former major leaguer Ruben Rivera had a standout year for the Piratas, hitting .344 and leading the Liga with 32 homers while driving in 90 runs. Among pitchers, both Alejandro Armenta and Francisco Campos turned in 11 wins. The veteran Campos, nicknamed “Pancho Ponches” for his ability to strike out batters, whiffed 89 hitters in 144 innings while registering a 2.31 ERA.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#23): Merida, Yucatan

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