Monday, March 15, 2010

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #24): Cancun, Quintana Roo

The last stop on our 24-city Mexican Baseball Road Trip is Cancun in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. When North Americans think of Cancun, it's usually a mental picture of warm weather and sandy beaches, but there's much more to the story than that. Cancun was a sleepy Quintana Roo fishing village of 120 as recently as 1970 before being picked by a computer as a good site for tourism. Twenty-five years later, about 500,000 people live in Cancun with another two million visitors annually.

Quintana Roo is a tropical state on the Yucatan Peninsula (at the tip of Mexico's "boot"), bordering Guatemala, Belize, Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico. Travelers willing to break away from Cancun's beaches can find Mayan ruins and artifacts predating Columbus back to the 12th Century nearby. It is a region brimming with early Mexican history, and ruins continue to be discovered after being swallowed up for centuries by jungle foliage. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise, too, with hundreds of species on hand to observe. Don’t expect to find much evidence of colonial Mexico here, however.

The history of Cancun baseball is a little less impressive, however. The city’s first team made its Mexican League debut in 1996 as the Quintana Roo Langosteros before taking on Cancun's name two years later. The Lobstermen reached the second round of the playoff in 1997, but they spent most of the time near the bottom of the standings until Hurricane Wilma decimated Cancun in 2005, forcing the team to move to Poza Rica (kicking off a three-city odyssey for that team).

The city remained without baseball until the Angelopolis Tigres moved to Cancun in 2007. Unlike the Langosteros, the Tigres are one of Mexico’s most storied baseball team since their formation in 1955. The team has won nine Liga penants over the years (most of which original owner Alejo Peralta insisted on an all-Mexican roster), and their rivalry with the Diablos Rojos when both teams were based in Mexico City for 47 years was legendary. The Tigres reached the LMB Championship Series last summer before falling to Saltillo. The team was placed for sale over the winter by owner Carlos Peralta (Alejo’s son), but when no suitable offer was made, Peralta decided to pull the Tigres off the market and keep the team in Cancun…at least for the time being.

Cancun's ballpark, Parque Beto Avila, is one of the Liga's smaller stadiums with 7,000 seats. It was renovated for 20 million pesos before the Tigres moved there three years ago, and is one of two ballparks in Mexico named for Roberto “Beto” Avila, former star of the Cleveland Indians. The other is in Avila’s native Veracruz.



Baseball Mexico will be making available a full collection of all 24 profiles of Mexican Pacific League and Mexican League cities since the Road Trip started out in Mazatlan last October. If you would like a free copy, just email me at BaseballMexico@live.com, and you’ll be sent one free of charge. The collection will be ready to send beginning in April.

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