Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guadalajara bids for 2017 WBC first round games

The Jalisco Charros are seeking to host first round games for next year's World Baseball Classic.  Armando Navarro, president of the Guadalajara-based Mexican Pacific League team, has applied to Major League Baseball (which oversees the WBC) to bring opening round games to the city of 1.5 million, Mexico's fourth-largest.  The metropolitan population of 4.3 million residents is second in the nation to Mexico City.

Guadalajara has had teams in the Mexican League on four occasions, the most recent run coming from 1991 through 1995.  The Charros won Liga pennants in 1967 and 1971, the later flag coming after manager Cananea Reyes' men trailed Saltillo, 3 games to 0, in the title series.  As well, the Jalisco capital hosted a winterball team for three seasons in the early Fifties in the Pacific Coast League, precursor of the modern-day Mexican Pacific League.  Baseball returned to Guadalajara in 2014 when Navarro led a consortium of investors in buying the Guasave Algodoneros and moving them east.

Past attempts at pro baseball in Guadalajara have failed primarily for two reasons.  The first was an inadequate ballpark.  After calling Estadio Municipal home for three years before it was torn down to make room for a bus station now being used as a federal office building, the Charros took up residence at the 4,000-seat Estadio Tecnologico de Beisbol for their sporadic appearances until the Mexican League pulled out for good in 1995.  That ballpark was razed in 2003, five decades after first opening.  Guadalajara's current ballpark does not pose similar issues.  Built in time to host the 2011 Pan-American Games, Estadio Beisbol Charros (which is now owned by the team) cost US$28 million and has 12,500 seats.

The second reason will be more difficult to overcome.  Never a baseball hotbed like other LMP cities to the north, Guadalajara is home to one of the country's most-beloved soccer teams, Chivas, which (like the Mexican League's Quintana Roo Tigres franchise under the late Salon de la Fama member Alejo Peralta from 1955 to 1996 when they played in Mexico City) has been firmly committed to fielding all-Mexican teams for years. Chivas finished third in the Liga MX's Primera Division in attendance last year by averaging more than 36,000 fans per opening.

Mexico's National Team swept last week's World Baseball Classic qualifier in Mexicali to earn a berth in next year's main tournament, their fourth straight WBC since its inception in 2006.  Next year's event will be held in March.