Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Report: New Mexico City ballpark 65 percent completed

Mexico City's new baseball stadium will not be ready to open this year, as originally hoped, but a report states that the new ballpark is almost two-thirds finished and should be ready during the 2018 season.

According to Beatriz Pereyra in Proceso, Mexico City Diablos Rojos general manager Othon Diaz says that while the team would love to be able to open the new facility in time for the start of next year's schedule, there are construction questions that may push the opener back to the third quarter of the 2018 season.  "For example," Diaz says, "the crane that will install a roof over the stands can't be used if there is too much wind, as per regulations.  There are several limitations that prevent us from giving a specific date."  Pereyra adds that environmental mitigation concerns and efforts have slowed progress on the ballpark, which is located within the Magdalena Mixhuca Sports City grounds owned and operated by the Mexico City government.

It will feature synthetic turf on a symmetrical field of 332 feet down both foul lines and 410 feet to straightaway center field, which may be a smallish playing surface in a city that sits at an elevation of 7,382 feet.  Both Guadalajara and Denver are at elevations of 2,000 less than Mexico City and both are considered launching pads for batters belting baseballs into the thinner air.

The ballpark, which will cost US$90 milliion (with Diablos owner Alfredo Harp Helu contributing about US$12 million) will have 12,000 permanent seats but be expandable to 16,000 with temporary seating beyond the outfield fences.  While it'll be far from the kind of ballpark that could host a Major League Baseball team in Mexico City, it will be one of Mexico's largest baseball venues and certainly among the most state of the art in a Mexican League that features a number of aging facilities among its current 16-team lineup.

There's no question that the primary tenant Diablos Rojos are chomping at the bit to move out of Estadio Fray Nano, where the team has resided since moving out of Foro Sol before the 2015 season.  Although Foro Sol seats 25,000 for baseball, it was built as a concert venue and not designed to house a ballclub. The Diablos called Foro Sol "home" for 14 seasons and the facility has also hosted World Baseball Classic pool play in 2009 and MLB exhibition games, but it was never a comfortable fit for the sport.

As a result, Harp invested nearly US$3 million into renovations at Estadio Fray Nano, expanding the seating from 3,000 to 5,200 along with other upgrades to bring it up to Mexican League standards as a temporary home for the team while the new ballpark is under construction.  It was expected that attendance would dip at Estadio Fray Nano, named after a sportswriter who helped created the Mexican League in 1925, but turnout has been far worse than anticipated.  After averaging just under 4,000 per game at Foro Sol in 2014, the Diablos' last year there (a pennant-winning season), crowds dipped to a 2,787 average at Fray Nano in 2015 and 2,511 last season, both in the bottom quartile of LMB attendance figures.  Although the facility is far more hospitable to baseball than Foro Sol ever was, it's also one of the Liga's smallest and people are simply not coming to Diablos games.

While there's little question the Diablos Rojos will benefit from the move to the new structure once it's complete, there is speculation about whether they'll have company.  There has been some clamor south of the border for the Quintana Roo Tigres to move back to the team's city of origin, a clamor only likely to grow now that Carlos Peralta, who moved the Tigres first to Puebla and then Cancun, has sold the team to a group of investors led by former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela.  The Tigres have never really caught on in Cancun despite winning four Liga pennants since moving to the resort city in 2007.  The Tigres and Diablos developed the most storied rivalry in Mexican baseball over more than four decades of sharing the long-lost (and long-lamented) Parque de Social Seguro and Foro Sol before Peralta first transferred the Tigres to Puebla in 2002.

Whether Valenzuela would walk away from the state subsidies his franchise routinely has received in Quintana Roo to be a tenant in a ballpark overseen by the Diablos and team president Roberto Mansur (assuming Harp or Mansur would approve having a second team in Mexico City) remains to be seen, but the possibility is something worth keeping an eye on.  A Diablos-Tigres co-tenancy would not likely happen prior to the 2019 season, it could revive public interest in a key rivalry for a league in dire need of revival.