By Eric Nusbaum (text) and Craig Robinson (art)
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- This is Geraldo. We came across him in the bleachers at Saturday night's Mexico-Venezuela game, first noticing his jacket (Hermosillo is a paradise of really old and cool baseball jackets), then the fact that he was carrying a stack of rolled up little pieces of paper in one hand, and a wad of cash in the other. He looked like he was dealing drugs. It turned out Geraldo was a different kind of entrepreneur.
The papers are called qunielas. Geraldo sells them inning by inning for 10 pesos each. On every quiniela is listed a position. If the position on the card you draw makes the last out in the bottom of the inning, you win back 60 pesos, which happens to be the exact price of two cervezas. If not, you just play again. Hundreds of fans play, mostly drunk people buying handfuls at a time.
By the eighth inning, I had consumed enough Tecate to play for myself, drawing el cuatro -- the second baseman. Unfortunately for Mexico, the Venezuelans scored two runs that inning to tie the the game at 3, and they would go on to win on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. (It is very strange to watch a team that is very clearly playing at home, in front of thousands of rowdy fans, lose on a walk-off hit). But fortunately for me, second baseman Reggie Corona made the last out of the inning.
The reward was slow in coming. At first Geraldo claimed he didn't see who had made the last out -- he had been talking to a friend and not paying attention to the game. He asked around and finally found a neutral source to confirm my victory. I handed him ten pesos back to try and extend my run the ninth in the ninth inning. This time I was not so lucky. But what I lost in pesos, I made back in the wisdom printed on the quiniela: "Say no to drugs...yes to quinielas."
The concourse behind the bleachers is the best place to talk to people at Estadio Sonora, especially during Mexico games, which are always scheduled at night. The light from the giant scoreboard gleams down over the fans on the left field side, and vendors in neon jackets sell Tecate cans from tall stacks of cardboard cases. In addition to Geraldo, we met an electrical engineer from Chihuahua waving a horse whip made out of a deer foot, a scientist whose job is to invent cost-effective formulas for shrimp food, and a very drunk nightclub employee wearing a lucha libre mask with a Naranjeros de Hermosillo cap over it. His real name, we eventually learned, was Jesus, but mostly he liked to pose on one knee with his arms outstretched and scream out his wrestling name, which was Dr. Wagner.
The real Dr. Wagner was one of lucha libre's most famous rudos, or villains. Apparently named after the German composer Richard Wagner, he was known for being especially brutal to opponents and for cheating without compunction (a hallmark of the rudo persona). Like many wrestlers, the man behind the mask died young.
Our Dr. Wagner was somewhat more kind-hearted, if also abrasive. Everything he did, he did at least five times, including: inviting us to a nightclub where -- don't worry -- he would pay for bottle service; telling us that he used to live in Tucson, Arizona; posing for pictures with nearby people who did not ask to take pictures with him; dramatically kissing the hands of women despite the presence of his girlfriend; and, most of all, screaming out the words DOCTOR VAAAAAGNEEEEER. (He used the German pronunciation).
Dr. Wagner was part of a makeshift crew of fans standing behind the bleachers in left-center field on Saturday night. I say makeshift because at first we thought everybody knew each other, but that turned out not to be true -- they just happened to be standing near each other. The first person to talk to us was Enrique, a baseball fan from Hermosillo who later gave us a spectacularly good recommendation for a carne asada restaurant called Mariachísimo (the carne asada was so soft that at one point I actually realized I had been cutting it with the dull side of my knife blade).
In many ways, Enrique was emblematic of the fans at Estadio Sonora: extremely friendly and thrilled to be at the game, regardless of the outcome, and regardless of the fact that he was typically a fan of the Naranjeros, not Yaquis de Obregón, the team representing Mexico. Los Yaquis have won the Liga Pacifico de Mexico for three years running, but in attendance you could find fans wearing the caps for every team in Mexico, plus most major league teams. National pride trumped regional pride -- which is why instead of their usual uniforms, los Yaquis wore national colors.
When Mexico lost on a walk-off single, Enrique did the same thing everybody else did: he said goodbye to his new friends, smiled, and shrugged his shoulders before strolling out to the dusty parking lot, where cars would line up for close to a mile in traffic, and fans would wave massive Mexican flags from the beds of slow-moving pickup trucks as they joyfully made their way home.
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Craig Robinson is the proprietor of FlipFlopFlyBall.com, a baseball infographics maven, and can be followed on Twitter @flipflopflying. Eric Nusbaum lives in Mexico City. His writing has appeared in Slate, Deadspin, The Daily Beast and The Best American Sports Writing. He is a staffer at The Classical. You can reach him @ericnus.