By Eric Nusbaum (text) and Craig Robinson (art)
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- The Serie del Caribe is an international feel-good event, which means it is also a heavily sponsored one. The entire scene inside and around Estadio de Sonora looks like it was painted onto a giant Tecate billboard. Beer ads are so ubiquitous that you almost don't notice them. The advertising here has that organic quality -- it feels like a natural part of the Serie del Caribe experience. Ads are chalked onto the field just beyond the base lines, stitched into players' uniforms, and floating via blimps and balloons above the stadium (blimps and balloons that Craig and I have repeatedly mistaken for the moon).
Craig's favorite advertisements were the sky dancers. Sky dancers are those floppy inflatable tube things whose native habitat is on a busy highway in front of a used car dealership. If there wasn't work to do, Craig would have just stared at them for hours on end, possibly drooling meanwhile, and certainly not drawing anything. We spoke with Omar and Ricardo, two men whose job it was to raise and lower the Tecate sky dancers behind the right field bullpen (there were also Coca Cola sky dancers present). They stood on guard waiting for breaks in the action -- third outs, pitching changes, home runs -- during which they would shout code words into walkie-talkies and scramble to turn on a pair of nearby generators. But almost as soon as the sky dancers were inflated, the baseball began again, and they were empty, flopping lifelessly to the concrete in a tangled mess.
The sky dancers were provided by a Monterrey-based company called that is handling all of Tecate's inflatable advertising at the Serie del Caribe. This includes blimps, fanfest promotions, and a beer can the size of a small building in the parking lot. The company brought a bunch of employees to Hermosillo for the week-long event, including Omar and Ricardo, who normally work at baseball and soccer games in Monterrey.
One of the best things about the Serie del Caribe from a fan perspective is how easy it is to get free stuff. Packs of women in scantily clad outfits wander around the stadium with giant bags of foam baseballs, t-shirts, and other souvenirs that you badly want at the time, then immediately realize you have no use for. They work for all sorts of companies, ranging from Tecate to Telmex (Mexico's telephone monopoly). Sometimes the women wear bright spandex; other times the costumes are more creative. The Coca Cola promotional crew was wearing mock baseball uniforms, with pin-striped pants and high white boots. Men drifted away from their friends, and lined up to take pictures with the girls.
I spoke to Flor (second from the right in Craig's drawing) about her experience on the promotional crew. She said that she and her coworkers do this all year round. Coca Cola is present at basically every event in Hermosillo -- the Serie del Caribe is just one of many. (This is not a big surprise, as Mexico routinely leads the world in Coke consumption; in 2010, the company said Mexicans drank about 5,400 ounces of Coke per capita.) Flor was exactly as bubbly as you would expect a person with her job to be. She loved being at the new stadium, and loved promoting Coca Cola. But she said her job was more about creating a fun atmosphere than actually selling a product. The atmosphere, in effect, was the product.
And so it has gone in all of Hermosillo, where in addition to being the highly public debut of a brand new stadium, the Serie del Caribe has been a major economic event. You can't help but notice that all over town, every kind of business is branded with the orange Serie del Caribe logo, ranging from taxis to restaurants to housing developments. You don't get the sense of a city in dire need of a business boom (Hermosillo has a solid manufacturing economy), but you do get the sense of a place taking advantage of this fleeting moment as a tourist destination. The Spanish word I'd use here is aprovechar, which is literally translated to "take advantage of," but actually means something more immediate, and less amoral.
The best example of Sonorans' aprovechando is the parking lot outside of Estadio Sonora, where a dozen or so makeshift tents are set up to sell unofficial merchandise. It's the sort of black market setup that would never, ever exist in an American stadium -- especially while fans are lining up for more than an hour to enter the official Serie del Caribe store. But there the markets are, selling shirts and jerseys and caps and pennants and magnets and beer koozies and pens and basically anything else a person could want. Monday night, we bought burritos from a folding table at the market. Tuesday afternoon, we saw a nun selling Catholic Serie del Caribe keychains. There's more than enough business to go around.
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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.