By Eric Nusbaum (text) and Craig Robinson (art)
MEXICO CITY -- The Serie del Caribe ended early Friday morning with Mexico's Yaquis de Ciudad Obregón defeating the Dominican Republic's Leones de Escogido 4-3 in 18 innings.
Yaquis left fielder Douglas Clark hit the go-ahead home run, finishing the week with a .393 average. And this time, the Yaquis bullpen -- which had already blown handful of late-inning leads during the tournament, including one after a Karim Garcia blast four innings earlier -- held on. At one point in the night, ten thousand Mexico fans had reportedly gathered outside Estadio Sonora to be close to the action. The fans who stayed were treated to a celebration. The Dominican team ended the series with a record of 5-2, and the Mexican team with a record of 4-3. But for the second time in three years, los Yaquis are champions.
If you have been reading along this week, you might notice that this is the first thing I have written about actual baseball being played. Craig's drawings below this paragraph are the first you will have seen that are set on the field in Estadio Sonora, as opposed to in the bleachers or outside the ballpark completely. This is because we are back in Mexico City, where there are no fans to talk to; there is no ambiance to soak up. We watched most the final game on tape delay in my apartment because we could not find it on in a bar.
It was sad leaving Hermosillo. We boarded an airplane in a city where baseball ruled everything in site and landed a couple hours later in a city where baseball -- much less an international baseball tournament happening in the moment, in the very same country -- hardly even registered. This is partly a reflection of baseball's status in Mexico City. "That's baseball right?" said the waiter in the bar we told him we were looking for the Serie del Caribe. But it is also a reflection of the atmosphere in Hermosillo, which even now hardly feels like it could have been real. Hermosillo is a city where even ordinary fans can show up to every day of a seven-day baseball tournament in a different version of their favorite team's jersey; where mixing and matching major league hats with Mexican team shirts is not strange, because the thing people are rooting for most is baseball itself; where people drive 10 hours from Estado Chihuahua in snakeskin cowboy boots just to watch a single game.
The best way to explain things would be to say that baseball in Hermosillo is not only a pastime, but a fundamental part of culture. During the Serie del Caribe, the foundation was highly visible. For example, we rode to the park one day in a taxi that had a baseball mounted on top of the gearshift; we heard a priest speak at length at Fernando Valenzuela's Caribbean Hall of Fame induction about baseball as a model for Catholic faith; we spent a night talking baseball and singing ranchera songs with the broadcast crew of another Liga Pacifico team, the Aguilas de Mexicali (they did the singing).
The Serie del Caribe was also an introduction to a different notion of what baseball culture could be. There was a beautiful self-awareness about fandom there -- perhaps the Spanish word for fan, aficionado, is enlightening. People knew they were not watching or celebrating major league quality players, but they did not seem to mind. The fact of baseball -- especially Latino baseball -- was enough. Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada were exciting to watch, but so were Donell Linares and Iker Franco. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Latino baseball celebrities like Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers' Hall of Fame Spanish-language announcer, were introduced to massive ovations. (Jarrín is baseball's foremost Ecuadorian native.)
Mexico is the Serie del Caribe champion. I can only imagine what the bars were like after the final -- if they were even still open after the seven-hour game. But for us, the celebratory nature of fandom in Hermosillo was at its most evident in defeat. Earlier this week, I attempted to describe the parking lot outside of Estadio Sonora after games. The vibe fell somewhere between a college football tailgate and an under-lit, slow-moving parade. Billboard trucks with dancing girls moved among the traffic at walking speed. A thousand car radios blared together. In other words, it was nothing like my apartment.
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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.