Today, amid cheering crowds in Mexico City’s packed Fray Nano stadium, the Houston Astros will step up to the plate. The spring training game, which is part of a two-game series against the San Diego Padres on March 26 & 27, will be the first time in over a decade the Astros have played in Mexico. It is also a signature moment in Major League Baseball’s mission to promote baseball in Mexico, with Houston leading the effort.
“I am thrilled that the Astros will have the opportunity to play games in Mexico,” said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico, “The Mexican people have a great love for baseball.” Major League Baseball (“MLB”) has doubled its efforts to grow the sport internationally, and Mexico is a major market for growth in the sport. The Astros have a high proportion of fans of Mexican descent, so when Luhnow volunteered the Astros for the opportunity to play in Mexico, MLB was quick to take them up on the offer.
Next to soccer, baseball has long been a major sport in Mexico, and the enthusiasm for the March games is a sign of that passion. The red-hot Astros, who won the American League Wild Card in 2015, are considered one of the World Series favorites in 2016. And while their last game in Mexico was in 2004, Mexico’s Astros fans are eager to witness the team’s return—tickets to both games sold out within the first week of the sale.
The excitement is also felt amongst the Houston team’s staff and roster, many of whom have connections with Latin America. For Astros All-Star second baseman José Altuve, a native of Venezuela, the series is a significant personal milestone, and the opportunity to play in Mexico City is its own reward. “For many of the children who are going to come see us play it will be very special because many of them may have the same dream that we had to play in the Big Leagues,” Altuve declared, “For Latinos, this is a great opportunity to be close to our people.”
For many of these children who dream of becoming the next Altuve, the Astros will be the first Major League Baseball team that they and their families see in person. When the second baseman and his Astros teammates take to the field in Mexico City, they will create an indelible image for thousands of youngsters. And just like many of their counterparts in Houston who sport the Altuve’s jersey at Minute Maid Park or at their Little League games, the Astros may become a lifelong obsession for Mexico City’s budding baseball fans.
This weekend’s games mark the beginning of Houston’s sports diplomacy in 2016. Houston’s NFL franchise, the Texans, will similarly entertain Mexico City’s crowds when they face off against the Raiders on November 21 at Estadio Azteca, home of the Mexican national soccer team. With two of its major franchises leading the charge to promote American sports internationally, Houston’s professional sports teams are doing their part to cement the city’s image as a major international metropolis.
Written By: Jose M Ordonez