Home and Away: American Ballplayers Are Flooding the Mexican League
A recent rule change allows American-born players to go pro in Mexico—and they’re fielding a familiar backlash
Manny Barreda is the last to arrive when he pulls his Mustang into the players’ lot a bit after 5 p.m. on a warm July night. He left his downtown San Diego apartment an hour and a half earlier, heading south on Highway 5 along the San Diego Bay, past the border towns of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach, before crossing into Mexico at San Ysidro. He drove through Tijuana Centro, then swung a left off the Boulevard de los Insurgentes onto the pock-marked residential roads that lead up to the stadium. He walked by the still-closed concession stands, high-fiving the security guard before taking the stairs down to the field. Now he silently enters the dugout, a rare state of serenity for the 30-year-old pitcher. He’s on the mound today. Baseball’s unwritten rules say the Tijuana Toros’ starting pitcher must be left alone.
The blast of pyrotechnics near the scoreboard breaks the relative calm at Estadio Chevron, and the crowd of roughly 5,000 stands and cheers. The eight Toros fielders take their positions on the grass before Barreda jogs to the mound. Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” begins to play.
The stadium is still just a quarter full as the orange glow of the sunset lights up the Cerro Colorado mountain, which towers over the right-field wall. The grandstand of Estadio Chevron is a fraction of the size of Petco Park, the San Diego Padres’ stadium which sits less than two hours north of Tijuana’s home field. Here, pitchers still throw 90 mph darts and sluggers still hit majestic home runs, but it’s hard to see a path from Tijuana to San Diego. It’s much easier to come the other way.
Barreda, raised 30 minutes north of the border in Arizona, inhales and squares his shoulders towards Johnny Davis, originally from Compton, California, the leadoff hitter for the Tecolotes from Laredo. Barreda rocks back and fires and Davis sends a soft flyball to left field where it’s caught by Jesús…