More than a World-Class Stadium

DSC_8345The new baseball stadium for our nine-time-series-champion Venados is advertised to be the best in all of México, and for once those superlative claims appear true. The architecture is stunning, the remodel retains iconic elements of the historic stadium around which it is built (weird-shaped historic columns, for example) and it increases seating to 16,000. We will now have:

  • 38 luxurious suites with indoor, air-conditioned seating as well as outdoor seating for 15 people.
  • 550 palcosor box seats, and a private VIP entrance and bar for them and the suites.
  • Two restaurants—El Muchacho Alegre and La Cantinetta.
  • Several food concessions including Water’s Edge and Surf’s Up.
  • Large bathrooms for both genders on each level!!
  • A seating area where vendors will speak English, to make this incredible cultural experience easier and more enjoyable for tourists and “polar bears” (“snow birds” as translated from Spanish).
  • A retro-sounding Venados Booster Club from which you can buy tickets in English.
  • Much improved locker rooms/clubhouse, umpire and training rooms and physical therapy facilities.
  • A media facility up top.
  • Pacífico beer is still a huge sponsor of the Venados, so Estadio Teodoro Mariscalcontinues the tradition as a Pacífico-only venue.

The stadium will glisten as an anchor to the remodeled Parque Central. It is envisioned to host not only the baseball season but other cultural and musical events, including, of course, our traditional and world class Carnavál coronations. The views from the stadium, both inside—of the field, and outwards—of the city, are fantastic! The only glaring problem is that they still have not solved the parking. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The 2018-19 baseball season opened on Sunday October 14, and I was ready with my camera for what I was confident would be a spectacular fireworks show. My gut instinct proved true: these were fireworks as Mazatlán has never before seen over a stadium! They were flawlessly choreographed to music by Mazatlán’s own Arte Pirotecnia, and the show mesmerized everyone who saw it. The only issue photographically was that so many fireworks went off at once that it was difficult to capture the spectacle AND not burn out the photo!

Thanks to these photos I met Isaac Urquijo, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Venados, with whom I recently toured the new stadium. Isaac is a young mazatleco who left town to obtain his degree, going on to work for large multinationals around the country. Lucky for us, after 11 years out of town he was recruited a year ago to return for his dream job. Isaac is a fireball of energy and ideas with degrees in both accounting and marketing, and he speaks excellent English.

During our tour I very much enjoyed watching one of those gorgeous white steel arches go up and get welded in. Isaac told me that when the first arch was placed, two construction workers hung from it in order to weld it on! How I would have loved to get a photo of that! I was fascinated with the guts of these welders, dangling as they do high above ground.

The Presidential Suite is also most impressive. It has a kitchen and bar, dining table and chairs, and living room with flat screen, plus outdoor seating. The normal suites seem like a good deal to me. They cost 240,000 pesos for the season and seat 15 people. Palco or box seats are 10,400 for the season.

Once all the arches are up, the covers will be put in place. With the covers in place, much needed shade will be provided to box seats and others as well. Below is a video of the full design. Note that there have been many changes since the initial plans, including that there will be no water feature at the main entrance.

Governor Quirino’s father was in office when the original stadium was built, so he has had a special interest in seeing this remodel through. The stadium is owned by the municipality of Mazatlán, and reconstruction was financed primarily with state funds in the amount of 416 million pesos. The current remodel began on July 14, 2017. It was designed by Raúl Peña, an architect in Mexico City, and is being built by Dynfra. based in Guadalajara. This is the third stadium they’ve built for the league, after Hermosillo and Culiacán, and after watching it every day and hearing its progress all night every night, their work ethic is amazing.

The Venados’ concession for the stadium was renewed in September of this year through 2045, for an investment of 80 million pesos and 8% of the proceeds from each game. Isaac tells me that the official inauguration of the new stadium is planned for the first part of December.

The entire Venados organization, or, rather, it’s parent company, Espectáculos Costa del Pacífico—owned by the Toledo family (95%) and Ismael Barros (5%)—is on fire these days. The Venados in recent memory have had a leadership triumvirate: Ismael Barros, President; Chino Valdéz, sports manager, and Juan José Pacho, team manager. Under their leadership the Venados twice won the Caribbean Series, in 2005 and again in 2016. Barros left, however, to assume the position of city treasurer, and the Venados organization in January 2017 named a new President: 35-year old José Antonio Toledo Pinto. He is the youngest President of a Mexican baseball team, and his energy and enthusiasm seem to be transforming the entire organization. City administration ends the 31st of this month, October 2018. I am told José Antonio will remain in place, but we’ll see.

While in season the Venados organization employs 400 people, normally during the off-season they’ve had 20. This year they’ve increased that number to 80. They’ve hired an office full of young and enthusiastic creative staff who released a brand-new, hotly-debated Venados logo. The organization has opened five new Venados stores (increasing the number from three to eight) and is merchandising a stylish clothing line. They are adding a public gym (Rock Gym), a mini market, a barbershop and three Starbucks outlets to the stadium, in addition to other businesses. There are long-term plans to build a business hotel behind the big screen. The hotel would house out-of-town players in season and serve business travelers the rest of the year.

The Venados are aiming to become a much more inclusive, accessible organization, out of gratitude to their fans’ enthusiasm. Isaac told me that this year 40 pesos gets you a bleacher seat and a beer, plus full access to walk around the entire stadium. What a deal! With dancers, people on stilts and live music playing in the hallways as well as in the stadium, our local baseball games are a terrific, family-oriented party.

There are of course many aficionados who know the roster and focus on the game, but we also have a huge group of fans who attend for the party: to drink beer, listen to music, visit with friends, and, oh yes, watch a few plays. It’s quite amusing if you follow the Venados on social media. They have asked fans, “how many outs are in an inning?” and a fan answered “five;” or “how many players are on the field?” with a reply of “four.” But they do know the price of beer and all the special promotions! A professional game here is a different animal than a Major League game up north, more affordable, more of a full sensory experience, more like a Minor League game, perhaps. Isaac says he wants it to be like “Disneyland with a beer.”

The Venados don’t own players, for example; they borrow them from the Mexican summer leagues and the Major Leagues up north. Thus, there is a lot of fluidity on the roster from one season to the next. This season, however, the Venados have recruited several young, healthy, talented players who they hope to retain for a good five to ten years, to provide continuity for the crowd and the franchise. The season here is three months long, four if we go to the playoffs. Since there are twelve months in a year, the organization looks to find additional uses for this gorgeous new stadium.

Most interesting to me, they are branching out from baseball to become a true sporting franchise. They purchased a professional basketball team back in 2014 (Los Nauticos) that have played in the Multiple-use Center (Centro de Usos Multiples or CUM) since 2016—that gorgeous new sports arena in the marina that no one really uses. The Venados also support volleyball, boxing, and of course our internationally recognized annual marathon and triathlon. Their goal, as Isaac told me, is to support local athletes and entertain the local community.

They run academies or training camps for kids in the various sports. According to Isaac, a young baseball player here in Mazatlán is “owned” by the league in which he plays; the league controls contract negotiations and makes decisions if one of their players is recruited professionally. In fact, the control over the kids and their future earnings has been such an issue, that Major League Baseball recently took action and has banned MLB teams from recruiting from the Mexican League (LMB).

The Venados’ goal is to help players develop skill and experience while staying free agents. The same is true for boxing. The baseball academiaruns Mondays-Fridays, 4-8 pm ten months of the year; the 200 kids who are enrolled are coached by the Venados’ manager himself, Juan José Pacho. The academias are not profit centers but, rather, social service endeavors, though those attending do pay nominal fees. Isaac reports that there are similar plans for academías of boxing, basketball and volleyball. They are even planning to hold a golf tournament this December at Marina Mazatlán; Venados players and managers will play alongside the experienced golfers.

I was curious about how a pro baseball team here makes its money. Isaac told me that 55% of its income is from sponsors, 35% from box office and season ticket holders (Socios Venados), and beer income makes up the rest. If they sell 3000 tickets for a game with sponsorships in place they break even, and this season—other than the hugely attended inauguration—they’ve averaged 6500 people per game. In-season salaries total 6 million pesos/month.

The Venados organization engages in quite a bit of social outreach. They support the Red Cross and give away season tickets to families in need. You may have heard about the Venados Booster Club, with its aim to act as liaison with foreign visitors and help two local charities: Refugio Mazatlán and Amigos de los Animales. Simon Lynds helped the organization conduct a survey, and they found that many foreigners complain about dirty bathrooms and say they don’t speak Spanish so have a hard time buying tickets. The bathroom situation will be hugely improved with the new stadium, and the English-speaking section and Booster Club will remedy the English-language concerns. On November 24th they are planning a special invitational event for Booster Club members, with the charities and some franchise players.

Who was Teodoro Mariscal, the namesake of the stadium? He was a Mazatlecan businessman who campaigned long and hard for a new baseball stadium here in the 1940s. Our original stadium had been destroyed, and he assumed leadership of the “Committee for a Stadium in Mazatlán. When our current stadium was dedicated for the 1962-63 season, it was decided to name the space in his honor. The stadium remained largely unchanged over the decades, though it was modified several times, most thoroughly in 2000.

You may be wondering about our favorite Venados event of the year, Banda Baseball. This is an annual charity fundraiser, in which popular banda members play one another. Greg and I absolutely love it, and it hasn’t taken place this year due to the stadium reconstruction. Isaac assured me the season would not end without doing it. Fingers crossed…

You can buy your tickets online if you wish. Wednesday night, the 31st, they are urging the crowd to dress in Halloween costume. There is also a Venados app for your phone. You can watch the games live online, too. But, hey, what fun is that? The thrill is experiencing the cacophony of the crowd. A Venados baseball game has so much going on you don’t know where to look first!

Mazatlán’s Famous Feminist: La Maya

dsc_0001.jpgMove over, Billy Jean King! While you are awesome, Mazatlán’s own Margarita Montes won 28 of her 33 professional boxing matches against men—and that was back in the 1920s! She is perhaps the only Sinaloan woman to be interviewed by Ripley himself for his Believe It or Not, and was also interviewed by the French magazine Liberation for her life as a feminist.

In an era when women were expected to be quiet, submissive and obedient, “La Maya,” as she was affectionately called, was anything but. Born with the need to achieve and be seen, she excelled in several sports and fought for women’s rights long before it was cool. The sixth of eight children of a poor farming family, La Maya was a baseball player (state champion pitcher in 1929), boxer (Pacific League champion), bullfighter, mechanic and pig hauler; she owned a traveling movie theater, a tortillería and a bicycle repair shop; and she was a wife, mother, grandmother and friend. Sadly, she died before I was able to meet her, in 2007. Last night, however, I saw her house and met the man who recorded her oral history back in 1997, when La Maya was 82 years old—local writer, photographer and Carnaval float designer, Alfonso (Poncho) Cornejo Galindo.

 

I recently read his booklet, and it is a fantastic story! The photos in this article are taken from that story, and the contents are a summary in English of the Spanish text, shared with all of you with Poncho’s permission.

Margarita got her nickname, “La Maya,” from her father because he hair always hung in her face as a child. In the book she narrates her own story. She tells us she was born in the small town near Mazatlán called Chilillos. Her father cut himself with a machete and came to a hospital in Mazatlán, where he decided to move the family, in 1917 or so. The children had never before seen cars. La Maya remembers her sister Pachita and her arriving into town at sunset on a burro. She played as a child amongst the corrals of cattle on Rosales street, where the PRI building now stands.

Poverty taught her that to win she had to fight hard, to stand out she had to overcome, and she especially wanted to overcome the condition of being a submissive, quiet, obedient woman. She tells us she was always very motivated to overcome the obstacle of the difference between the sexes.

La Maya only went to school through first grade. She learned to spell a bit, but there were so many kids that they had to work to eat. At 12 she started to work in the nixtamal mill of Mr. Xicotencatle del Valle.

She tells us she was a wild child. Her father tried to change her, but her destiny was decided. She had a fever inside motivating her to do something! They used pieces of canvas to make baseball mitts, and silk stockings to make the balls, which they then covered with a milky juice that hardened over the balls. The bat they  used was a tree branch, formed with a machete. She had a good arm and pitched very hard. She remembers that she was a sore loser who couldn’t stand losing. Strength, muscles and triumph were her goals.

dsc_0004.jpgDelfina worked with her at the mill and lived near the baseball stadium, where the Escuela Nautica is now. She insisted La Maya go with her to play baseball, but La Maya’s dad wouldn’t let her. She then invited a neighbor to go with her one afternoon, and they went without telling anyone. The team members loaned La Maya a real glove that fit so well, and a real ball that caressed her hand, unlike what they had in the barrio.

dsc_0003.jpgThey named La Maya pitcher on that very first day. It was the first time she felt she could be successful, break barriers, that her restlessness could serve a purpose. Don Julián Ibarra and El Güero Eliso were the team’s coaches. They went to talk to her Dad and talked him into letting La Maya play. Every Sunday the old stadium would fill up. Most of the spectators were train workers who came to watch the women. The stadium was made of wood. The catcher, Juana Lerma, asked La Maya to pitch softer, but she told her to go to hell and learn to catch.

One day La Maya told El Güero that she didn’t want to pitch anymore, because it tired her out and she had to work in the mill. He was smart and offered her ten pesos for every game she pitched, as long as she didn’t tell anyone else. Since her pay for her full-time job was seven pesos a week, her side job, which she enjoyed, provided a huge salary!

There were three women’s teams in that era: Cigarrera La Conquistadora, Molino del Valle, and Cervecería Díaz de León, La Maya’s team. They won the championship and got a silver cup donated by Casa Huerta, a local artesanías shop. That was 1928. To get into the stadium cost 30-50 centavos. La Maya recalls that was the year the women in England got the vote.

She remembers participating in exhibition games in Hermosillo. And that one day El Güero Eliso bet her 50 pesos that she couldn’t ride the wild horse that grazed on the lot where they practiced baseball. She mounted the horse in one jump, and and proceeded to ride him calmly around the lot. El Güero didn’t realize she had learned how to ride while living in the country as a kid.

In 1931 La Maya still played baseball and was well know for her batting and pitching. She liked the fame, that she was important to people. One day some people told her about a boxer who was looking for someone in Mazatlán to fight. She’d always liked a challenge, so she got to thinking, “I’m good at baseball; how about boxing? What would happen if I put on the gloves?” She knew the boxer was training in Playa Sur, near the balnearios on Alemán. La Maya went to watch her; there were many spectators. “I can beat her,” she thought. She knew her muscular arms were strong, and decided to do it. She was ecstatic when the organizers said they’d pay her 150 pesos to fight! El Güero was her manager, and the promoter was Chano Gómez Llanos. She had a month to get ready and trained with Kid Milo, Mike Rubí, Benjamín Pérez, El Borrego Torres and Mike Herrera who helped her a lot.

 

In the days leading up to the fight everyone was talking about it; two women, boxing! The lady’s name was Josefina Coronado, and her manager was the Cuban Roberto Negro Molinet. She never expected the type of rival that La Maya would be. Tickets sold out for the fight in Teatro Rubio, today the Angela Peralta. She was nervous at first: three floors full of screaming people. The fight was four rounds and she felt she dominated; La Maya won by decision. The main fight of the evening was between Mike Herrera and Joe Conde, the Dandy of the Ring.

La Maya tells us that once the bantam weight champion, Raúl Talán, came to fight Joe, fresh from Japan where he’d been traveling. He watched her train, congratulated her, and gave her some gifts. They remained friends for years; she visited him in Mexico City when he was retired and wrote for El Nacional. He interviews La Maya several times. Joe Conde was her sparring partner. He was a fine boxer. Joe was a gentleman in and out of the ring. Elegantly dressed with a cane and bowler hat. It was the era of the famous Zurita-Casanova-Joe Conde triangle.

 

In 1931 La Maya traveled to Nogales to box, with permission from her employer, Mr. del Valle. Even though she went for three days, the trip ended up lasting three months. By then her brother Pepe was her manager. She was fighting men and winning by knockouts. She traveled to Tucson to fight and toured Nayarit.

La Maya remembers going to the mascarade ball for Carnaval in the As de Oros. Her  brother Pepe chaperoned her. Someone got into a fight with him, she jumped to defend him, and everyone said “a little masked lady” had knocked the guy out! It was quite the scandal.

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La Maya tells us she never looked for a fight. She traveled all over and made 150 pesos a fight touring Sonora, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Arizona, Baja California. She had 33 professional fights, five against women and 28 vs. men. She was the first woman boxer to fight against US American men and won the Pacific Coast Championship when she beat Josefina Coronado.

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In 1933 she had a boyfriend, the son of a German and a Mexican, a very handsome guy with whom she’d had a five-year relationship. It was hard for them, because she traveled a lot. One time at a bull fight the people asked La Maya to fight. He said he didn’t want to see her do it, but she did it anyway. She punched the bull several times to much applause.

 

Several days later General Juan Dominguez came to La Maya’s house to ask her to become a bullfighter. María Cobián was coming, nicknamed La Serranito, and he wanted her in the ring, too. “You have good legs to run if you have to.” They paraded in a convertible before the fight, accompanied by a banda sinaloense. The fight was in Plaza REA, where the Angel Flores school is now. They paid La Maya 250 pesos. But she tells us she was scared when the bull came out. People shouted at her to stick him with the banderillas. She got one in, but the other went into his butt. Her boyfriend was in the first row, applauding. That would be the last corrida that La Maya did formally, as she didn’t want to play with bulls anymore; they frightened her.

A while later she saw her boyfriend in the theater with another girl. For the first time in her life she was hit with disillusion; it was like a knockout. She broke off their relationship right then and there; La Maya’s blood would never mix with German blood.

DSC_0018In 1939 La Maya married José Valdez Alvarez. He was a stevedore on the docks. They saved enough money together to buy a cargo truck that they used for hauling. They had three sons: José, Alejandro and Efraín, but the youngest would be the only one to survive. At the time the book was published Efraín was married with three kids, her grandchildren Efraín, Alfonso and Alicia Margarita.

In 1948 La Maya returned to work in the mill but because the pay was so low she decided to also open a bicycle repair shop. Pepe her brother helped her. They rented bikes for 40 cents an hour. She came and went on bike from El Venadillo every day, which kept her legs in good shape. She would race to Villa Unión on bike sometimes, always against guys.

After tiring of bicycles she put in a tortillería, and then changed that for a mechanic’s shop. When she sold that Mr. Valeri Saracco paid her with a Studebaker. With that she started to haul pigs; people were impressed with how easily she lifted them into the truck.

La Maya always worked hard and could learn how to do anything. She had lots of victories and triumphs. She believed she led the way for many women athletes, especially on the Pacific Coast. She was good at weight lifting and all sports, and wonders if perhaps she could have gone to the Olympics.

dsc_0009.jpgLa Maya tells us of the satisfaction she felt appearing in several magazines, including Ripley’s Believe it or not. On March 11, 1988, the reporter Michell Chemin from the French magazine Liberation‘s sport section published an article on La Maya.

She closes the booklet by saying that, “Now, at 92 years of age, with my physical and mental abilities intact, I look back on my life with nostalgia and feel I was born in the wrong era.”

Now you know a bit of the story of La Maya. Please pass it on; we shouldn’t let this woman’s legacy die out!

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