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!

Fireworks Extraordinaire!

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FIREWORKS
By now if you read these pages you know I love fireworks. In Mazatlán we are blessed with displays most every weekend, sometimes almost every night. People launch fireworks at weddings, quinceaños, birthday and anniversary parties, restaurant grand openings… you name it. During Christmas and New Year’s we’ll see even more. I’m living in the right place! On Thanksgiving last week we enjoyed two wonderful, unexpected shows, and last Friday I counted five different fireworks shows that I could see just from our house. Since many of them take place over the ocean, it’s a site to behold.

Annually our two best city-wide shows are, of course, the Combate Naval and the Festival de la Luz ; click on either link in the highlighted text to see photos of previous editions of those events. If you love fireworks or photography like I do, you might also want to look at some pics I took over the summer while visiting relatives in southern Wisconsin: fireworks on Lake Michigan and another set on Lake Tichigan.

FESTIVAL DE LA LUZ
This year was the tenth anniversary of the Festival de la Luz, an annual show put on by the Tres Islas Hotel Association on the Saturday night between events of the Gran Maratón del Pacífico. To me it’s my favorite fireworks display of the year, because the whole bay of Mazatlán lights up, with around 50,000 people along the four kilometers of the malecón all getting a clear and joy-filled view. Combate Naval, held in conjunction with Carnavál, is a wonderful show, but the Olas Altas area gets so very crowded that viewing it takes lots of planning and effort. It’s not an event for the elderly, the differently abled, or the faint of heart, while Festival de la Luz is accessible to everyone. Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow. Yes, I think Torre M’s marketing department needs to give me a call. 😉

The hotel association built up our anticipation that the tenth anniversary show would be the best ever in Mazatlán, that there would be new sorts of fireworks that we’ve never seen, and that what might seem like an error would really be a surprise. There were 15 launch points set up around our bay, 10,000 fireworks to shoot, and the show was supposed to last 30 minutes. Needless to say, I was PSYCHED!

PHOTOGRAPHING FIREWORKS
To take good fireworks photos, I’ve learned that a key is to scout a location ahead of time. Having a good foreground (e.g., beach, boats, people, scenery or reflections in water) gives perspective. I feel you need to choose whether to shoot the fireworks close-up or far away, as doing both requires too many changes in settings, and the shows don’t allow you the luxury of time. I suppose there are those who use two cameras, with two different settings, but I’m not that multi-dexterous. I’ve also learned that you can not guarantee good shots as there are so many variables out of the photographer’s control: the wind (never know which way the smoke will blow), the clarity of the air (Mazatlán’s salty air clouds photos taken at a distance), the quality of the fireworks show itself, and, of course, luck—if you happen to catch that one incredible launch or not.

The location from which I took photos last year wouldn’t work this year: it was now right under one of the launch sites, and I decided that the light from the fireworks would be too bright, and at unpredictable distances, for my shots. There was also much more ambient light there as well this year. Greg helped me find a new location where we could get the panoramic views we wanted. It took some negotiation, but we got permission to shoot from there, and a friend and I set out early that evening to set up.

cohetes ready

Photo from 2015 set up

2016 FESTIVAL
Well, instead of the advertised 30 minutes, the show this year lasted about 18 minutes. We didn’t have the flyboarders, not that I missed them, and I sure didn’t see anything so new and different that we haven’t seen here before, so I’m not sure what the surprise was. There was quite a wind blowing out the shapes of the fireworks very quickly. Thus, the show didn’t quite meet the 10th anniversary hype; that happens. My disappointment, however, was the apparent lack of coordination between the launch locations. What’s so great about Festival de la Luz is that you’ve got so many launches around the bay choreographed into a mesmerizing overall “WOW!” factor.

While I went out to take photos, Greg stayed home to watch the fireworks from a closer venue. He said there was only one man working the display in front of our house (one of the 15 launch locations), and it seemed the wind kept blowing out his torch. You may have seen the fireworks on the beach; they are hand-positioned and hand-lit. Nothing much seems computerized. The pyrotechnicians at different spots seem to have radios to coordinate their actions.

In 2015, you might recall, we had perfect fireworks conditions: a hurricane on the weekend of the marathon had cleared the air and the night was perfectly still, making it ideal for photography.  That same hurricane took out at least one of our fireworks launch locations, but fortunately the rest were saved. This year we had very salty air, lots of humidity, and combined with the wind far from ideal conditions. Below I’ll post some photos from 2015 and from 2016, to give you a feel of the difference. Click to view them larger and see which year is which. Let me know what you think.

I contacted José Manguart at Tres Islas to ask him about my perceptions, but so far I haven’t heard back from him. If I do, I will update this post with his comments. I’m not sure, therefore, if all went as planned, or if there were snafus. Either way, it was still a spectacular show, easily accessible, and free for so many thousands of people! Any disappointment is only because we are incredibly spoiled!

We are so blessed! I thank the Tres Islas Hotel Association for doing this for us every year. The Noroeste said there was 100% hotel occupancy over marathon weekend, and I know lots of friends were able to rent out rooms as well. It’s so encouraging to see Mazatlán hosting events that promote health and fitness, and also bring economic boom. Do let me know what you thought of the show, and the photos. Thank you!

Peer Pressure

15267703_10210798921186234_466070210640050474_n.jpgWhen you move to a new place, what makes it become home? I had the good fortune of moving to Mazatlán with my two main men, and having compadres who live here that we’ve known for decades. Plus, I’d been in love with our port city for decades myself, as had Greg, so calling it home was pretty easy.

However, the key when you make a new place home is creating community, and that takes friends. Like-minded friends, differently-opinioned friends, intelligent and fun-loving friends, friends who enjoy some of the same pastimes as you. And, I believe, the older we get, the more selective about those friends we get.

Thus, I am very grateful on this Thanksgiving Day weekend for the good friends in our lives. And, I am enormously grateful as well for the “peer pressure” of living on the malecón. I’ve written before how the malecón is the world’s largest gymnasium. In the nine years we’ve lived here, Kilometro Zero, the Bosque de la Ciudad, and the malecón, have been converted into one great race, marathon and triathlon event after another. Greg and I can’t help but be susceptible to the contagion.

Tomorrow morning Greg will run the 21km in the Gran Maratón del Pacífico. I am so proud of him, recovering from his broken leg and nerve damage from two years ago. This year, as last year, I ran the 5km. The big news for me this year was two-fold: FIVE of my local girlfriends did the 5km with me! Better yet, they  brought their families! Second, despite the fact that I have a horrible head cold, and didn’t sleep well at all last night due to my coughing, I made a personal pace record this morning.

I’m slow, there is no doubt. But, hey, it’s my personal best for the 5km, despite the head cold and lack of sleep, and I’m happy about that! It was tempting at 6:30 this morning not to get up. It was tempting on the way back around the Bosque to quit, to say it wasn’t meant to be, as I couldn’t breathe. It was tempting at the 3km mark to join the 3km people. My lungs hurt, my nose was running, I kept coughing… But, I didn’t quit. I persevered. Me, who hasn’t run since being state champion in the 100 and 500 yard dash in junior high school, has started running again at 55. Woot woot. I still prefer swimming and zumba, but it’s nice to be able to run. At least a 5k.

We move to a new place in the hopes of creating a healthy and fulfilling life. I am grateful for the peer pressure I feel in this city of athletes, grateful that Mazatlán has become just such a city, and that we live in the middle of the athletic zone. I am grateful that Greg has led the way, running for so long and enjoying it so much that he eventually motivated me to start. My cousin Mary helped with that motivation, too. And, I am very grateful that I have a group of middle aged “Bellas Mazatlecas” girlfriends whose smiles light up rooms and who are healthy and motivated enough to join me in the “marathon”!

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God bless friends who love life!

Good luck tomorrow, Don Goyo! You’ll do great! Viva Mazatlán! Una meta más cumplida mis Bellas!

Festival de la Luz 2014

DSC_0120 - Version 2©Last night’s Gran Maratón del Pacífico fireworks, called the Festival de la Luz, were spectacular! As usual we watched them from our pool deck with a few friends who happened by.

I love being in the middle of the 15 launch locations here, but I’m always pulled and torn which way to look: left, right or forward. There is no way to capture the magnitude of the event all in one glance or photo from the middle of things. On the other hand, being in the center of things does rock… One year I do want to go to one end or the other to watch them, as the perspective would be so different. It’s just so comfy sitting at home with a glass of vino!

I got out the tripod and did my best to capture some of the glory of the evening’s main event. It’s fun to finally be learning and practicing how to use all the manual settings on my camera. I’ll eventually get there. Thank you for your encouragement during my learning journey! Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

This year this terrific annual event included four flyboard performances. The flyboarders performed at different locations around the bay. One was very close to us; it started with one performer and ended with two. I spliced footage from the fireworks and the flyboard together in the movie below. Enjoy!

Festival de la Luz

01_90One of our favorites every year, Festival de la Luz/The Light Festival sees the launching of fireworks from 15 locations along the malecón, this year along 4 kms from Playa Norte on the southern end to the Don Pelayo Hotel on the northern end. It will happen on Saturday night, 29th November, at 8:00 pm, as a lead-up to the Maratón del Pacífico on Sunday morning. Thank you to the Tres Islas Hotel and Motel Association for this terrific annual event!

This year’s 25-minute show, expected to be attended by 50,000 people, will also include laser lights, four LED-illuminated flyboard (those cool waterjet-propelled thingies that they practiced with a couple of weeks ago) acrobatics, and four LED-illuminated paramotors (like we used to see at AeroFest). 10424298_851467651559611_582996139347249912_n

Full schedule will be:
  • 5:00 Turtle release
  • 6:00 Waiter race
  • 7:00 Mascot race
  • 8:00 Light show
Launch sites will include:
  1. Don Pelayo Hotel
  2. Insurgentes
  3. Coral Island Hotel
  4. Las Gavias
  5. Olas Altas inn
  6. Secretary of Tourism
  7. The aquarium
  8. The Sands Hotel
  9. Lola Beltrán
  10. Aguamarina Hotel
  11. De Cima Hotel
  12. Playa Marina Hotel
  13. Rotarismo
  14. Fishermen’s Monument
  15. Playa Norte

See you there!