Trip Report: Jagoff Does Mexico City

The Padres just finished up their Mexico City series against the Houston Astros and I had the pleasure of attending.  I thought it would be really cool to see the Padres playing in a 4,500 seat Fray Nano stadium, but I’ve also had Mexico City on my list of cities I wanted to visit.  Combine that with easy direct flights from John Wayne Airport or Tijuana Airport, and it was easy to make my decision to choose going to Mexico City instead of Spring Training this year.

Everyone knows Mexico City is a big city, but let me tell you.  It is a BIG city.  When you fly in, it is just dense development as far as the eye can see.  It puts New York or Los Angeles to shame.  As someone that enjoys going to Tijuana and Baja in general, the “have fun getting beheaded” comments I’d get from people that found out I was going got a little old.  While Mexico City has it’s share of dodgy neighborhoods, the area most American tourists would stay and visit are fine, specifically the Polanco, Condesa and Roma neighborhoods.  I stayed in Roma which is a gentrified neighborhood full of quiet, tree lined streets, trendy restuarants and bars, and well-to-do hipsters and professionals.  A Sheraton Four Points in the heart of Roma Norte cost $64 a night.  The value of going to to Mexico City blows away Phoenix.  The food is cheap, the beer is cheap, the lodging is cheap.  And the food, beer, and lodging are as good or better than you’d find in many places in the U.S.  Mexico City also has Uber and it is fantastic there.  Uber rides from the airport into Roma or Condesa will only run you about $11-12, and it’s a long distance to travel.  Jumping between Roma, Reforma, or Condesa will only run you $2-3 a trip.

Mexico City has a burgeoning craft beer scene serving “artisinal cervezas” which were found at most decent restaurants.  We had a pleasant lunch at Cocina Conchita consisting of Ensenada style seafood.

While the fine dining is great in Mexico City, the star is the street food.  We found incredible tacos and tortas everywhere we went.  They do pastor but it tends to be less seasoned and more meaty than what we generally would find in Baja or San Diego.  This plate of tacos was $1.75.

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The breakfasts were filling and great, providing a great base for the day’s imbibement.  The mole chilaquiles were $4.00 and worth every peso.  Sitting on the charming streets of Roma was a really pleasant experience.

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I had ever been to a wrestling match, but while in Mexico City, it seemed mandatory that I go to a Lucha Libre show.  In the Arena Mexico, holding a few thousand people, we saw a number of crazy ridiculous 3 on 3 tag team matches, an incredible 4 on 4 all woman match, and a number of Lucha demaskings.  The crowd loved it, and we loved it.  A great use of $6.

But enough about the food and wrestling.  MLB took over the Zocalo in the Mexico City historic district and placed a baseball field there, along with a ton of kids activities.  The field was used for a home run derby on Friday afternoon, featuring none other than #oldfriend Jorge Cantu and some Mexican Leaguers.  As we recall from his Padres tenure, Cantu is washed up, and lost the derby to a player from the Tijuana Toros.  The activities were numerous, and it looks like the citizens of Mexico City were really enjoying it.

There were large team logos placed around the field, although only five teams were selected to have their logos featured: the Padres, Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox and Diamondbacks.  Of course the Red Sox logo was placed smack dab between the two featured teams of the weekend.  The placement really smelled of Mike Dee.

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Then again, I had to go into a Liverpool Department Store to pick up my Ticketmaster tickets for the game, and checked out their MLB gear that they had out for the big game.  Shockingly, there was no Padres gear to be found.  The mannequins did feature the Braves and Red Sox gear.  There was no Padres merch on the shelves, although there was ample Astros stuff.  In general, if I saw people on the street with a baseball hat, it was for the Yankees or Red Sox.  They must love ESPN’s baseball coverage down there.

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The festival was a little underwhelming for fans of a Major League team because we see these activities at a lot of U.S. stadiums.  But the setting was undoubtedly beautiful with the historic colonial buildings surrounding the Zocalo, as well as the ruins of the Aztec Temple Mayor.

Of course, everything wasn’t sunshine and roses.  Mexico has it’s own version of Ticketmaster, and it’s just dreadful.  They do not have any kind of electronic or PDF ticket.  Once you buy the ticket online, you have to physically go to a Liverpool department store, find the Ticketmaster desk, and show your passport, order confirmation, and provide the exact card you used as payment.  Without any of those three items, you can not pick up your tickets.  I had closed the credit card I bought the tickets with.  The card is cut in half and sitting in a landfill somewhere.  I assumed wrongly that they could just verify my identity from my passport and give me my tickets.  Instead, while trying to use my 11th grade Spanish to negotiate and understand the situation, I was told that getting my tickets “es imposible”.  I panicked.  These were $300 of tickets and the event sold out in 2 hours.  Plus they were prime seats.  I took desperate measures and reached out to Padres chief marketing officer and subject of many Gwynntelligence posts Wayne Partello on Twitter.  Wayne was incredibly helpful.  Like INCREDIBLY HELPFUL.  He reached out to MLB who would have ended up escorting us in to our seats.  In between having wi-fi to communicate with Wayne, I threw a hail mary to the concierge at my friend’s Le Meridien hotel.  She successfully negotiated with a Ticketmaster executive to refund my purchase and transfer the purchase to a credit card I was carrying so that I could show THAT credit card to Liverpool and pick up my tickets.  This was two harrowing hours.  While I didn’t end up needing Wayne’s help thanks to Ticketmaster budging, I will be incredibly grateful for his help.  This is the customer service we’ve all been clamoring for from the Padres!

So, the game.  Walking up to the stadium, I was taken aback by the level of security around the game.  Seemingly the entire Mexico City PD armored brigade was lined up outside the gates, riot teams with shields manned the metal detector stations, and multiple platoons of heavily armed policias and federales patrolled the perimeter.

In fact, Mexico City, or at least the neighborhoods we visited, were extremely heavily patrolled in general.  On most corners, heavily armed policias stood watch.  At the airport, groups of 10-12 federales with assault rifles patrolled inside and outside.  I’m sure some of this is in response to the Brussels attacks, but I think some of it is to show outsiders that it’s a city under control and is safe. I never once felt unsafe, and we were wandering the streets at 4 AM.

Estadio Fray Nano is a small stadium.  It feels a lot like a less nice Lake Elsinore single A stadium.  It’s utilitarian.  The concessions were a nice combination of American standbys like Dominos pizza and hamburguesas and Mexican standbys like cochinita tacos, frutas con chile, and platanos fritos.  Beers were Bud Light, Corona or Victoria, and for 100 pesos, or about $6, you get two 12 oz. bottles poured into a bucket size plastic cup.

We showed up just in time to see the national anthems, with the U.S. anthem featuring an inadvertent flyover from an A340 (Fray Nano is in the Benito Juarez Airport flight path).  The only thing I knew about our tickets was that they were expensive and they were in the Platea seccion.  I did not know how totally awesome they would turn out to be.  We ended up on the Padres dugout side, first row behind home plate.

The rest of the row was reserved for the Padres brass and some government officials.  Eventually Tom Seidler (I think) and Wayne Partello sat down in the row.  Of course Mike Dee, who was in attendance, didn’t rub elbows with the masses and sat in an isolated box.

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The Padres certainly didn’t bring their A team to Mexico City.  The only players that were currently Major League caliber were Austin Hedges, Jon Jay, Alexei Ramirez, Robbie Erlin, and of course, Jabari Blash.  Thanks to our seats, I got some incredible pics of Blash who is just a perfect specimen for power.  I let loose with some verbal Blashtags to him, let him know he’s my everything, and I think he gave me a discrete head nod signalling that we are now best of friends.  Blash struck out twice, and then in his third at bat, took a fastball directly off his helmet.  It was a very scary moment as Blash hit the ground, and his helmet flew off his head into the air.  He got up quickly and walked off the field.  He is basically invincible, and I’m thinking he may have an adamantium skull.  Also, in his first at-bat, he hit a foul ball down the right field line that may have gone 600 feet.  Here are some pics I collected of the Major League crew in the on-deck circle:

The crowd at Fray Nano was loud, especially once they brought the thunder sticks out.  It was a lot rowdier than you’d see at Petco.  Of course, the majority of attendees in MLB gear were wearing Astros shirts and jerseys.  There was a smattering of Padres blue shirts.  I was told by the government big wigs sitting next to me that a lot of them are friends, family or employees of Alfredo Harp Helu, the Padres owner.  I, of course, wore a brown Padres shirt and hat, but I was the only one.  I can only assume the brown merch doesn’t make it down to Mexico for sale as the Mexico City residents seemed to have better taste than to choose the blue Padres gear willfully.  A guy in a Padres hat lit up a cig in the row behind us and blew smoke into the on deck circle.  I asked one of the government officials later if that was allowed, and he said no, but that the ushers were likely too scared to reprimand this gentleman, who apparently is or knows someone important.

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I picked up a Mexico Series Padres hat for @SDhatguy in the Fray Nano store, and couldn’t help but notice that there was very little Padres stuff for sale.  The road jersey was available, and that was about it.  Mexico outreach by the Padres!  Also the Astros hats were totally sold out.

So the game itself was a total disaster.  The Padres lost 11-1.  Pitching at 7,200 is probably not ideal for a soft tosser like Robbie Erlin, who gave up back to back home runs, but all told, he did fine considering the circumstances.  Once the Padres D team took the field, things really went downhill.  But it was Padres baseball, my seats were great, and the atmosphere was outstanding.  As the 7th inning stretch finished up, we started chatting up the usher who was in control of the pink VIP All Access passes that the government big wigs had.  Through some social engineering, we got him to give us leftover passes and wristbands, and he walked us into the VIP box on the field.  We made friends with some younger government officials and chatted them up about baseball, Mexico and Donald Trump.  They stated unequivocally that Major League baseball is not nearly as big as Mexican League baseball.  Nobody knew the Padres, although they did know Matt Kemp, and most ticket buyers were pissed that Matt Kemp didn’t make the trip as the tickets were very expensive in Mexican terms.  We also had all the liquor and beer we could drink, and all of the taquitos and tuna we could eat.  The VIP box also stayed open for two hours after the game ended.  It was a great way to end the night.

All in all, the trip was great.  Mexico City should be at or near the top of your list of international cities to visit.  In many ways, I preferred it to a lot of major Western European cities.  It’s cosmopolitan, modern, and full of innovative food, while maintaining its old world historical look thanks to the huge number of surviving colonial era buildings.  It’s cheap, but the quality is off the charts.  For me, it whet my appetite and I am already planning when I can visit again, and maybe catch a Mexico City Diablos game.  If the Padres do another one of these games, I’d wholeheartedly recommend people consider going.  As far as I can tell, the only people I saw from U.S. that flew down for the game were me and 1090’s Darren Smith.  That is a shame, because it was a memorable and fun experience.

Here are some random pictures of the city that I took:

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