The San Diego Padres will make their way south of the border to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers for a three game series in Monterrey, Mexico. Today’s game marks the first time the Padres have returned to Monterrey in almost 20 years and to Mexico proper in 2 years (the Padres took on the Astros in exhibition action in Mexico City back in 2016). Little known to most casual baseball fans is the role our Padres have played in being among the first teams to expand regular season play outside of the United States and Canada.
The last time the Padres visited Monterrey was in 1999 for the Opening Day one-off matchup against the Colorado Rockies. This game would mark the first time an Opening Day game would be played outside of the United States and Canada, a trend that would continue into the following years with other MLB teams opening up in Tokyo and eventually Puerto Rico.
The defending 1998 National League Champs were welcomed to a pro-Rockies crowd in Monterrey and were drubbed by the 6-year-old Rockies to the tune of 8-2 behind a 4-5 4 RBI 1 HR effort from Bo Bichette. Native Oaxcan and Rockies power hitter Vinny Castilla received a warm welcome from his fellow countrymen and a standing ovation during pre-game introductions. Castilla would do his part with two doubles and a single. The game was less notable for the Padres: Andy Ashby was chased after an inning and change’s worth of work led to 8 hits and 6 runs surrendered. Tony Gwynn would single to put himself only 71 hits away from 3,000.
The more notable and memorable Monterrey series for the Padres was played back in 1996. The Padres and New York Mets three game set would mark the first regular season MLB game played outside the US and Canada. The Padres would receive an incredibly warm welcome from the Monterrey crowd thanks to Fernando Valenzuela, starting pitcher for the first game of the series. Fernando even threw out the first pitch for the game, a game he himself was starting. Valenzuela wouldn’t disappoint in his start; he pitched 6 plus shutout innings and was backed up by a prodigious scoring spree by the Padres. Steve Finley would hit the first MLB home run in Mexico and Greg Vaughn hit a grand slam to give the Friars a 15-0 lead on the Mets. The Mets would take on plenty of garbage time runs to eventually close out the first contest 15-10 in favor of the Padres. In very Mets fashion, they were the first MLB team to lose in Mexico.
The series south of the border is probably most memorable for Ken Caminiti’s tribulations throughout the team’s visit. Plagued by food poisoning from the team’s hotel accommodations, Caminiti was on IV fluids merely an hour and a half before first pitch of the rubber match. After famously ingesting a Snickers bar Ken would go on to hit 2 home runs before being removed in the 5th inning in an eventual 8-0 shutout win and series victory for the Padres in Mexico.
The 2018 return to Monterrey for the Padres will feature an NL West rival in the Dodgers. Both teams will be bringing along native countrymen for the series though only one will see on-field action.
The Dodgers will bring Julio Urias as a team representative along for the trip though the young native of Culiacán will not be playing as he’s still undergoing rehab for his shoulder. LA will also bring along Alex Verdugo; he played for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
The Padres will feature Guadalajara-born third baseman and reigning NL Rookie of the Month Christian Villanueva for the trip. It should be very exciting to see the reaction he may receive during the games. A few home runs for his fellow countrymen couldn’t hurt, right? Villanueva for his part is excited to play a game back in his home country:
“Personally, I’m anxious and maybe a little nervous, but I know it’s going to be fun and I’m so happy we are able to bring the best baseball in the world to Mexico. I always give 100%, but there’s going to be something special and an extra energy playing in front of your people and representing Mexico on a big stage. I can’t even imagine what it is going to be like.”
The series will be shown on FSSD while the Sunday night contest has been picked up by ESPN as the Sunday Night Baseball marquee.
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