Commentary

Welcome to Mexico

Updated: March 4, 2009, 12:06 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

QUICK FACTS

Most Known For (outside baseball): Having its border with the U.S. and excellent food.

Location: Middle of North American continent, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, between Belize and the U.S. and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and the U.S.

Size: 756,061 square miles, or slightly less than three times the size of Texas.

Population: approximately 106 million

People: Mestizo, 60% (mixed European and Amerindian descent); Amerindian, 30% (indígena, including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha); other, 10%.

Language: Spanish, various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages.

Government: Federal Republic

Capital: Mexico City (population: about 22 million)

Famous National Anthem Verses: "For you the olive garlands! For them a memory of glory! For you a laurel of victory! For them a tomb of honor!"

QUICK MEXICO BASEBALL HISTORICAL FACTS

Most Known In Baseball For: Passionate fans, great tacos and other Mexican eats at its professional summer and winter league ballparks -- and a roll-your-eyes-to-the-back-of-your-head southpaw named Fernando Valenzuela.

Baseball's Mexican Debut: 1840s, by American troops.

First Mexican-Born Player to Play MLB: Baldomero Almada, born 1913, Huatabampo, Mexico (Boston Red Sox, 1933).

Baseball Hall of Famers: None that were born in Mexico. Lefty Gomez, of Mexican descent, is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Mexican-Born MLB Record-Breakers: Vinny Castilla is the all-time leader in hits, home runs and RBIs among all Mexicans.

Mexico's Biggest Baseball Town: Monterrey, which hosted a major league game in 1999.

Mexico's Other Baseball Hot Beds: Hermosillo, Culiacan, Mexicali.

Mexico's Baseball Weather: Varies like the U.S., but most similar to Texas and California. Biggest Sports Competitors: Soccer, basketball, boxing, football, auto racing, bullfighting.

Best Baseball Museum: Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, Monterrey, which is patterned after Cooperstown. Inductees are not just those of Mexican descent, but also other nationalities.

QUICK TEAM MEXICO AND PLAYER FACTS

Biggest International Rival: U.S.

Biggest International Successes: Mexico has won the Caribbean Series five times and twice this decade, with the most recent title coming in 2005, its first win ever on native soil. The country first achieved international amateur success when a team from Monterrey won the Little League World Series in 1957 and 1958. Angel Macias, who threw a perfect game for Mexico in the 1957 Little League championship, has run the Mexican Baseball Academy in El Carmen outside Monterrey. Some 40 years after Macias' no-hitter, Mexico won its first Little League World Series since then, as Guadalupe earned the title in 1997 (Mexico's Monterrey team had finished second in 1964 and a club from Mexicali finished second in 1985). Mexico was at it again in 2008, when a team from Matamoros advanced to the LLWS title game, losing to Hawaii.

A team from Mexicali captured the 1988 Junior League World Series (ages 13-14) crown, while a club from Monterrey won the 1963 and 1965 Senior League World Series. A team from Monterrey won the Pony League World Series (ages 13-14) in 1972, while a team from Chihuahua captured the Bronco division World Series title of Pony League baseball (ages 11-12) in 1979. Mexico has also achieved success in the Cal Ripken World Series, wining the title in 2003 and 2004 and earned a bronze medal in each of the last two Pan American games (in 2003 and 2007), its best showing yet.

Ones To Watch For In MLB: Jaime Garcia and Fernando Salas (both Cardinals), among others.

2006 WBC showing: Failed to advance to the semifinals.

Back from the 2006 WBC team: Adrian Gonzalez, Jorge Cantu, Oliver Perez, Erubiel Durazo.

Gone from the 2006 WBC team: Vinny Castilla (now the manager)

Now on 2009 WBC team: Scott Hairston, Joakim Soria.

PLAY BALL -- IN MEXICO!

Mexico boasts both a 16-team summer league and an eight-team winter league.

Mexican Summer League Overview: A total of 16 teams play approximately 110 game during the regular season, which runs from mid-March to late July. Each club is allowed no more than five non-Mexican-born players. Twelve teams qualify for the playoffs. Six first-round winners and two "best losers" advance to second round. All playoff series are best-of-seven. Second-round winners meet in division finals. Winners advance to best-of-seven series for Mexican League championship.

Mexican Winter League Overview: A total of eight clubs play around 70 games during the regular season, beginning the second week of October and ending in December.

Most Successful Franchise: Mexico City Red Devils have won 15 championships.

Among the Biggest Rivalries: In the summer league, it's Monterrey-Saltillo and Yucatan-Campeche. In the winter league, it's Culiacan-Mazatlan.

Best Ballparks: Seating capacity varies, but the largest ballparks are in Mexico City and Monterrey, each with a capacity of more than 26,000. The Saltillo Sarape Makers are among the attendance leaders (serapes are the woolen shawls worn by Spanish-American men). Half the ballparks are at 5,000 feet or above, and the overall league batting average is often close to .300.

Ballpark Atmosphere: Depends on who's playing and what ballpark you're in. Some ballparks may be empty with little atmosphere, except for loud music. Others can be raucous with a festive atmosphere. Among the liveliest is Monterrey and Saltillo (summer league).

Ballpark Food and Drink: Tacos and a Corona, Modelo, Pacifico or Tecate beer, depending on where you are in the country.

Distinctly Mexican: Can lose your hearing because music is a constant companion whether you're in the parking lot, seats or concourses -- even the bathroom! Sometimes you find more buzz in the concourses than in the seats.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.