One of the truly unique things about the San Diego Padres franchise is the number of fans they have in the country of Mexico.
It is not unusual to walk around some of the border cities in Mexico and see people in Padres gear.
The team has such a connection with their Mexican fans, that Larry Lucchino thanked the fans in Baja California after the team won the 1998 National League Pennant over the Atlanta Braves.
Especially in Tijuana, there is no doubt that before the Xolos won their championship, the Padres were the most popular team in the city. Many generations grew up attending Padre games at Jack Murphy, at the “Q”, and eventually at Petco Park.
The love that the fans in Mexico feel for the Friars is a result of a couple of factors. Obviously geography plays a huge role, as San Diego is closer to Mexico than any other city. But the other big factor was the 1996 series the San Diego Padres played in Monterrey against the New York Mets.
In August 1996, San Diego played New York in what was at the time the first series outside the U.S. and Canada. The atmosphere was electric in Monterrey as more than 75,000 fans came to “Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey” over the three-game set. Although both teams were cheered, there was no doubt that the Padres were fan favorites.
The 1996 Padres team also had Mexican baseball legend Fernando Valenzuela on their roster, and that made the Padres the definite home team. The last game of that series was known as the “Caminiti Snickers Bar Game” as the former Padres’ third baseman famously had medical personnel remove intravenous tubes, then hobbled onto the field and managed to hit two home runs in a victory over NY- all while being powered by a Snickers Bar.
On May 4-6, the Padres will return to Monterrey, Mexico, this time to play the defending National League Champions L.A. Dodgers, in what should be a very fun twist to the rivalry. People in the north of Mexico are big-time baseball fans, so it is wise for MLB to put this series in a place where a lot of people naturally follow the game.
This is also a big chance for the Padres to re-connect with their fans south of the border.
During the Jeff Moorad era, a lot of Mexican fans felt that the franchise had turned its back on them. So this is an excellent opportunity to show that the Padres still care for their fan base in Mexico. Expect the Padres to maybe try to sign a Mexican-born player during the off-season in order to build a connection with Mexican fans.
Regardless of what happens in the off-season, the fact that the franchise is willing to give up three home games means a lot to the Mexican fans and the future of Major League Baseball in Mexico. They are indeed expanding their brand into Mexico as the team slowly begins to get more competitive in a brutal National League Western Division. Viva Los Padres!