When the San Diego Padres play the first-ever regular season Major League Baseball games in Mexico City this weekend, it'll be the latest example of how the team is embracing a cross-border baseball love affair.
“There's a very strong following and I would say anybody that's from Tijuana, the majority will root for the Padres,” Omar Parra said.
Parra lives in Tijuana and has been a fan of the team for decades. He said baseball, much like soccer, is part of the fabric of his city. Sports fans in Tijuana have supported local teams like the Xolos soccer club and Toros baseball team for many years.
“I would say Mexico is not quite divided, but there is two sports. One is soccer and the other one is baseball,” Parra said.
The weekend series between the Padres the San Francisco Giants comes as the team has leaned into it's Mexican fanbase in recent years. Considering that the team's "city connect" jerseys are inspired by Baja California and mariachis play during games on the Petco Park jumbotron.
“Five, 10 years ago you would mostly see, I would say 90% would be Boston hats, Yankees hats, Detroit Tigers,” Parra said of people at the sports bars and pubs in Tijuana. "Now it's kind of turned around and 60% or 70% is San Diego hats. So I do see a change."
On the U.S. side of the border, San Diego’s South Bay is arguably where the heart of the Friar fandom beats the loudest.
The area has produced a trio of Little League World Series teams over the past decade, and murals of Padres players and mascots pepper Chula Vista’s Third Avenue.
That's where Padres season ticket holder Liz Baltazar spoke about the significance that the team holds in her life and to her family.
“What’s honestly made us bond a lot more too, it's made us closer — is baseball,” Baltazar said. “It's just the love that we both have for this team that makes it worth it. It doesn't matter what the price is, we will pay whatever we can to show our support as well.”
The Rancho San Diego resident and her husband Jorge are traveling to Mexico City for this weekend’s games.
“I'm excited just to be in the environment. Being in the cultural environment, to trying out all the different food items, and just experiencing baseball in a different community, a different culture,” Baltazar said.
The team’s revenue has increased along with the number of fans on both sides of the border.
That's mainly because majority owner Peter Seidler has been on a spending spree, signing stars like Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. to big, long-term contracts, said USD professor of economics Alan Gin.
“San Diego is having more and more fans. That includes fans in Mexico. We might get some people crossing the border to watch games. Those who can't afford to come to games will be watching on television and they might buy some merchandise,” he said.
Over the past few decades, the Padres have played a handful of other times in the Mexican city of Monterrey. But with the Mexico City series, they're stepping onto a bigger stage.
“They're going to the capital, they're going to the biggest city and so that's going to draw a lot of media attention in Mexico,” Gin said. “That’s definitely going to help promote the Padres brand in Mexico. The Padres have been making efforts to do that all along, and this will just give a boost to those efforts.”
Baltazar said this series may be far from her current home, but it's worth the journey. “The Padres is the one team that has my heart for sure,” she said, getting visibly emotional.
Plus, the games are still close to what matters most for Baltazar.
“My side of the family, my grandparents, are from Guadalajara. And same with (my husband's) family, they're close to that area. It means a lot,” she said.
In Tijuana, Parra hopes to see the Padres influence continue to grow.
“My dad and some other relatives in other parts of Mexico now are saying ‘I want to go to the Padres game.’ And I send them gear and all that stuff, so I like that. I like the fact that the Padres are representing,” he said.