On Monday, Major League Baseball announced that for the first time since 1999, big league baseball would be returning to Mexico. The Dodgers and Padres will play a three-game series in Monterrey from May 4-6.
While it will be the Dodgers' first foray into professional games in Mexico, the Padres have been involved every time, including opening the 1999 season vs. the Rockies. MLB first came to Mexico on Aug. 16, 1996, when the Padres squared off against the Mets at the very same place -- Estadio Monterrey, in the shadows of the iconic Cerro de la Silla mountain range:
It didn't hurt that the Padres had one of Mexico's greatest ambassadors to the game taking the mound for them that day in Fernando Valenzuela. The former Dodger great had resurfaced in San Diego 15 years after "Fernandomania" spread across baseball, as he won both the NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award en route to the 1981 World Series title.
Valenzuela had done so much to increase baseball's popularity in Mexico that he was even asked to throw the first pitch ... before a game he was starting.
The crowd went wild, and the Padres were ready to play ball. "With Fernando pitching we're going to feel like the home team," manager Bruce Bochy had said to the New York Times.
After a scoreless first from Fernando, the Padres came out swinging. Tony Gwynn worked a leadoff walk against Mets starter Robert Person, and a couple batters later, Steve Finley connected:
Just like that, the Padres had a 2-0 lead, courtesy of the first home run ever hit in Mexico.
As the day went on, the Padres' offensive barrage was relentless. Finley's second at-bat led to an RBI double, and catcher John Flaherty brought two more runs home with a two-bagger of his own. In the fifth, the Padres knocked Person out of the game when Flaherty and Ken Caminiti launched homers to make it 9-0.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela was dealing, shutting the Mets out through six innings. In the home half of the sixth, Greg Vaughn crushed the capping blow:
The eventual NL West champions were on a roll, and against future Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, they tacked on two more runs to make it a ludicrous 15-0.
Little did they know that they would need a lot of those runs. The Mets rallied for three in the seventh and they ended Valenzuela's night on an RBI single by Rey Ordonez. Then, in the ninth, they exploded against Dustin Hermanson and Sean Bergman for seven runs, a rally that included an RBI double by Chris Jones, a surprising solo shot from Andy Tomberlin and a two-out hit from Edgardo Alfonzo that suddenly made the score 15-10.
Ordonez singled again to bring Jones to the plate with a chance to make it 15-13, so Bochy called on rookie Dario Veras to find some way to stop the damage. The 23-year-old came through, jumping ahead of Jones, 0-2, before retiring him on a lineout to Chris Gwynn in right field.
The dust had settled and the Padres won the first game in Mexico, 15-10. Fittingly, the winning pitcher was none other than Mexican hero Fernando Valenzuela.