Padres gear up for trip to Mexico City

Club excited for pair of split-squad games vs. Astros

Padres gear up for trip to Mexico City

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On the surface, the Padres' weekend games against the Astros in Mexico City are only a pair of split-squad Spring Training contests. But to the organization as a whole -- and to baseball fans in the Mexican capital -- the games mean a whole lot more.

The Padres left for Mexico City on Friday, and they will face the Astros at Estadio Fray Nano on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The organization is viewing its weekend excursion as a chance to expand its presence internationally.

"It's not an immediate [impact] you can measure in days, months and even years," said Padres president Mike Dee. "But the more relevant you become as a brand, the more you'll continue to grow -- in this case, in Mexico. It all accumulates and adds up to a longer-term payback that we think we'll see over time."

In 1998, the Padres faced the Mets in Monterrey, marking Major League Baseball's first regular-season games in Mexico. They also played the Rockies there to open the 1999 regular season, and the club has traveled to Mexico on six prior occasions during Spring Training.

Dee was quick to point out the Padres' ties to Mexico and said the club is looking to broaden its presence there once again.

"There's a historical significance and a connection there with the Padres," Dee said. "The team has lost its way at times in really being focused on outreach in Mexico. We've been remediating that."

The Padres have done so in more ways than simply scheduling a couple games at Fray Nano (which has a 4,500-seat capacity, but expanded to roughly 8,000 seats for this weekend's series). The club has invested heavily in scouting Mexico, and that shows on the weekend travel roster.

Six Mexican-born players -- Cesar Vargas, Luis Urias, Gerardo Reyes, Jose Urena, Ricardo Valenzuela and Fernando Perez -- will make the trip. Vargas, a 24-year-old right-hander who grew up in Puebla (two hours south of the capital), will get the start Sunday afternoon in front of his family.

Green on Padres' homecoming

"I think all Mexicans dream of that," Vargas said. "They grow up with that dream. For me, when the team told me, it was like, 'Oh my God. One of my dreams comes true.'"

Vargas was quick to note the impact that events like this one could have on future generations.

"I think a lot of little guys who want to become professional baseball players, those kids, when you look at their face, have that dream," Vargas said. "When they are looking at the other players that are Mexican players, they get more courage to fight for their dreams."

But it wasn't just the Mexican-born players who were eager to make the 1,500-mile voyage.

When shortstop Alexei Ramirez heard the club was considering holding him back because of potential visa issues, he called his attorney and his agent to make sure those got squared away.

When center fielder Travis Jankowski went down with an ankle injury on Tuesday, he did everything in his power to return to full health in time for departure.

"We're looking forward to this trip," manager Andy Green said. "Honestly, to some degree, it's a reprieve from the continuous grind of Spring Training. You get to go down there and compete in front of a big crowd in a new environment. There are a ton of guys who are excited."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.