Manfred helps open kids complex in Tijuana

Project marks MLB's first international All-Star legacy initiative

Manfred helps open kids complex in Tijuana

TIJUANA, Mexico -- It was one truly historic day in Major League Baseball and Mexico. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, his family, Padres staff, local dignitaries and happy kids took All-Star Week south of the border on Monday to much fanfare and a symbolic gesture of goodwill.

For the first time in Midsummer Classic history, MLB All-Star Community Legacy efforts in 2016 include an international project: the creation of an All-Star Complex at the Club de Niños y Niñas de Mexico.

The All-Star Game presented by MasterCard will take place at Petco Park on Tuesday, with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

"This shows our continuing interest in having a more in-depth engagement with Mexico and the Mexican people," Commissioner Manfred said. "I'd like to thank the mayor and everyone here in Tijuana for bringing this great project to fruition. All of us in Major League Baseball are very excited to be in San Diego for a week full of All-Star festivities. But as an extra benefit, the proximity allowed us to be here in Mexico.

"One of the best things about the All-Star Game is the All-Star Legacy program. ... Since 1997, the program has completed more than $75 million worth of legacy projects in communities across MLB. ... This is the first one outside of the U.S., and we are very proud of that fact."

Renovations at the facility most notably included the conversion of a nearly 16,000-square-foot basketball court into a multipurpose recreational area featuring a kickball/Wiffle ball field. The project also upgraded two batting cages by installing new netting and safety infrastructure, as well as a pitching machine.

Additional improvements included the leveling and grading of a parking lot at the facility to provide protection from water damage; the aesthetic refresh of meal and rest areas; and the installation of new ventilation, drop ceiling, lighting, a main entrance and wall plastering in the auditorium to allow for year-round use. The club, which opened in 2008 and serves 750 children daily from low-income neighborhoods throughout Tijuana, was the first Boys & Girls Club in Mexico.

Joining the Commissioner was Padres CEO Mike Dee; Padres senior vice president of community and military affairs Tom Seidler; Tijuana Mayor Jorge Astiazarán; Enrique Gamboa Nunez, founder and president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mexico; Jesus Calleros, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tijuana; and Eduardo Ortega, the Padres' Spanish-language broadcaster.

Manfred said there is "some symbolism in the fact that we did it in Mexico, because Mexico is a priority, not only for the Padres but also for Major League Baseball."

Immediately before the news conference, the Commissioner said that he is optimistic about the possibility of MLB one day expanding into Mexico.

"We see Mexico as a growth opportunity," Manfred said. "In the short term, we'd like to see more Mexican players playing in the big leagues. And over the long term, we'd like to think it is viable to have a franchise here in Mexico."

Manfred noted that it was his third trip to Mexico in the past 18 months -- this one just a half-hour van ride. MLB opened an office in Mexico City in March, in conjunction with a pair of Spring Training games there between the Padres and Astros.

MLB and the Padres have donated approximately $5 million through MLB Charities and the Padres Foundation, a fund of the San Diego Foundation, toward several All-Star Legacy improvement projects and in support of national charitable initiatives. Since 1997, MLB has donated more than $75 million for All-Star-related projects and initiatives.

"Today's a historic day, not only because yesterday was our city's 127th birthday, but also because Major League Baseball for the first time in history is investing in Mexico," Mayor Astiazarán said. "We want to thank MLB for investing in Mexico's children."

Dee said the Padres' friends in Tijuana did a "fantastic job" with the project, and emphasized the club's longstanding ties to communities in Mexico. He called 2016 a "grande" year in the relationship between the Padres and Mexico.

"These Legacy projects will be here long after the final out is played on Tuesday night, but it's important that we wanted to extend the All-Star experience this week to the many Padre fans and friends here in Tijuana and throughout northern Baja," Dee said. "We thank you, and we look forward to being a big part of your community -- even bigger moving forward."

Manfred said it is also important to have a strong relationship with existing Mexican leagues.

"We think that by making a more open relationship with those leagues, a more supportive relationship, that we can increase the flow of Mexican players into Major League Baseball," Manfred said. "At the end of the day, our product is compelling because we have the best players in the world, and I know some of those players are here in Mexico.

"In a larger picture, we believe that the development of baseball in this market is important not only for Mexico, but we believe it is important to fully engage the diverse fan base in the United States."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.