The day that I flew into Mexico I was feeling very lucky that I was about to experience spring training in a highly sought after vacation destination. Of all places I could be going I was headed to Mazatlan and staying in a hotel on the beach, compared to where I spent spring training last year in the sweltering hot Yuma, AZ.
I was experiencing many emotions on the plane ride about playing in a different and dangerous country but the one that I focused on the most was that I was ready. I was ready to experience a new place, embrace a new culture, and most of all I was ready to go to work.
I was going to be encountering an entirely different level of new experience this year and since I was entering a foreign land the main thing I told myself was to make sure to keep my head on a swivel. I knew I had to be aware of all things at all times. That is the way I have tried to think since I arrived and so far it has helped me a lot.
As a first year American import player in a cutthroat Mexican League you get thrown a lot of curveballs. The nastiest curve of all is that you have to learn Spanish. Living in a place where you can’t understand what anyone is saying gets frustrating. Being the only one on the team that can’t understand what the manager is telling you has the tendency to make you feel less a part of the squad at times. I think the more ruthless that you are in your efforts to learn the new language the better chance you have a high level of success.
I have been trying to do this along with making my best attempts to familiarize myself with different aspects of Mexican tradition and lifestyle. It has helped me feel more knowledgeable of my surroundings, and I also feel it is respectful to my native peers and teammates to make an effort to know what they are all about. Learning more everyday is something I enjoy and take pride in and by making this effort I feel like it has in turn helped me earn a greater respect from my teammates and coaches. I believe that what you do off the field can play as big of a role in your status as an import as what you do on the field.
I have seen a lot of interesting and funny things so far playing in Mexico. Promotional entertainment between innings here is nothing like what you see in the U.S. During a game in the States you might see a dizzy bat race, a kid racing a mascot around the bases, or a sumo contest with those big fluffy suits. In Mexico, you can expect some awesome debauchery such as cock fights (two live roosters going toe-to-toe right next to the first baseline), dancing girls in their exotic and skimpy outfits, or a dancing ‘little person’ that strips down to nothing but his whitey titeys and flexes his muscles for the crowd to get them revved up. Often times there is also a full group of energetic Mexican fans playing drums and other loud instruments that help get your adrenaline pumping. Oh, and it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is about the throw a pitch, they will just keep drumming away.
As a newcomer to an unfamiliar country I feel like I can now relate more with what Latin players go through when they first come to the US. They have to adapt to America the same way that I have been learning to adapt to Mexico. I think we as fans can take for granted the amount of new things that foreign players have to adjust to off the field all while keeping a clear mind and still producing on the field. I have a new level of respect for these foreign players and I now realize more the sacrifices they must make in order to pursue their dream of playing baseball. Having the opportunity to be part of such an amazing game everyday whether it be in San Diego, Boston, Canada, or Mexico, and call it my job is a blessing. Overall, I look at most of the adjustments I have had to make as being fun and exciting and all worth the sacrifice of familiarity.
Isaac Hess is a former independent league player who is pitching in the Mexican League this season. He’ll be sharing his experiences in the league throughout the season.