Judging by what you see on television in México, you might get the impression that people here have Fútbol (soccer) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, in Yucatán, the king of sports is the national pastime of the United States: baseball.
Yucatán and Baseball
Here, baseball is a sport that is practiced much more than in other parts of the country. For a long time, and most likely to this day, there have been many more baseball (and softball) fields than soccer fields in the state. In fact, one of the most competitive youth baseball leagues nationwide is the Yucatán League, which includes around 200 teams. We’re talking about 2,500 to 3,000 kids who play every weekend in their 20 stadiums. In addition to these enviable facilities, the league (with the support of parents and a large number of sponsors) provides coaches, directors, pitching and batting coaches, complete uniforms each season, etc., to these young athletes, whose ages range from 3 to 16 years old. And this is just one of the many leagues in Yucatán, all of them highly competitive and top-level.
Speaking of the entire country, the most recognized professional leagues are the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (Mexican Baseball League), which is a summer league, and the Liga Mexicana del Pacífico (Mexican Pacific League), which is played in the winter in northwest side of the country (Baja California, Sonora, Sinaloa, Jalisco, etc.). The Mexican Baseball League is played from April to late July or early August. After that, the postseason begins: the qualifying teams continue playing until they lose. And one of the teams that usually reaches the postseason is the current champion of the Mexican Baseball League: the Leones de Yucatán.
The Leones de Yucatán Baseball Team
If you’re a baseball fan, you may wonder about the level of play you could see in México. If we use United States baseball as reference, we could say that the baseball played in the Mexican Baseball League is equivalent to Triple-A baseball. The difference is that, in the United States, Triple-A has many future Major Leaguers in its ranks: prospects who have not yet reached the level to play in the big leagues. The Mexican Baseball League, on the other hand, has many former MLBers. For example, Didi Gregorius, the shortstop who famously replaced Derek Jeter on the Yankees upon his retirement, has just signed with Algodoneros de Unión Laguna. Like him, the Leones have several renowned players such as Yadir Drake, a star of the Cuban baseball team; Alcides Escobar, shortstop for the Kansas City Royals; or Henderson Álvarez, a Venezuelan pitcher who played for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins.
The Kukulcán Álamo Stadium
Another significant difference between baseball at the Kukulcán Álamo Stadium and baseball in the United States is the stadium itself. In the United States, stadiums are very large, and even then, tickets for the best seats (in the front rows and, especially, behind home plate) are a thing of fantasy, as they are usually reserved for season ticket holders. Here, except for the private boxes, which are usually sold out before the season starts, it is never impossible to get tickets in the lower levels, where you will also be very, very close to the action, and be able to appreciate the plays not only on the screens but also live.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between baseball in the United States and in México is the atmosphere in the stadiums. In both cases, it is very family-friendly, but how it is experienced varies considerably. Especially in the upper levels, the atmosphere here is very festive, with music, dancing, drumming, and cheering. There are several “official” cheerleading groups that occupy these stands with drums and trumpets, and they are responsible for keeping the spirits high throughout the entire game. For a less noisy experience, more focused on the game rather than the festivities, it is recommended to choose seats in the gold and silver levels.
In my experience, in stadiums in the United States, concessions are located between seating levels, which means that if you need to get up to buy something, you can miss anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour of the game. At the Kukulcán Álamo Stadium, you won’t have that problem, since there are vendors who go row by row throughout the entire game, offering a wide range of snacks that you can buy, from soft drinks and beers to sandwiches, pizzas, Marquesitas (a local sweet treat), sushi, and whatever else you can imagine. The most traditional options at our stadium, in addition to pumpkin seeds and peanuts, are the “Piedras” sold by La Wera (fried dough balls; there are several vendors, but the connoisseurs insist on La Wera’s), the coveted Tortas Manolo’s (sandwiches that seem as tall as a three-level cake, made with ham, cheese, pork, turkey, and egg), and the “Pastelitos,” which are puff pastries with various fillings such as mushrooms, ham, cream cheese, etc. There are also restaurants where you can sit at a table and enjoy the game while having a more formal dining experience.
Plan Your Visit to the Lion’s Den (Kukulcán Álamo Stadium)
The Kukulcán Álamo Stadium is located within the Kukulcán Sports Complex, southeast of the city. For the games, extensive parking lots are available (at an approximate cost of $20 per event), but it is also quite convenient to go by taxi, rideshare apps, or public transportation. Games usually take place from Tuesday to Sunday, with the Leones typically playing one week at home and one week away (check the schedule to plan your visit). On weekdays, games start at 8 pm; on Saturdays, at 6 pm; and on Sundays, at 5 pm. The gates open an hour and a half in advance, and if you arrive early, you will find activities and prizes from the team’s many sponsors. Additionally, those who arrive early have a better chance of getting a signed baseball or even getting an autograph from a player.
What to Wear to Kukulcán Álamo Stadium
Many people attend the games wearing jerseys of their favorite national and international teams. The only recommendation is not to wear a Diablos Rojos del México shirt, as it may invite uncomfortable exchanges with the local fans. If you want to dress up in the official merchandise of the current champions, the Leones have physical stores in shopping malls such as Altabrisa and Galerías, as well as another one on Calle 50 x Av. Pérez Ponce and at the stadium itself.
A Different Experience
You don’t need to go to the Kukulcán Álamo Stadium to experience the intensity of Yucatecan baseball. As I mentioned before, there are several leagues throughout the state with tough teams and players who are recruited by municipalities to provide entertainment in areas where there are no options like cinemas or shopping centers. If you attend one of these games, where great quality baseball is also played, don’t be surprised if you witness some extravagances, such as a spectator offering a batter a thousand pesos if he hits a home run, or incentivizing the pitcher to strike out the batter by promising them a farm animal after the game. The games take place every Sunday in almost any municipal seat (regardless of the size of the municipality), from Izamal to Cacalchén. Although they are usually scheduled for 12 pm, it’s not uncommon for the players to start arriving at that time and for the game to begin after 1 pm. The atmosphere remains family-friendly, but what with the local weather and the wide availability of beer, emotions can get a little more heated. Nonetheless, it is a very entertaining experience, and if you go, you’re sure to come away with some anecdotes for posterity.
As you can see, in Yucatán, people enjoy playing baseball, watching baseball, and talking about baseball. A good way to start a conversation with a Yucatecan will always be to ask them about the latest game or who the standout player is for the Leones right now. However, there’s nothing like going to the stadium and living the experience. If you’re not a baseball fan, don’t worry: arrive with hunger. You might not enjoy the game as much, but you will definitely enjoy the food while it unfolds.
By Santiago Sauma
Photography by Santiago Sauma for use in Yucatán Today.
Esta entrada también está disponible en: ES