Neto's Tucson: Mexican Baseball Fiesta to revive cross-border tradition

2011-10-03T00:00:00Z 2011-10-03T08:38:27Z Neto's Tucson: Mexican Baseball Fiesta to revive cross-border traditionErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 03, 2011 12:00 am  • 

At the northeast corner of the Santa Cruz River and West Congress Street are several monoliths and the freeway frontage road.

But when Frank Coronado was growing up in a nearby barrio in the mid-1940s, there was no freeway, and the corner was known as the Riverside ball field.

There were no dugouts, grass or bleachers. Forget about a concession stand.

The ball field, which brought players and spectators from around town and beyond, was a patch of dirt on which ballplayers patched together a diamond.

"People would drive their cars up to the field and park to watch the games," said Coronado, 72, who grew up at the base of Sentinel Peak in Barrio Sin Nombre.

The etched-out ball field is where Coronado and scores of other boys from the barrios got their start playing the American pastime.

America's great game has long been part of Tucson's sporting life, and has stretched beyond the border.

This coming weekend, Oct. 7-9, America's pastime will have a Mexican flair and flavor as three teams from Mexico participate in the "Vamos a Tucson" Mexican Baseball Fiesta at Kino Stadium on East Ajo Way. The three teams from the Mexican Pacific League - Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregón and Mexicali - will join a team of prospect players from the San Diego Padres farm teams.

The weekend of beisbol is a project between the Tucson Padres and various Tucson organizations, including the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau. Tucson Padres General Manager Mike Feder, who is spearheading the weekend, is looking to build a foundation of future international baseball events.

While cross-border baseball games may be new to the majority of Tucsonans, to Coronado and other longtime Tucsonans the upcoming baseball fiesta is a continuation of a long tradition.

Before, during and after World War II, teams from Tucson would travel to Agua Prieta, across from Douglas, and Nogales, Sonora. Teams from Mexico would travel north to compete in Phoenix, Tucson and in the mining towns of Globe, Morenci and Hayden.

There was the Arizona-Texas League and later the Arizona-Mexico League. There were the Tucson Cowboys, Phoenix Senators, the Nogales Internationals and Nogales Charros, the Bisbee Yanks and Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings, the El Paso Texans and the Cananea Mineros.

"Everybody played the game," Coronado said.

He got his start while watching older players at Riverside and other west-side ballparks forgotten by time, like Eagle Field in downtown Armory Park. The boys also played at Estevan Park on North Main Avenue, south of Speedway, and Oury Park at West St. Mary's Road and the freeway.

At Tucson High School, which during the 1940s and into the 1950s was the state's juggernaut baseball team, Coronado played on the varsity squad. He graduated in 1958 and from there played the game and managed teams at various levels - Little League, American Legion, semi-pro - winning several championships.

Coronado retired in 1991 but later formed a senior slow-pitch softball team, which won a trophy.

On Oct. 23, Coronado will be inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame class of 2011.

Sports journalist Lou Pavlovich Jr., who is also in the hall of fame, wrote in Coronado's nomination letter that in his 55 years with baseball and softball and with more than 1,000 wins, Coronado "is one of the few coaches who have taught the finer skills of these games to thousands of eager learners over his special life."

Coronado will join many friends and fellow ballplayers in the hall of fame, located in La Placita Village at South Church Avenue and West Broadway:

• Lawrence "Aggie" Aguilar played for the Nogales Internationals and Tucson Cowboys in the '40s.

• Rudy Castro, a star at Tucson High School in the 1940s, was shortstop for the University of Arizona and later with the Tucson Cowboys.

• Carl "Scooter" Lopez was a varsity player for Tucson High School and the UA in the '40s.

• Joseph C. Valenzuela grew up in Sells and played for Tucson High during the war and later played pro ball, including with the New York Yankees.

• Benny Rincon played on Tucson High's championship teams from 1948 to 1951, then with the UA and American Legion baseball.

Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at netopjr@azstarnet.com or at 573-4187.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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