The Arizona Wildcats are, for a second consecutive year, going to get their fiesta on.
The Wildcats will be one of eight teams participating in the ninth annual Mexican Baseball Fiesta, which will take place Oct. 3-6 at Kino Stadium.
Arizona will play Naranjeros de Hermosillo in the second game of the first day’s doubleheader, which starts at 5 p.m.
Arizona coach Jay Johnson said the team rarely does something that all the players love at the same time, but last year’s game was such a positive experience that he couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.
“My takeaways were, again, how lucky my players are to get to play in a town that cares about baseball as much as it does in Tucson,” Johnson said. “I mean, I literally walked into that stadium and I couldn’t believe it. The atmosphere – it felt like a high-level NCAA postseason game.”
This year’s Mexican Baseball Fiesta will feature six teams – the most ever – from the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) – the Naranjeros, Taquis de Obregon, Aguilas de Mexicali, Cañeros de los Mochis, Tomateros de Culiacan and Mayos de Navajoa. The eventual goal is for all 10 teams in the league to participate in the Mexican Baseball Fiesta.
“We see the amount of people from this side of the border that write to us when our season starts about the Hermosillo Naranjeros, Yaquis de Obregon, Tomateros de Culiacan and all the other teams that are present,” said Leopoldo Fierro, the LMP director of digital marketing. “Connecting with that fan base for us is very important.”
The Future Stars from the Arizona Fall League team — the Mesa Solar Sox will also participate.
The level of competition, with professional former or aspiring big-leaguers, is something the Wildcats wouldn’t get to experience otherwise.
It will also be the first time the entire team will play together this year, so it serves as a good baseline to see where each player stands.
“So, no promises on what that looks like that night, but we’ll be ready to compete and have a lot of fun,” Johnson said.
Luis Aguirre, the Naranjeros manager, said he knows of two teams that always fill up the stadium: Hermosillo and Obregon — the two teams that have participated in the Mexican Baseball Fiesta all nine years. Culiacan is returning to the Fiesta after being absent for a few years, so it should also draw a crowd, but it’s the Arizona game that Aguirre is most looking forward to.
Last year’s game drew 3,678 fans. Because Aguirre stayed behind in Tucson for a while after the event finished, he had just heard feedback from those in the Old Pueblo. But when he got back to Hermosillo, the Arizona game was still the one game from the Mexican Baseball Fiesta everyone was talking about.
Aguirre thinks it may have been, at least in part, thanks to Cesar Salazar. Salazar, an Hermosillo native who moved to Tucson at age 16, played for Arizona for three years before being drafted by the Houston Astros in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB draft.
Salazar is currently playing for the Astros’ Double-A team, but will return to Hermosillo for the Mexican Baseball Fiesta and the winter season.
“He’s the one most people are interested in,” Aguirre said.
Johnson said he wishes he could keep up with former players like Salazar who are still playing, but he finds it difficult to do so with his schedule. Even then, he has tried to stay updated on how his former starting catcher is doing and looks forward to seeing him again.
“When he’s not on our side, I want to get him out,” Johnson said. “If he’s playing this year, hopefully we can do the same.”