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Cards cap 'special' weekend in Mexico with win

@LangoschMLB
April 14, 2019

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The box score will tell the basics -- highlighting the pair of home runs Marcell Ozuna crushed, the go-ahead blast Matt Carpenter provided and the five-run seventh that ensured Mexican-born reliever Giovanny Gallegos of an appearance in Sunday’s 9-5 Cardinals victory over the Reds at Estadio de

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The box score will tell the basics -- highlighting the pair of home runs Marcell Ozuna crushed, the go-ahead blast Matt Carpenter provided and the five-run seventh that ensured Mexican-born reliever Giovanny Gallegos of an appearance in Sunday’s 9-5 Cardinals victory over the Reds at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey.

But this was a game -- a weekend, actually -- defined by the much less tangible.

Aside from playing in the Major League cities of Toronto and Montreal, the Cardinals had never taken their big-league product international before agreeing to participate in MLB’s 2019 Mexico Series. What awaited them in Monterrey was, to use the words of one player, “special.”

The crowds were festive, and the passion for the sport striking, inside a ballpark that sits at the foot of the iconic mountain known locally as Cerro de la Silla. Cardinals shirts and hats and jerseys weren’t hard to spot. Nor was the potential for long-lasting impact.

“I think any opportunity to expand the brand is always positive for the organization as a whole,” said general manager Michael Girsch, one of several front-office members to accompany the club to Mexico.

“When it comes to recruiting and signing talent out of Mexico, it’s something we’re always looking at pursuing. I have no idea how two games in Monterrey, Mexico improves that. It can’t hurt. But certainly, it’s a unique opportunity to spread the game, spread the brand and just experience something different.”

The Cardinals’ presence in Mexico had already been on the uptick. After years spent focusing on improving the infrastructure and personnel resources in the baseball talent-rich Dominican Republic and Venezuela, the Cardinals, about four years ago, shifted their attention to other markets. That included Mexico.

The organization hired longtime Mexican League player Ramon Garcia in 2015 to oversee scouting in a country that has produced 13 current and former Cardinals. It was under Garcia’s watch that the Cardinals recently signed reliever Jesus Cruz, who is pitching in Triple-A Memphis’ bullpen, and Ramon Urias, an infielder ranked as the team’s No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline.

This weekend further enhances the organizational outreach.

“It’s two days out of the entire year, so you have to put that in perspective a little bit,” assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez said. “But it’s great that we can bring our brand and bring our organization to Mexico to show that we support international initiatives by MLB. It can’t hurt.”

The exposure went beyond the on-field entertainment, too. Spanish-language broadcaster Polo Ascencio spent much of his weekend passing out team gear to the locals. Gallegos and Andrew Miller took time to play ball with children from a nearby orphanage.

It was an immersion experience for the visitors, but also a familiar one to the Spanish-speaking players who found the atmosphere feeling familiar. Several of them helped key Sunday’s win, too.

Ozuna, a native of the Dominican Republic, delivered a three-run homer to jump-start the offense and then padded the lead late with his fifth home run in seven games. Puerto Rican catcher Yadier Molina helped extend the seventh inning with a two-out hit, paving the way for Venezuelan-born Jose Martinez to pad the lead with a two-run, pinch-hit single.

“So much energy,” Ozuna said. “In Latin countries, everyone wants you to do good, for you to do the best. That was the thing for me -- give my best to them.”

The Cardinals, who split the pair of games with the Reds, capped their stay by remaining on the field postgame to salute the local fans who had embraced them. As one final gesture of appreciation, they spun their hats into the crowd.

“I’d love to come back,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said before departing for Milwaukee. “I love it. I love the atmosphere. I love the competition. And I love the enthusiasm.

“I just enjoyed every moment. The people were fantastic. Hospitality was first class. Just appreciated all the hospitality that Monterrey showed us. Beautiful city. Beautiful people.”

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.