HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Opening Day at Chase Field is still 167 days away, but it was Opening Night for the Hermosillo Naranjeros of the Mexican Pacific Winter League Sunday night, and that was enough to entice a contingent of D-backs executives to pay a visit to the team that has won more championships than any other.
D-backs President/CEO Derrick Hall, General Manager Kevin Towers, Special Assistant to the President Luis Gonzalez and Spanish-language broadcaster Richard Saenz were among those who took an important trip to visit their good friends and neighbors to the south. The group met with several key figures in the state of Sonora, took in the home opener and even visited the site of the new ballpark that is expected to be ready in time for the city to host February's Caribbean Series.
"The people of Hermosillo have always been very good to us, so the more time we can spend here with our friends, the better," said Hall. "There are a lot of D-backs fans here, too, which makes every visit special."
The D-backs are no strangers to Hermosillo, having played exhibition games at Hector Espino Stadium each year from 2008-10. The historic venue is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and the pregame ceremonies on Sunday night were befitting of such a milestone. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by Sonora governor Guillermo Padres, followed by another first pitch in which Gonzalez was the honorary batter and Hall served as catcher for legendary Mexican League pitcher Maximino Leon.
Hall and Gonzalez had a chance to catch up with governor Padres before the game, while the group of D-backs executives also met with Vicente Sagrestano, the director of the Sports Commission for Sonora, and were hosted by Enrique Mazon, owner of the Naranjeros. All three of those men have played key roles in helping the city construct a new ballpark that will be at the center of the Latin American baseball world during the first week of February.
Before breaking ground on the $40 million ballpark which will open during the Caribbean Series and then serve as the home ballpark for the Naranjeros, officials reached out to the D-backs for input on planning and design. Hall, Towers, Gonzalez and the rest of the group took a tour of the construction site early Monday morning to see the progress that has been made.
"We were honored to consult on the new stadium, and I think our fans will recognize elements that remind them of Salt River Fields," said Hall. "We're looking forward to coming back in February to see the finished product."
Hermosillo is expected to host a "D-backs Day" during the Caribbean Series, and if the D-backs have it their way, the Naranjeros will represent Mexico in the annual tournament that pits the respective champions of the winter leagues in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Hermosillo's team is managed by D-backs minor league catching coordinator Bill Plummer, while one of the team's coaches is Jacob Cruz, who was the hitting coach for Single A Visalia this season, and another is former D-backs pitcher Elmer Dessens. Former D-backs outfielder Trent Oeltjen batted third in the home opener on Sunday.
"It's important for us to establish relationships down here, and it was great to be a part of Opening Day," said Towers, who fielded several calls from opposing GMs while in Mexico. "The ownership group has been kind enough to utilize our staff members as the manager and coaches, and we're grateful for the partnership we have with them."
The D-backs' trip was also newsworthy throughout the state of Sonora because many tourists from there are expected to visit the Phoenix area when the D-backs host Team Mexico during the first round of the World Baseball Classic, which will take place in March 2013 at Chase Field and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
These are all elements to the continued growth of the D-backs' brand internationally, which saw Hall, Towers, Gonzalez and others travel earlier this summer on a week-long goodwill trip to Japan.
"We'll continue to make trips like these, because it's great for the game of baseball," said Hall. "The more we travel, the more D-backs fans we see all around the world."
Josh Rawitch is the senior vice president of communications for the Arizona Diamondbacks.