SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mike Paul shakes his head and laughs as he thinks back to the first year he played for Tampico in the Mexican Baseball League.It was 1976 and the left-hander was playing for Tampico Alijadores."They had a train that would run across the outfield, from right field to
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mike Paul shakes his head and laughs as he thinks back to the first year he played for Tampico in the Mexican Baseball League.
It was 1976 and the left-hander was playing for Tampico Alijadores.
"They had a train that would run across the outfield, from right field to left field," said Paul, now a scout with the Rockies. "I got the engineer to let me ride it one time."
OK, it wasn't the big leagues, where Paul, a 20th-round Draft choice by the Indians out of the University of Arizona in 1967, spent seven seasons. He pitched for the Rangers in '72, when he split time between starting and relieving and finished sixth in the American League with a 2.17 ERA.
However, it wasn't bad. It was baseball. Paul was being paid, and he spent seven years pitching in the summer league -- at Tampico for one year, El Paso for five and Mexico City with the Reds for another. He also pitched in the winter at Culiacan for one year, Tijuana for four years and Obregon for one year.
"It was fun," Paul said. "The ballparks were alive. I have a lot of good memories. The Mexican people love their baseball."
The Padres and Astros will experience that on Saturday and Sunday when they become the latest Major League teams to play south of the border, meeting in two exhibition games amid efforts by Major League Baseball to increase its presence in Mexico.
The establishment of MLB Mexico and the renewal of a television contract between MLB and Univision were announced on Thursday afternoon. MLB Mexico has an office in Mexico City, the sixth MLB office outside of the United States. The partnership will include a Saturday afternoon game of the week.
"It's a good match," said Paul. "There has been a strong relationship for many years, in the summer and the winter."
Paul has been a part of it. Known as the Whitey Ford of Mexico, he compiled the lowest career ERA in league history for a pitcher who worked at least 1,000 innings.
It was more than he ever expected. Released after two early April appearances with the Cubs in 1974 -- in which he allowed four earned runs and retired four batters -- Paul pitched the rest of that season and all of '75 with the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate at Toledo, where Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning was the manager.
Then Paul headed to Mexico. That first year in Tampico, his teammates included second baseman Eddie Leon, who played with Paul at Arizona in the 1960s and also lived in Tucson.
Leon told him Tampico wasn't the best place to pay in Mexico, but "the pay is OK and they won the championship. They want to keep that going."
Paul gave it a try. It wasn't a good year for Tampico.
"It was tough, and I wasn't going back," Paul said. "I told them I had a bad elbow, hoping they would release me. A week later I was traded to Juarez. That wasn't bad. I won 20 games a couple of times and made a bunch of money. Eddie Leon was there and Ralph Garcia. The staff was so good that Teddy Higuera was a rookie and he barely pitched."
Juarez's location on the border also meant Paul could live in El Paso, Texas, although he became such a fan favorite that he said he "felt more comfortable walking the streets of Juarez than El Paso. Everyone knew me."
Paul finished his career pitching one season for the Mexico City Reds. He was initially traded to Monterrey, which in turn dealt him to the Reds for Hector Espino, Mexico's all-time home run leader who lived in Monterrey and requested the trade.
"He was a huge out," said Paul. "They called him the 'Superman of Chihuahua.' You had to pitch him inside, but he had that short, quick stroke with power to all fields."
The trade was a hit.
"I loved Mexico City," Paul said. "My wife had gone to school in Mexico City for a year or two and enjoyed it. It was like New York. I stayed in the Zona Rosa, which was where Americans lived. But after [the 1982] season, the economy collapsed. The peso was devalued. They were going to pay us in pesos instead of dollars. I was 38 and having rotator cuff problems. It was time to go home."
During the winters, Paul would supplement his income pitching in the Mexican Pacific League. He was in Culiacan for one year, and then Tijuana for four seasons before the franchise folded and he finished his career in Obregon.
"It was a pretty good deal," Paul said. "I spent the summers pitching in Juarez, living in El Paso, and the winters pitching in Tijuana, living in the Mission Valley area of San Diego."
Paul also learned to speak Spanish fluently.
"You'd be negotiating with the general managers in Mexico, trying to get a raise, and they couldn't speak English," said Paul. "It was a matter of survival."
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.