Inside the Padres' weekend in Mexico City

May 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

What a weekend.

The games in Mexico City were better than the tacos (and I don't make that statement lightly).

The Padres and Giants brought big league baseball to the Mexican capital for the first time with a pair of wild back-and-forth games -- both San Diego victories.

But the weekend was so much more than a couple baseball games. Here's a running diary of the Padres' trip to Mexico City:

Friday morning: Clinic with Olmeca Little League

The Padres landed late Thursday, and by the time they arrived at their Polanco hotel, it was early Friday morning.

More than a dozen players still made their way to Liga Olmeca Little League to host a youth clinic with over 250 local children.

"The guys who take their time to go out there, even with the short rest, with the sickness from the altitude and be able to show up, it tells a lot," said Nelson Cruz.

Cruz didn't meet a big leaguer until he was 20, already in pro ball. Now 42, he's keenly aware of what that experience can mean to kids -- particularly in areas that don't often get to experience big league baseball.

"At the end of the day, you want to be a role model," Cruz said. "You want those kids to dream big.

Added Manny Machado: "If we can impact one of those kids ... that's what it's all about. It's about community. It's about kids who are going to come up [and be] the next generation in this game."

Amid the grind of a big league season, the clinic was also a welcome respite.

"Mentally, it makes you forget about the stresses of the game, and all that comes with it," said reliever Tim Hill. "It shows you the simple where-it-all-started-from. And I thought it was really cool, because those kids were all so appreciative."

Did Hill impart any of his sidearming wisdom?

"No," he said with a laugh. "Don't want to ruin anybody yet."

Friday afternoon/evening: Sights and sounds of the city

"I wish we had more time," Machado said. "Beautiful city, and there's a lot to see."

The team held an optional Friday workout. A few pitchers threw bullpen sessions, but most of the team -- understandably, after a frantic start with 27 games in 29 days -- took Friday afternoon to enjoy Mexico City.

Jake Cronenworth went to the Basilica. Fernando Tatis Jr. enjoyed the famed Xochimilco boat ride -- and a number of traveling San Diegans evidently had the same idea.

"A lot of Padres fans out there," Tatis said. "We had a great time. ... Everybody's happy, cheering, having a great time. We're in Mexico enjoying the weekend, just to play some great baseball."

Other players took it easy, walking through Polanco, enjoying the sights there -- the parks and museums.

Oh, and it sounds like they ate quite a few tacos.

"I ate all of them," Tatis said.

"I asked for all the ones they had," said Juan Soto. "I just wanted to try all of them."

Saturday pregame

The Padres arrived at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú around 11 a.m. CST, Tatis decked out in a sombrero, Nick Martinez carrying a Buzz Lightyear piñata. Each player was gifted a city-connect themed Lucha Libre mask from Rey Mysterio.

I thought the coolest aspect of the weekend was the atmosphere -- and props to MLB for opening the gates three hours before first pitch so fans could catch batting practice for both teams. There was a palpable buzz all afternoon, as players signed autographs and warmed up.

"It's just different," Tatis said. "It's a little bit more heat, or fire in our Latin way."

I wanted to say thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hi. Whether local Padres fans in Mexico City or those who made the weekend trip -- you guys are a passionate bunch.

Game 1: Padres 16, Giants 11

What a ballgame.

If you want a recap of all the statistical oddities, check that out here. The great Sarah Langs put some context to the craziness.

In my story that night, I recounted the special atmosphere and all the unique quirks that went along with it. I also wrote about Xander Bogaerts becoming the first player to homer in Major League games in four countries.

Not to be lost amid the offensive exploits of both teams: Tom Cosgrove picked up his first win in his first appearance, retiring Joc Pederson before Machado's go-ahead home run in the bottom of the seventh.

Quite a setting for a big league debut -- a one-run game between divisional rivals in the seventh inning of a game played at over 7,300 feet. But Cosgrove had been promoted earlier in the week and was forced to wait patiently in the bullpen. He didn't seem to mind the locale.

"I was dying to get in there, it could've been anywhere," Cosgrove said. "Once I got out there, it was all good, once the phone was ringing. The waiting to get in there was worse."

Saturday night: postgame celebration

While fans outside were treated to a fireworks display (as though the preceding 3 1/2 hours weren't exactly that), the Padres celebrated in their clubhouse.

Cruz was given the honors of smashing the piñata, while a number of his teammates donned Lucha Libre masks and danced in the background.

In the aftermath of the game, a couple artifacts were collected for the Hall of Fame: Machado's game-worn jersey and the baseball from Joe Musgrove's first pitch.

Sunday morning: standoff for the ages

Neither the Padres nor the Giants took batting practice before Game 2. Things were a lot calmer on Sunday. That is, until María León finished her rousing rendition of Himno Nacional Mexicano.

That’s when Martinez and Sean Manaea -- who shared adjacent lockers last season in the Padres’ clubhouse -- engaged in an anthem standoff for the ages. Martinez narrowly prevailed, employing a tried and true strategy:

“I will stay out there as long as I need,” he said. “I’ve got no shame.”

Game 2: Padres 6, Giants 4

Martinez’s anthem-standoff victory set the tone, and a three-run rally in the eighth capped what the Padres will see as a perfect weekend abroad.

“All positive stuff from the series here,” said Cruz. “We got a chance to go see the kids. The fans, atmosphere, it was incredible. It feels like we were home.”

Not that manager Bob Melvin wants to play every game at 7,300 feet. That comes with its own set of challenges, and the Padres were no doubt eager to return home after a long road trip.

“The travel and being here, playing in the environment, [it’s] a lot of emotion,” Melvin said. “There’s just a lot more that went into two days than you normally do. But we had a terrific time.”