MONTERREY, Mexico -- The view from the first-base coaching box is quite different than from the batter’s box, but it suits Vinny Castilla just the same, especially this weekend.
From there, the Rockies icon and Mexico baseball legend can see all of the action -- on the field for two games against the D-backs and in the stands at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey -- and take it all in. If anyone knows how far baseball has come in his homeland and where it is going, it’s Castilla, who is currently a special assistant to Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich.
In Castilla's mind, the sights from first base never looked so good.
“This is my country, and it always feels great to be back to see my friends and my people,” said Castilla, who played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues and even longer in Mexico’s Winter Leagues. “The future is bright, very bright, for baseball in Mexico. There are a lot of fans in Mexico, and they love baseball.”
The Rockies began their fifth trip to Mexico, and their second trip to Monterrey, on Saturday morning with a Play Ball event and conclude it Sunday with an afternoon game against the D-backs. On Saturday night, Colorado beat Arizona, 5-1, in the first of two games, and Castilla threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The Rockies last visited Monterrey in 1999, when they opened the season with a three-game series against the Padres.
“This an exciting time for us to be here as an organization as we continue to grow and expand the sport globally,” said bench coach Mike Redmond, who is managing the split-squad team this weekend. “The guys are excited to be here. I was a part of the Marlins’ trip to Panama, and that was a great experience as well, so I’m looking forward to feeling the excitement."
Castilla, the all-time Mexican home run leader in MLB, has been a ball of energy since the club touched down in the country late Friday, and it’s easy to see why he’s so excited:
• Last year, the Dodgers and the Padres played a regular-season series at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey, and this season, the Reds will host the Cardinals for a two-game set on April 13-14 and the Angels and Astros will play a two-game series on May 4-5 as part of the Mexico Series.
• A group of Padres prospects are scheduled to play against the Diablos Rojos in Mexico City later this month.
• Major League Baseball has an office in Mexico City and an academy in Culiacan.
• There are an estimated 30,000 Little League and Pony League players in Mexico, primarily in Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Baja California, Tamaulipas, Sonora, Coahuila, Yucatan, Veracruz and Mexico City, and the hope is some of those players will eventually be good enough to go pro.
• Last week, Major League Baseball announced a new two-year player-transfer agreement with the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol that will strengthen the relationship between the two leagues.
“Commissioner [Rob] Manfred is doing great job, and not only promoting this game, but the World Baseball Classic was a great hit and he was able to get a lot of countries involved in this beautiful sport,” Castilla said. “Mexico is growing a lot in baseball. It’s going to be tough to beat soccer, because soccer is still the biggest game in Mexico, but baseball is right behind it.”
On Saturday, Castilla spent the morning at the youth clinic and the afternoon helping guide the big leaguers through their afternoon workout. All day, he paused to sign autographs and take photos with anyone that asked, and then hung around long enough to make sure everyone was accommodated.
To some players, Castilla serves as a coach and a father figure. Rockies catcher Tony Wolters call him his “Papa.”
“Just having him around helps us get to a mental spot of where we need to be,” Wolters said. “Vinny is not just a great baseball player, he’s a great person, and I really appreciate what he does."
During his pregame press conference, Redmond joked he wished he could insert Castilla into the lineup this weekend, but the Mexican legend says he is just fine from the first-base box. Besides, he’ll get a different view of the field when he manages Hermosillo’s Mexican League team later this year.
“He’s done an amazing job representing Mexico and all of the Mexican players,” Redmond said. “He’s a first-class person."
Ramos' big night
It was a big night at the plate for Roberto Ramos and a memorable night for baseball fans in Mexico.
Ramos, who was born in Mexico and raised in California, hit a double and a home run for the Rockies in the first game of the Mexico Series on Saturday at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey.
“It was a great experience just to be able to come out here in my home country and play in front of my people and my family that was able to fly out here,” Ramos said. “It was just an unbelievable experience that I’ll always have with me. Great memories.”
Ramos' home run came off D-backs lefty Miguel Aguilar, who is also from Mexico.
“Aguilar is somebody that is a tremendous pitcher that I’ve been facing over the years, not only in Mexico, but in the Minor Leagues as well,” Ramos said. “He’s a great pitcher and today, I was able to get a hit off of him, but hat's off to him. He’s one of my really good friends, and it was good to face him today.”
The slugger is no stranger to heroics. Ramos hit a go-ahead home run against the D-backs in an exhibition game in Hermosillo, the city where he was born, in 2015.
“I had the opportunity to get a couple at-bats,” Ramos said. “I ended up getting a big hit. It was a great moment for me and all of my family that was present.”
Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.