It took only a split second to see that Sunday was no ordinary day of baseball in downtown Phoenix.
Lines to get into Chase Field for the highly anticipated, officially sold out USA vs. Mexico World Baseball Classic Group C game stretched all the way to Footprint Center at one entry. Fans of all ages arrived, decked out in sombreros and lucha libre masks, powdered wigs and glowing cowboy hats. There was a little more red, white and green of Mexico than red, white and blue of the U.S. in the stands, but with an announced crowd of 47,534 packed into the home of the Diamondbacks, there was a lot of both flag colors.
Sprinkle in some orange and black of the Hermosillo Naranjeros of Mexican pro ball, a little Dodger blue and D-Backs Sedona red and a lot of split outfits in support of both nations, and the stadium was awash in baseball.
Phoenix resident Charles Nield works part time in guest services at Chase Field and also is a high school baseball umpire. He sat high above home plate with family, wearing a D-Backs cap embroidered with the name of his late great uncle, a big baseball fan from Sonora.
Nield was rooting for both teams, and certainly wasn’t alone in that regard.
“I think what’s in my heart is the fact that, especially in the northern states of Mexico, baseball is something really special,” Nield said. “The fact that we’re able to escape and either play or watch this great game is something that I don’t think we should ever take for granted. We’re able to forge so many relationships, not only among our families, but among our friends. And whether we support the U.S. or Mexico, we’re just here to see a great game at the end of the day.”
Emotions ran high on the field and in the seats.
“It’s one of those atmospheres where I always tell people, it’s kind of like the World Cup, you’ve got the instruments going, the fans are really prideful of their country,” Mexico pitcher and former Diamondback Taijuan Walker said.
Some fans headed straight to the Diamondbacks main team shop when the gates opened, where there was a line to get in and Mexico merchandise sold quickly.
Dodgers All-Star outfielder Mookie Betts carried a handheld selfie stick to right field as he ran out to his position.
And then the game started.
Randy Arozarena, Mexico’s leadoff hitter, reached on an infield hit that was originally ruled an out on the field. It was reviewed on replay and changed to a hit, but the short delay allowed already worked up fans to scream even more.
There was certainly an international soccer type of atmosphere, with noisemakers, alternating chants of “Mexico! Mexico!” and “USA! USA!” and people waving the flags they draped themselves in like capes. The U.S.-Mexico baseball rivalry isn’t like the heated U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry that evokes a unique passion and has a good deal of parity in nature. The Americans have a larger collection of established Major League Baseball All-Stars, while Mexico has a handful plus some accomplished big leaguers and is infused with players born in the U.S. with Mexican roots.
But Mexico was the better team for a night.
That longtime fan tradition, The Wave, happened in the top of the third inning.
It was Mexico’s and its fans’ night, as 30-year-old Joey Meneses, who is in the Washington Nationals’ organization, crushed a pair of home runs to left field that rocked the crowd. The second home run featured an emphatic bat toss, and when Meneses reached the dugout, teammates placed a mariachi-style sombrero on his head.
Arozarena, who has five hits including a home run and three doubles in two WBC games, tipped his cap in left field to fans chanting “Randy! Randy!” in the bottom of the fourth inning. Moments later, Mexican fans broke out in a chorus of “Cielito Lindo,” a traditional song.
For Jose Montoya, the Diamondbacks’ senior director of facility services, Saturday was the culmination of a lot of planning and effort to get Chase Field ready for the first USA-Mexico WBC game in Phoenix in 10 years.
Montoya said the attendance for the games, four played as of Sunday night, exceeded expectations. He walked around the stadium’s lower bowl, even outside to where fans were lined up to help make sure traffic flow in the concourse areas was manageable, assess the need to open up another entry gate and make sure that people got to their seats.
“We’ve known that it was going be big, but as we got closer, Yeah, I mean you can feel the excitement especially for this game,” Montoya said. “I mean, it’s been awesome to see people come together for this event. It’s great. It’s good for Arizona, good for baseball. Good for everybody.”
Mexico took an 8-2 lead in the top of the eighth on an Arozarena RBI double, and fans in one section turned around from chanting “Fuera! Fuera!” to an unruly customer to cheering for Arozarena.