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MLB pleased with Mexico series
03/14/2004  7:52 PM ET
Marlins, Astros end in tie
Kids get lesson they won't forget

MEXICO CITY -- The offensive numbers this weekend were down big time at Estadio Foro Sol compared to last year. So was the attendance. But the enthusiasm from the Mexican fans was hardly abated.

They cheered and rocked the Estadio Foro Sol in the ninth inning Sunday as the World Series champion Florida Marlins scored twice to tie the Houston Astros. Then the 11,270 in attendance showered the field with paper cups and debris after the game was called after nine innings, tied 2-2. The managers had a made a pregame decision that with the personnel the two teams had on hand, the game would not go into extra innings under any circumstances.

"Major League Baseball regrets that the fans of Mexico City were disappointed the second game of Serie de Primavera ended in a 2-2 tie and was unable to extend into extra innings," MLB said in statement released after the game. "As is the case in many Spring Training games, it was decided prior to the start that the game would be limited to nine innings only. Overall, both clubs had a great two days of competitive baseball and the players really enjoyed the Mexico City crowds."

Otherwise, Major League Baseball International officials went home undaunted. MLB will be back to play games in Mexico City next year, perhaps during the regular season, definitely again in March.

"We'll continue to grow the game in Mexico City," said Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice president of international business operations.

"I think this was a great experience," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "Major League Baseball did a fantastic job. The security was great. Transportation was much better than I thought it would be. And the fans down here really love their baseball."

Last year, the Dodgers and Mets combined for 57 runs, 74 hits and 14 homers in 20 innings as the teams split the two-game series at an altitude of 7,200 feet. This year, the two teams combined for 11 runs, 45 hits and five home runs. Last year, 37,758 attended the two games. This year, 26,338 attended.

Part of the attendance problem was that MLB didn't formally announce the series until early February and the promoters had a little more than a month to advance the games. Last year, they had three months of advance time.

"We had the late start and it's always a tough ticket to sell baseball in Mexico City. This is soccer country," Archey said. "Baseball is definitely more popular to the north and west. But considering all that, we're very pleased. The fans were wonderful and showed their knowledge of the game with the way they received Roger Clemens on Saturday. The whole thing was a very positive experience."

Clemens pitched three innings of two-run ball as the Marlins won, 6-1, and hit four of the five home runs. The Astros, though, scored three runs and had 20 hits in the two games. They had a night game against the Yankees in Tampa on Friday night and didn't arrive in Mexico City until a few hours before the game on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Marlins arrived late Friday night and were well rested by the time they took the field on Saturday.

"I don't think we were affected by the altitude," said Jeff Kent, who hit Houston's only homer in the fourth inning Saturday evening. "The dimensions of this park are a little strange and it has very fast turf. But we sat on a plane for three hours and took 2 1/2 hours of bus rides on Saturday just to get here. Guys just weren't ready to play."

Comparatively, the Sunday afternoon game last year on March 15 was a veritable slugfest.

The Dodgers won, 20-10, and had 30 hits and four home runs. Tom Glavine started for the Mets and gave up 10 runs on 13 hits before he was yanked with two out in the fourth inning.

Glavine said at the time that 90 percent of what happened to him that day could be attributed to the ballpark. Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said that the ballpark "penalizes pitchers on both ends." If they get the ball up, it's easy to hit it out of the park. If the ball's hit on the ground, it's likely to scoot through the infield on the quick artificial turf.

Unlike many of the artificial turf fields in the U.S., this one is cross cut to look like grass and has a natural clay infield.

Murray Cook, Major League Baseball's head groundskeeper, tried to fix the infield problem by concocting a new clay mixture this year. It met with mixed reviews.

"Last year (the players) complained that it played too hard," Cook said. "Now they're complaining that it plays too soft."

Because of the altitude, the ballpark has a tendency to play like a bandbox. But good pitching and mild weather conditions seemed to mitigate the target practice created by light air and dimensions that include a 326-foot shot down the left-field line and 333 feet down the line in right.

"Good pitching is the reason why the ballpark played so differently this year. Everybody pitched pretty well," said Florida's Jeff Conine, who hit a two-run homer on Saturday night. "I hit my ball pretty good, but I'm sure it wouldn't have gone that far at sea level."

Still MLB remains unabashed.

"We will eventually bring regular season games to Mexico City," Archey said. "I don't know if it will be next year. But we'll definitely be coming back."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story is not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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