01/07/2004 1:31 PM ET
Friends hope to lure MLB to Mexico
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Growing up in Nuevo Leon, longtime friends Carlos Bremer and Jose Maiz never had trouble finding a way to keep busy while their mothers played cards in the living room.
They chatted sometimes and they laughed a lot of the time. More often than not, they shared ideas on changing the world and how to make a positive impact on their native Mexico.
The years have passed, the friends have aged, but their childhood dreams have not changed very much.
"Charlie," 42, is chief executive officer of the Value Grupo Financiero and one of Mexico's wealthiest financiers, while his buddy "Pepe," 58, is enshrined in the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame and the owner of Maiz-Mier Construction, the oldest construction company in Northern Mexico, along with the Monterrey Sultanes baseball team and Estadio Monterrey, a stadium that seats 26,000.
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Together, the friends pooled their resources and their passion for baseball last summer in a historic push to bring the Montreal Expos to Monterrey for 22 games in 2004. It is their grandest idea to date.
"The synergy we bring is magic," Bremer said. "Together we have all the ingredients to make a beautiful story for baseball and bring it to Mexico officially for a long period."
The magic has been put on hold, for now.
For the second consecutive year, the Expos will play the 22-game schedule over three separate homestands at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, edging Monterrey in the bid for the games. The remaining 59 games are scheduled to be played at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Bremer and Maiz were willing to match and exceed any financial offer from Puerto Rico, but Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig remained loyal to the city who played a large part in saving the franchise before the 2003 season.
"Given the great success of the Expos' homestands in San Juan last season, we look forward to a continuation of games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 2004," Selig said. "We are also grateful to Monterrey, Mexico, and the city's supporters. There is intense interest in baseball in Monterrey, and the bid from this great city for these 22 games was a formidable one. However, after considering many factors, we determined that San Juan, being the incumbent, was the most suitable choice to stage these series of games in 2004. We will continue to consider Monterrey should other opportunities arise."
Players Association executive director Donald M. Fehr said the clubs' proposal to play again in Puerto Rico was a reasonable one, "especially against the backdrop of the warm reception given the players last year in San Juan."
Monterrey remains a serious contender to acquire the team. The relocation committee is considering the city along with Mexico City, San Juan, San Antonio and Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Las Vegas.
"It was great push by Monterrey and we had to make a tough decision," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer. "San Juan got the edge in the end because it was the incumbent."
Puerto Rico was a success in 2003, drawing more than 300,000 fans, and has been a showcase for talent years before the island played host to MLB's Opening Day in 2001. Monterrey has its share of big league experience.
In 1991, Monterrey, behind the efforts of Maiz, played host to an exhibition game between the Dodgers and Brewers and played host to the Cuban All-Star team in 1992. In 1993, the Twins and Atlanta Braves played in the city, and in 1996, the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres played the first regular-season series outside of the United States and Canada, with three games at Estadio Monterrey. In 1999, Major League Baseball opened the season for the first time ever in Mexico in a game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres.
"In 1994, we applied to get games played here on a permanent basis, but in December 1994, there was a big devaluation of the money here," Maiz said. "I wrote a letter immediately to the Major Leagues to tell them to retire my proposal because the country was not in a condition to host a team. That was the first time we tried. Things are different now."
Monterrey, a 2 1/2-hour drive from the U.S.-Mexico border, is the capital city of Nuevo Leon, one of six Mexican states that share a border with the United States. The Monterrey metropolitan area has a population of 3.2 million out of the state's 3.8 million and consists of seven municipalities: Monterrey, Guadalupe, San Nicolas, Apodaca, Escobedo, San Catarina and San Pedro Garza Garcia.
Founded in 1496 when a group of Spanish soldiers and colonists led by Diego de Montemayor settled at the spring waters at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains, the city is home to Alfa, the steel and petrochemical exporter, as well as glassmaker Vitro, and steel processor Grupo Imsa.
The Monterrey Institute of Technology, the University of Monterrey, the Regiomontana University and the National Autonomous University have helped turn the city into a prominent education center in northern Mexico. Moreover, Monterrey has been the Mexican headquarters of many U.S. Fortune 500 companies since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
"If you go to the south part of the city, it's like you are in Dallas, Houston or San Antonio. -- there is no difference," Maiz said. "We would like the players and Major League Baseball to be here. They don't know the city of Monterrey and the country of Mexico. They know Puerto Rico and not us. Maybe they think Mexico is like we are portrayed in the old movies. Some see an old Mexico and not the cities. They see the ranches and the small towns, but that is not all of Mexico. I'm not sure people understand what Mexico is."
Part of Monterrey's appeal, Bremer and Maiz believe, is that a team in their city would draw from Texas' Rio Grande Valley, where Harlingen, McAllen and Brownsville are all within driving distance. The distance to Monterrey from the Rio Grande Valley is much closer compared to the nearest big league cities of Arlington and Houston.
For their efforts, Maiz and Bremer have received open support from the mayor of their city as well as the Governor of Nuevo Leon. In September, Antonio Garza, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, wrote a letter to Selig on the country's behalf listing the benefits of Major League Baseball in Monterrey and Mexico.
"I think in terms of what some might characterize as "soft diplomacy", I think there is an opportunity to rally around similar interests," Garza said, reiterating his stance in November. "Whether that be baseball, or sports generally, or the arts or cultural events, when people have the opportunity to see each other as human beings and have the opportunity to enjoy something they both have passion for, it creates an understanding between people that then makes resolving difficult issues a little bit easier. Because you are now dealing with friends and people you share something in common with. I think there is real opportunity for that sort of diplomatic growth associated with baseball. Some of our best ambassadors have been baseball players. They travel around the world and play in cities around the globe explaining the qualities of sportsmanship."
With Bremer and Maiz at the helm, the Mexican group started making a push for the Expos in June and was told of the decision in early December. Maiz said he became frustrated at times during the process and lost money on potential advertisements and ticket sales within his stadium because he was not sure if he was going market the Sultanes or the Expos.
But Maiz holds no ill feelings and said it was never about the money, it's about baseball. Bremer's idea was to sell 3,000 expensive VIP season seats to Mexican and international corporations and then offer the remaining tickets at prices that average Mexicans and the city's visitors could afford.
"The No. 1 beneficiary is baseball because it will expand to a new market. It will expand into a 104 million people market," Bremer said. "For us, we are risking a lot of money, but we are risking it because we are sure it will be a success. We are not in it to make a lot of money. We made an aggressive offer that does not bring us a lot financially but brings baseball to Mexico. We are giving the opportunity to baseball for a new market."
According to Maiz, the renovations to Estadio Monterrey included making the lockers bigger, reconfiguring the pressbox, carpet changes, lighting improvements, some painting, protecting players from fan interference with higher walls, additional fan seating and more VIP seating. All additions could have been completed before the start of the regular season, and many of the improvements were going to be made before the beginning of the Mexican League season in the spring.
Maiz said he can add 3,000 seats to up the stadium's capacity to almost 30,000.
"The only thing that does not work in our favor is that they already had games in Puerto Rico," Maiz said. "But we will continue to push to bring baseball here. Maybe there are some teams that are not drawing well in the United States and they would like to play 22 games here. We are open."
Maiz said he does not want to purchase a minor-league baseball team from the U.S. and transplant it to Monterrey because Maiz's Sultanes are already considered Triple-A. He said such a move would hurt the 16-team Mexican League in which the Sultanes play.
So for now, Maiz, Bremer and Mexico will have to wait. They wait on another opportunity with the hopes that MLB's relocation committee will consider Monterrey as a suitable place for a series or permanent home for a team. The Mexicans also hope Selig's legacy in large part will be his ability to expand and establish Major League Baseball across the globe into new markets.
"Why not give a shot to the Mexican market?" Bremer said. "We have the right team, it's the right moment and the right city."
Eric Stern, who represents the Mexicans in the United States, said he was surprised San Juan was chosen over Monterrey, but knew it would be difficult to challenge the incumbent. He will try again to bring Major League Baseball to Mexico when the opportunity presents itself.
"We are examining future possibilities in regards to continuing relationships with Monterrey and Major League Baseball, whether that means hosting further games with other teams or trying to bring a team permanently to Monterrey, be it the Expos or another franchise" said Stern, who is the son of NBA Commissioner David Stern. "There is more corporate wealth in Monterrey than in most cities in America, and because of the demographics and proximity to the United States, if there is ever going to be full-time team in Mexico, most likely, it will be in Monterrey. We are making an ongoing effort to promote that."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.