Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Fan's Guide to the Tijuana Toros

On the second day of our April baseball road-trip, Melvin, Chris and I went south of the border to see los Toros de Tijuana, uno de los 16 equipos en la Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. We had some sense of what to expect and easily improvised the rest. So others might improvise even less, I compiled an anecdotal and incomplete guide to seeing the team.

Getting to the Border with Mexico

We drove from San Diego on Interstate 5, getting off at the last exit before the border and then proceeding towards the pedestrian entry to Mexico. There were several parking lots near the crossing and on a Wednesday evening in April, ample parking at a rate of seven or eight dollars. Parking east of the Interstate eliminates the need to cross the highway, for which there is a pedestrian bridge, albeit long. There were also several currency exchange kiosks in the area, where Melvin converted $100 for the three of us.

When we arrived, we discovered that we could have taken a San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) trolley right to the border. The Blue Line currently stops running at 1:00 am, resuming four hours later, so public transportation was certainly an option. I read that the MTS 929 and 932 bus lines end at the border but that assertion is not borne out by the route maps (929, 932). Having a car gave us more options upon our return.

The trolleys are red but the route is blue. It terminates
closer to the border than this diagram makes it appear.

Crossing the Border

Our rental car agreement did not allow us to drive the vehicle into Mexico. Once we were in Tijuana, however, we saw many cars with California plates. The stadium is about 10 miles from the border and, depending on how long it takes to get through customs, driving may be the easiest way to get to Estadio Gasmart, home of the Toros.

Google Map provides two driving options, from I-5 and via the Otay International Border, at the end of CA 905. We didn't drive so I won't speculate on the relative merits except to say I-5 merges right into Vía Rápida José Fimbres Moreno, a multi-lane, divided highway that passes within a couple miles of the stadium. Most American auto insurance policies will not be honored in Mexico but supplemental insurance is available from vendors near the border.

As I wrote, we crossed on foot, which was an unthreatening but oddly informal transition. Another American felt the crossing was "charged with anxiety," so perhaps I shouldn't over-generalize. Last year, Amanda Kolson Hurley found the signs to the pedestrian entry "occasional" and "mismatched." I thought there were lots of the blue and white signs reading, "NEW PEDESTRIAN PATH TO MEXICO / NUEVA RUTA PEATONAL A MEXICO." Step-by-step:
Walk to the end of the trolley line and turn left after McDonalds, on to Rail Court. 
At the end of the short block, turn right on to a service road behind some stores, a segment that contributes to the informal sensibility. 
About halfway down the cul-de-sac, turn left onto a walkway and follow it to turnstiles beneath a large sign announcing, "MEXICO." (We saw burrowing animals in the hill on the left.)
As the second video shows, entrants have no options after passing through the turnstiles but to turn right, proceed down the ramp or stairs, pass through a building where spot inspections are made, and exit the building into Mexico. ¡Bienvenidos!
The pedestrian pathway, turnstiles and inspection building.
Rail Court is just outside the top of the frame.

Turn left and walk along a sidewalk that seems too narrow for the number of pedestrians. There will be shops on your left and to your right, pedestrians walking to the American border entry. In about 200 feet, you will come to a pedestrian bridge, which looks somewhat like a paperclip in the air photo below.

Right click to open a larger image in a new tab.

Melvin pulled out his phone to consult Google Map and became the first of us to read messages from our respective mobile service providers, warning of potentially expensive charges. I put my phone on airplane mode to block all communication but retain use of the camera. More frequent international travelers probably don't need this notification but I was grateful for it.

Hiring a Cab

We had read that cabs were readily available in a plaza just across the border but we didn't find a public open space. The pedestrian bridge seemed the most promising choice and while it did not lead to a plaza, or at least to anything that fit our concept of one, it did deliver us to a parking area filled with yellow cabs.

After a very quick negotiation with a dispatcher, with whom we agreed to pay 240 pesos (about $16) for a ride to Estadio Gasmart, we were hustled into a car. A much longer discussion ensued between the dispatcher and the driver regarding the route to the stadium. When the conversation concluded, Melvin asked the dispatcher if the driver knew where he was going. We all knew it was a rhetorical question; it was obvious he did not, his protestations notwithstanding. Pro-tip: It cannot hurt to bring a map.

We had researched Tijuana taxis (without overlooking the Herb Alpert hit by that name—panty flashing was muy subido de tono in 1964) and learned there were a variety of choices. The Real Tijuana provides a fine primer with illustrative slideshow:

Taxis terrestres (generally only available at the airport), "the diamonds" (not available at the border), taxis amirillos ("the yellows"), "the crocodiles" and taxis libres ... so many choices! I had read alarmist comments about the taxis libres but having taken one, I wonder if a handful of bad experiences get overstated. Sure, the car rattled like a bucket of bolts and the driver drove like we were going to miss our flight.

He didn't use the meter but we were more than satisfied to pay the 200 pesos that Chris negotiated, which was almost 20 percent less than the yellow taxi that brought us to the stadium. I have read what other travelers consider a fair fare to (their examples) the Hotel Lucerno ($10), Mariscos Don Pepe, ($8), and the US Consulate ($5), and the roughly $13 we paid seems reasonable for the more distant destination.

So, what is the best strategy? Perhaps to not cross the pedestrian bridge to the yellow cabs but instead continue walking another couple hundred feet, curving to the left, to where Retorno Sentri terminates at Frontera (see air photo above) and find a taxi libre there. I think "Tijuana Gringo" would agree. Or repeat what we did on our trip but negotiate harder. One trip! I don't have much advice based on one round-trip.

Arriving at the Stadium

Remember Melvin's rhetorical question to the cab dispatcher? Our driver to the stadium got lost, of course. He was heading in the right direction, then doubled back, and eventually got lost in the hills northeast of Estadio Gasmart. After asking for directions, he drove down an unpaved road that he, muttering under his breath, called an "ugly street." It was hardly a street at all but a wonderful moment. So much for the reputed superiority of the yellow cabs,

Off-roading in Tijuana.

There is a charge for parking at the stadium, which the attendant tried diligently but unsuccessfully to extract from our taxi driver. Given the cost of everything else we bought at Estadio Gasmart, I cannot imagine this would be a deterrent to driving one's own car, if that was the preference otherwise.

Buying Tickets

Unlike the websites for the major and minor league teams in the United States, the website for the Toros does not present an obvious opportunity for the purchase of tickets. I have seen reference to Toros' tickets being available on Ticketmaster but a persistent search there was also unsuccessful.

We had resigned ourselves to buying tickets at the stadium and for a mid-week game in April, that was easily accomplished. Walking around the stadium, towards right field to be exact, we found the box office and a sign announcing general admission seats for 30 pesos. Melvin asked for three and was charged 150 pesos for three seats within the cut-out. It was certainly worth an extra $1.35 por boletos en el centro.

On the Field

For the second night on this trip, the game was about the long ball. Tijuana scored seven runs on five home runs. Max Ramirez, a Venezuelan whose career peaked at 45 games with the Texas Rangers in 2008 and 2010, hit one for Monterrey, going two-for-three with a walk. Los Sultanes de Monterrey scored a second run in the seventh in the 7-2 loss.

Miguel Olivio had a longer major league career, 13 years with the White Sox, Mariners (twice), Padres, Marlins (twice), Royals, Rockies and Dodgers. For the winning side, he too went two-for-three with a home run and a walk. Also on the Toros squad is Fernando Valenzuela Jr., son of the Dodger pitching great, who drew a walk in his one pinch-hit at-bat.

Unable to understand the stadium announcer, I did not realize until I looked at the box score that the Toros trotted out 10 pitchers. Another observation: Edgar Gonzalez—a 'quadruple-A' right-hander mostly with the Diamondbacks, who took the loss—threw 50 of his 69 pitches for strikes, a very high percentage. Too bad the Toros whacked three of them over the wall.

Off the Field

Two words: constant stimuli. I was reminded of my one visit to the St. Paul Saints, where I observed, "Somewhere out in Midway Stadium there was a baseball game ... but that almost seemed besides the point." There were four mascots, including the rapscallion Chango 0 te:

There was a marching band, which sometimes induced fans to dance with them:

Thanks to Chris for the videos.

There were cheerleaders. We have seen cheerleaders before, notably in Jackson, Mississippi, and my hometown of Brooklyn. But we have never seen a cheer squad that was so ... well, objectified would be one way to put it. Similarly, female fans often found themselves televised on the scoreboard. A few were embarrassed but others happily performed, which may be why the others were mortified. Forget the kiss-cam; this was twerk-cam.

And there was a constant parade of food and drink vendors. I played it safe-ish—at least with burritos I couldn't see what I was eating. Roughly a dollar for two, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Chris had the "tacos locos:" tortilla chips topped with root vegetables, something that looked like dog kibbles, hot sauce, and some translucent, worm-like ingredient that he elected not to eat more than a little of. Two bottles of Tecate poured into a large cup, pepper on the rim optional, was less than three dollars.

Tacos Loco, Estadio Gasmart.

What made it all so manic and fun was, unlike American baseball, much of this activity continued even while the game was being played. This is what made me think of the St. Paul Saints.

Leaving the Stadium

One of the loose ends that we decided to resolve on the fly was getting from Estadio Gasmart back to the border crossing. I was sure there would be taxis and that turned out to be true, although we could not find them without the assistance of a parking lot attendant who escorted us halfway around the stadium. Near the exit down the right-field line, Tunnel 3 if I recall correctly, is where the ballpark comes closest to the adjacent residential neighborhood. That is where we found the taxi libre already described above.

Returning to the United States

Even on foot, there can be two-hour waits to get into the United States from Tijuana, or so I have read. That was not the case at 11:00 pm on a Wednesday, however. We all had our passports but weren't sure which of the three lines we should be in. I have since learned that frequent border-crossers can apply for a SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) pass, which allows for expedited processing. The "Ready Lane" is for citizens who have Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in their passports, standard since August 2007, or a passport card.

Earlier in the Day

We started the day in Los Angeles, with breakfast at Nick's Cafe. In route to San Diego we stopped first at the Newport Beach Civic Center. I will admit it: we came to see bunny sculptures, a rabbit Stonehenge if you will, but found so much more—a well-designed campus and park with a variety of sculptures and other features.

Pretty Boy, by David Buckingham (2012), is a
Minotaur, which is, keeping with the theme, half bull.

We then meandered through the planned community of Irvine. Our 15-minute drive wasn't much of an exploration. More time was spent at the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, which actually lived up to that grandiose name. I hope to return to that topic in a later post.

Jerked around by the Marina Inn San Diego, we found cheaper accommodations next door at the Days Inn Harbor View, so thank you very much assholes. Melvin waged war and made magic, and then it was time to leave for Tijuana. Now that you have this guide, it is time for you to go too!

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