Build It and Sometimes They’ll Come

19 January 2014

I’m not quite sure why I was reminded of it…perhaps rehearing recently…It’s better to light a candle than curse the dark or because pitchers and catchers report to Spring training camp next month. But during Christmas vacation in 2006, my wife and I found ourselves in Xalapa, Mexico, the capital of the state of Veracruz for a few days and then in the town of Fortin de las Flores. This will be a long way to get to a candle, but bear with me.

Hotel Fortin de las Flores is in Fortin de las Flores, a town of transcendent mediocrity…a town of billboards and diesel trucks which is bisected by several railroad lines. It does, however, have a wonderful Spanish-style colonial city hall in the middle of an enormous central plaza and had at the time a seasonal Christmas tree, a tinseled pine among the palms in the plaza. The hotel, perhaps, once a posh resort, was then as dated as Art Deco in the Digito-Nano-Astro Age and was vastly undersubscribed. It served more as a one-night stopover for tours landing in Mexico City and going to Veracruz. But my wife and I were week-long stalwarts, joining the Cordoba Cafeteros, a Mexican winter league triple A baseball team, who were tenants for the brief winter season.

Since the Cafeteros played night games, we saw them a lot during the day and went from nodding recognition to conversation with the few who spoke English. They insisted we go to a game before we left at their home field in nearby Cordoba, home of the local coffee industry, hence Cafeteros. Late one afternoon we set out for Cordoba, fifteen minutes away, had dinner and coffee until dark and then lost and found our way to a less grand section of town, where a shadowy fortress of a stadium glowered at its ramshackle neighbors. I found a parking space three blocks from the stadium…a lucky break…except walking to the stadium we passed, suspiciously, several closer empty spaces. I got the car and parked closer…across from the stadium. Something wasn’t right. We walked onto the stadium grounds and followed a sign to the ticket office…a small unlighted wooden shack separate from the stadium. More foreboding…there was no one in line for tickets.

We stepped up to the tiny window and looked in at an eerie tableau out of Madame Tussaud’s. The dark interior, as well as a small woman with a head scarf, selling tickets and clearly startled by customers, were lighted by a lone flickering candle. It looked more like an invitation to a séance…come in, come in, Madam Varnishka will be with you momentarily. A young man, squatting in the shadows, whispered the price of two tickets to her. We walked back to the stadium entrance and found it was up-to-date with all the requirements of a regular stadium…home plate, three bases, chalk lines, light towers, an electronic scoreboard, seats for 12,000 and concession stands. We made our way to the Cafeteros dugout, said our hellos, took pictures and counted the house…42, including the two of us.

The Cafeteros haven’t played since the 2006 season.