D-backs strengthening relationship south of border
HERMOSILLO, Mexico — Luis Gonzalez grew up in a low-income household with his parents, siblings, grandparents and aunt, parlaying his grandmother’s message of hard work into a 19-year Major League career highlighted by the winning hit in the 2001 World Series. So as he looked out at a crowd of several hundred high school and college students Tuesday morning and told them to follow their dreams, he was living proof that they can come true.”When I stood at home plate facing Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the World Series, I wasn’t thinking about how big the moment was,” said Gonzalez. “In reality, I was thinking about my family. Of all the people in the world, only one person had that opportunity, and it was me.”
The D-backs legend’s message of hope and hard work was repeated throughout the franchise’s two-day visit to Phoenix’s sister city in Hermosillo, Mexico. He was joined by D-backs executives Josh Rawitch, Graham Rossini and Richard Saenz, in addition to former Phoenix Suns center Horacio Llamas, NASCAR Mexico driver Rodrigo Marban and executives from each of those entities as well.The trip came together following the annual June plenary session of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, when the Sports Committee reunited to seek ways in which all of Phoenix’s sports entities could join forces to have a stronger impact south of the border — specifically in the baseball-loving state of Sonora.”We often make visits to Mexico on our own and will continue that approach, but we felt that we could make an even greater impact if we worked together with our partners in the community,” said Rawitch, who serves as D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall’s representative on the Arizona-Mexico Commission. “Our franchise focuses a huge amount of our efforts on giving back, and this is just one example where we are able to do so in a place where we have so many fans.”The trio of Gonzalez, Marban and Llamas — the first Mexican to play in the NBA — signed autographs on Monday afternoon at Descubre Phoenix, a local agency that specializes in promoting Arizona to travelers from Hermosillo. Dozens of youngsters arrived wearing D-backs gear or sharing stories of their favorite baseball memories.
Then on Tuesday, the contingent hosted a clinic for youths at a local field, something Gonzalez has become known for in this town. In fact, the largest paper in the state, El Imparcial, referred to the legendary D-backs outfielder as the “king of sports in Sonora” because of how often he makes the trip south of the border to give back to the children of Mexico.
“These kids have a lot of passion for the game, and several of them were extremely talented,” Gonzalez said of the teenage boys who participated in the clinic, which was hosted by CODESON. “Each one said they dream of being a Major League player, and hopefully someday, that comes true.”
For one Mexican player, Walter Ibarra, that dream is one step closer to reality after signing a Minor League contract with the D-backs last week with an invitation to big league Spring Training. The Sinaloa-born infielder plays second base, third base and shortstop and has reached as high as Triple-A in each of the past two seasons.
With new senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson on board, the team is looking to expand its approach internationally, with a renewed focus on Mexico. In fact, at the same time the D-backs’ contingent was in Hermosillo, Watson was in Vera Cruz, Mexico, scouting some of the country’s top amateur talent in a tournament.
Of course, no visit to Hermosillo would be complete without taking in a Naranjeros game, the defending Caribbean Series champions, which the group did on Tuesday night. The beloved team plays in Estadio Sonora, one of the country’s top baseball stadiums, which was modeled after Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
The D-backs have played nine exhibition games in Hermosillo, and there has been talk of making that an even 10 games in the spring of 2015. Whether or not that comes to fruition, these goodwill trips will continue in the city of more than 1 million inhabitants, many of whom bleed Sedona Red. That includes Mayor Alejandro Lopez Caballero, who invited the group to dinner at his home on Tuesday night and is a big supporter of the team.
“We are very grateful to our friends here for being such gracious hosts every time we visit,” said Saenz, who serves as an advisor to Hall in the Hispanic community, in addition to his role as a Spanish-language broadcaster for the team. “As we continue to strengthen those relationships both in Mexico and throughout Arizona, we know that our fan base will continue to grow throughout Latin America.”