Mexico's Little League team owes much of its success to moms

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

MONTERREY, MEXICO -- As the first pitch draws near, a mix of music, cheers and rhythmic applause washes over Parque Fundidora, one of Monterrey’s chief attractions. With the stands filling up quickly, vendors eschew the regular lineup of ballpark foods for ice cream and cold soda, a smart choice given the high temperatures on this July evening in northern Mexico.

When the ballplayers finally trot out on the field, the applause and cheers intensify to the point of being deafening. The stage is definitely apropos for a title decider.

Home team San Nicolas de los Garza (which is technically a suburb located just a few miles from Monterrey) is taking on Norte de Hermosillo, Sonora, which hails from another one of the country’s top baseball hubs. Both are aiming to capture Mexico’s first Little League World Series title in nearly two decades, but history is on San Nicolas’ side. After all, the country’s three championships all belong to teams from Monterrey or its suburbs, and Mexico's first title in 1957 has been immortalized by Hollywood in the 2009 film "The Perfect Game."

While there are plenty of places in the country where a Little League Regional Championship game could fill the stands, few could argue with crowning this city being the country’s baseball capital.

Awash in the sea of burgundy jerseys and gear in the stands, a rowdy group of supporters dressed mainly in white is vying for attention. The competing choruses of voices feature a majority of women: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and friends of the players on the field.

The game is tight, and features quality play on both sides. Lauro Nuncio emerges as the hero for San Nicolas, the eventual winners. He hits a solo home run and later shuts down a rally while on the mound, getting a strikeout with the bases loaded in the next-to-last inning.

Before the game, Lauro's father, Luis, admitted that despite his lifelong love affair with baseball, it was his wife, Veronica, who got their son into the game shortly after his third birthday.

“I’ll be sincere with you. I never had a chance to play as a child, and I wasn't the one who took my son initially to sign up for baseball," says Luis Nuncio. "It was my wife. She loves baseball, and she encouraged him to start when my son was three. Looking back on it, she made the best decision for our son."

His voice betrays a touch of awkwardness as he says this, as if he were revealing some kind of long-kept secret. After all, Luis is now president of the local Little League in San Nicolas.

On the Hermosillo side, the cheering section is almost entirely made up of women. Isabel Valencia, whose son Emilio later goes 4-for-4 and scores twice, is leading the charge. “We’ve become a family here," she says. "Watching the kids come together like this and pushing for a dream is amazing.”

Isabel points out that many working moms took time out of their schedules to travel with the team. Like Luis Nuncio, she tells stories of Hermosillo players who got into youth baseball because of their mothers, not their fathers.

Though it's hardly something that would raise eyebrows in the United States, the revelations are more surprising given the traditional, male-driven culture of northern Mexico.

The region has been infamously associated with the femicide in Ciudad Juarez throughout the past two decades, where hundreds of women have been brutally murdered and many of those crimes have gone unpunished.

In recent times, however, Mexico’s strides toward gender equality have been recognized by international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. Even still, Mexico ranked 71st among 145 countries surveyed by last year’s edition of the Gender Gap Index.

This is why these stories feel like a statement. It’s why the fact that the home plate umpire for the game is a woman becomes a positive talking point for those in the stands. It’s why I don’t hesitate to ask the woman behind me, who is also filling out a scorecard, whether I got the inning-ending play right. (She corrects me.)

In thrilling fashion, San Nicolas takes the crown and holds off Hermosillo off as it tries to mount a late rally. The losing team supporters give their boys a standing ovation as the winners go crazy on and off the field. The intensity of their celebration won’t likely die down despite the 33-day layoff until their first Little League World Series game.

As the media converges on the champions gathered near the mound, the first question posed elicits an answer loaded with acknowledgements: “I’d like to thank my mom for taking me to practice every day.”