Welcome to Mexico

Quick facts

Location: Middle America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, between Belize and the U.S. and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and the U.S.
Size: 756,061 square miles, or slightly less than three times the size of Texas
Population: 106 million
People: Approximately 60% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian descent) and 30% Amerindian (indígena -- including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha), 10% other
Language: Spanish, various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages
Government: Federal Republic
Capitol: Mexico City (population: 22 million)

Baseball (and other interesting) notes
Most known for: Passionate fans; A roll-your-eyes southpaw named Fernando; Great tacos and more yummy food; place where an MLB team may land soon, either by relocation or expansion.
Quotable: "All last year we tried to teach him English, and the only word he learned was million," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda on the rookie year of Mexican Fernando Valenzuela. The Navajoa native helped Los Angeles to the 1981 World Series title.
Famous national anthem verses: "For you the olive garlands! For them a memory of glory! For you a laurel of victory! For them a tomb of honor!"
Baseball's Mexican debut: 1840s by American troops.
Mexico's baseball hotbeds: Monterrey, Hermosillo and Culiacan.
First Mexican-born player to play Major League Baseball: Baldomero Almada, born in 1913 in Huatabampo, played with the Boston Red Sox in 1933.
Approximate number of Mexican-born currently signed to MLB organizations: 30.
Some notable current Mexican-born MLB players: Vinny Castilla (Oaxaca); Erubiel Durazo (Hermosillo); Oliver Perez (Culiacan).
Ones to watch for in the future: Jorge Cantu (Reynosa); Edgar Gonzalez (San Nicolas de los Garza).
Mexican-born MLB record-breakers: Castilla is the all-time leader in hits, home runs and RBI among all Mexicans to have played in the Major Leagues.
Baseball Hall of Famers: None that were born in Mexico. Lefty Gomez, of Mexican descent, is enshrined in Cooperstown.
Mexico's baseball weather: Varies like the U.S., but most closest to California's weather.
Biggest sports competitors: Soccer, basketball, boxing, football, auto racing, bullfighting.
Best baseball museum: Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, Monterrey
The Salon de la Fama is located in Monterrey's heart in the Gardens of the Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery. It is patterned after the famous building in Cooperstown. It is divided into the Hall of Immortals, a history section, an interactive area, and an exhibition hall. There are approximately 160 inductees, including Mexicans, Cubans, about a dozen players from North America, and one Puerto Rican. Inductees receive commemorative gold rings and a copy of the bronze plaque that resides permanently in the Hall.
Only in Mexico: ... Is there is no such thing as "last call" in the 7th inning; the cerveza continued to flow well into the ninth ... Can you lose your hearing, for music is a constant companion whether you're in the parking lot, seats, concourses -- even the bathroom! ... Do you often find more buzz in the concourses than in the seats ... Do you often find little space to walk in either the concourses or the seats ... Did Monterrey actually outbid San Juan, Puerto Rico for the rights to host the Montreal Expos for 22 games during the 2004 season, but was rebuffed because of the success the Major League Baseball team enjoyed during the 2003 campaign on the Enchanted Isle.

Amateur and international competition
Approximate number of Mexicans playing organized baseball: 4.5 million.
Amateur highlights: Back-to-back Little League World Series titles, 1957-1958. Mexico finally won the Little League crown again in 1997. Mexico won the professional Caribbean Series in 2005, marking the first time the country had won an international baseball tournament on native soil.
Biggest international rival: U.S.
Other important notes: Serving as stop for players between the Mexican Academy and the Mexican Summer League (or Major League Baseball), these eight teams, all based in Tabasco State, comprise the Mexican Summer Minor League: Balancan, Cardenas, Comalcalco, Frontera, Jalapa, Macuspana, Teapa and Tenosique. Mexican Baseball Academy in El Carmen outside Monterrey, also is a development center. The academy consists of 56 dorm rooms housing approximately 100 of Mexico's best young players annually from June through December. There are four baseball fields, four batting cages, a weight room, plus areas for study.
Contact information: Av. Río Churubusco s/n Puerta 9 Ciudad Deportiva
Col. Magdalena Mixhuca, Delegación. Iztacalco, C.P. 08010 Mexico D.F.
Tel: (+52-55) 5649 1491
Fax: (+52-55) 5649 1491
E-mail: femebe@codeme.org.mx, emayorgab@yahoo.com

Mexican Summer/Winter League
Overview: A total of 16 teams play an approximate 110-game regular season, which runs from mid-March to the end July. Each club is allowed no more than five non-Mexican born players.
Twelve teams qualify for the playoffs. Six First round winners and two "best losers" advance to second round. All playoff series are best-of-7. Second Round winners meet in Division Finals. Winners advance to best-of-7 series for Mexican League championship.
League Web site: www.lmb.com.mx
The 16 Summer League Teams (And The Cities That Host Them): Cancun Lobstermen; Campeche Pirates; Veracruz Red Eagles; Monclova Steelers; Tabasco Cattlemen; Oaxaca Warriors; Guadalupe's Angelopolis Tigers; Puebla Parrots; Mexico City Red Devils; Monterrey Sultans; Saltillo Sarape Makers; Tijuana Potros; Yucatan Lions; Aguascalientes Railroadmen; Laguna Vaqueros; and San Luis Tuneros.
Most successful franchise: Mexico City Red Devils have won 13 championships.
Biggest rivalries: Monterrey-Saltillo; Yucatan-Campeche.
Best ballparks: Seating capacity varies but the largest ballparks are in Mexico City and Monterrey, each with a capacity of more than 26,000. The Tijuana Potros and Saltillo Sarape Makers are among the attendance leaders (serapes are the woolen shawls worn by Spanish-American men). Half the ballparks are at 5,000 feet or above and the overall league batting average is often close to .300. If MLB is to expand here, it would need to take the elevation into consideration, especially in Mexico City, putting a team ideally in the American League.
Ballpark food and drink: Tacos and a Corona, Modelo, Pacifico or Tecate beer, depending on where you are in the country.
Ballpark atmosphere: Depends on who's playing and what ballpark you're in. Some ballparks may be empty with little atmosphere, except for loud music, from traditional mariachi to banda and norteña. Others can be raucous with a festive atmosphere. Among the liveliest is Tijuana's (summer league) and Culiacan (winter league).
Wildest entertainer: Tijuana's horse-riding, San Diego Chicken-look alike is one of the wildest, wackiest mascots this side of the Chicken or Phanatic I have ever seen in my life.
Latin/Mexican unique traditions: Every four years Mexico plays host to the week-long Caribbean Series featuring the best teams from the Dominican Republic, Venenzuela and Puerto Rico. The event site in Mexico usually changes every time the country hosts the tournament. Mexico will next host the event in 2009.
Another unique tradition (Mexican Winter League): Mexico is the only country to have a notable professional summer and a professional winter league. Together they total 24 teams. The winter league has a total of eight clubs that play a 68 game regular season schedule starting the second week of October and ending in December.
The Eight Winter League teams (and the cities that host them): Culiacan Tomato Growers; Mexicali Eagles; Hermosillo Orange Growers; Navajoa Mayos; Guasave Cotton Growers; Los Mochis Sugarcane Growers; Obregon Yaquis; and Mazatlan Deer.
Biggest rivalry: Culiacan-Mazatlan. Each club is allowed no more than six non-Mexican born players. Cool and comfortable weather pervades in winter, with jackets required in north-most Mexicali and no jacket often required in southerly Mazatlan. Most ballparks have a capacity of 12,000 to 15,000, and have essentially the same look, feel and design.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.