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A look at sports and sports memorabilia popularity south of the border in Mexico

When tourists visit Puerto Vallarta, Mexico there is a good chance they will find sports memorabilia at some of the businesses in the area.

By Ross Forman

Fernando Valenzuela pitched in the major leagues for six teams in his 17-year career from 1980 to 1997, highlighted by his first 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 Autographed bats from former major leaguers are displayed in a display case at Champions Sports Bar in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.

Autographed bats from former major leaguers are displayed in a display case at Champions Sports Bar in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.

The lefthanded pitcher compiled a 173-153 lifetime record, with six All-Star seasons. His unorthodox windup, his screwball pitch brought Fernandomania to worldwide fame.

In 1981, Valenzuela skyrocketed to stardom, winning his first eight starts (five of them shutouts). Valenzuela finished the strike-shortened ’81 campaign with a 13-7 record and a 2.48 ERA. He became the first, and still the only, player to win both Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.

Valenzuela is still the man in this tourist-filled beach city – and throughout Mexico.

“He was a big name (from Mexico), maybe the biggest from the big four (male team sports),” said Isaac Galvez, the director of restaurants and bars at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, which features a memorabilia-filled Champions Sports Bar on property – and where his office is located.

“Whenever I hear the name Fernando Valenzuela, I always see the LA logo, for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a huge name of Mexican sports.”

Valenzuela – who hails from Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico – was a National League (NL) All-Star in each season from 1981-1986, and won a major league-leading 21 games in 1986, though Mike Scott of the Houston Astros beat him out in the Cy Young Award voting that year.

Valenzuela also was a heralded hitter, smacking 10 career home runs. In fact, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda even used Valenzuela as a pinch-hitter at times.

Valenzuela threw a no-hitter on June 29, 1990, against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

Ironically, Dave Stewart of the Oakland Athletics threw a no-hitter earlier that day, too.

After leaving the Dodgers, Valenzuela spent time with the California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals.

 An autographed New York Rangers Wayne Gretzky jersey on display.

An autographed New York Rangers Wayne Gretzky jersey on display.

Valenzuela threw the ceremonial first-pitch at game two of the 2017 World Series, drawing cheers from the Los Angeles faithful – and memory smiles from a generation that always will remember, Fernandomania.

Valenzuela first appeared on cards in 1981, with his Topps Traded card (No. 850) selling for about $7. He also appeared on the 1981 Topps card No. 302 of three Dodgers Future Stars, along with Mike Scioscia and Jack Perconte. Plus, he is on card No. 140 in the 1981 Fleer set.

Despite Fernandomania, baseball is not that big in Puerto Vallarta.

Soccer – or futbol, as it’s known – is the sport-of-choice in this city, Galvez said.

“Soccer is the No. 1 sport in Puerto Vallarta, and the entire country,” he said. “For most Mexicans, it’s soccer and pretty much that’s it.”

Locals are clearly divided on their allegiances.

Club Deportivo Guadalajara is the official team name, though it’s often just known as Guadalajara and most commonly, Chivas. This team is based in Guadalajara, Jalisco – and is one of the 10 founding members of the Mexican First Division – and is, arguably, the most popular.

Many locals also side with Club de Fútbol América S.A. de C.V., commonly known as Club América, or simply as América. This team is based in Mexico City.

Hugo Sanchez, a soccer star from Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s, is often called the best Mexican soccer player ever and one of the greatest players of his generation.

Many locals also recall the goaltending heroics, and flashy uniforms, of Jorge Campos.

 Soccer is the most popular sport in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Soccer is the most popular sport in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Other noteworthy sporting icons among locals in Puerto Vallarta include Tony Romo, Eduardo Nájera and Horacio Llamas.

“The city (of Puerto Vallarta) is mostly dedicated to tourism, so it doesn’t seem that people want to pursue a career in sports,” said Galvez, noting that none from PV have made it into the sporting spotlight of baseball, basketball, football or hockey.

Basketball is the second-biggest sport among locals, particularly NBA, though NCAA March Madness annually brings out a strong group of fans. At Champions, Galvez said, the restaurant-bar is filled with fans of numerous teams. Golden State is, not surprisingly, the most popular NBA team among locals.

Football follows basketball in popularity among locals, mostly because of the heat making it difficult to play much tackle football. That said, Galvez noted a version of flag football, played locally by women, “is pretty popular.” He said Pittsburgh, New England and Carolina are the three most popular NFL teams in PV.

When asked about hockey and the NHL, Galvez said there is no interest, mostly because there are no rinks in Puerto Vallarta. That said, Champions and other area sports bars are filled with fans for the Stanley Cup and the NHL playoffs, though it is mostly Americans or Canadians on vacation.

Golf and tennis are popular, particularly on TV, in Puerto Vallarta, and there are numerous amateur volleyball tournaments held there.

Galvez said the five most popular WWE stars among locals are, no surprise: The Undertaker, John Cena, The Rock, Hulk Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Mexico also has produced its own pro wrestling – lucha libre, as its none in Mexico – stars, such as El Santo, Blue Demon, Rey Mysterio Jr., Tinieblas and Atlantis.

Galvez, who still plays soccer locally, was a baseball card-collecting kid. But he doesn’t have any of his cards anymore. 

There are no card shops in Puerto Vallarta, but, “I think you will find a shop or two that will sell trading cards,” he said.“But (the cards) will be pricey.”

Champions at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is filled with sports memorabilia, including signed jerseys, bats, photos and more.

“Memorabilia is not too big (or popular) in Mexico; there are very few people here who collect memorabilia,” said Galvez.

Champions has memorabilia on display of Fran Tarkenton, Cal Ripken, Brett Favre, Bob Griese, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and others.

They do not change the memorabilia at Champions, “but I want to,” Galvez said.

Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.

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