Pickles pitch Venados Night to baseball fans
On the face of it, the Mazatlan Venados and the Portland Pickles might seem like unlikely baseball brothers.
The Venados (Deer) play pro ball in the 10-team Mexican Pacific League from October through December. They're at the highest level of the sport in their country
The Pickles are a wood-bat summer team of young collegians and part of the West Coast League. They're popular and have developed a niche, but are well down the American baseball food chain.
The Venados have a new, 16,000-seat stadium near sandy beaches in a resort town known for its big-game fishing along the Pacific shoreline.
The Pickles play from June to mid-August at municipal Lents Park and in the 63-year-old (albeit renovated) Walker Stadium, which holds about 2,500 fans in Southeast Portland, not far from a MAX stop and adjacent to a gas station and convenience stores.
Beneath the surface, though, and especially in terms of their approach and vision, the two clubs have a lot in common. And they have struck up a sister-city partnership that will be the highlight of Saturday's 7 p.m. Pickles game at "The Walk" against the Bend Elks.
It'll be Venados Night at the Pickles, with the Portland team honoring its south-of-the-border brethren by wearing Venados uniforms and treating fans to an evening of Mazatlan-like culture and customs, at least as best as they can be recreated given city and league restrictions.
Venny the Venado, the Mazatlan club's mascot, will join Dillon the Pickle in entertaining the crowd. The music and food also will have a Mexican flavor.
Down the road, hopefully this fall, the Venados hope to have a "Portland Pickles" series on their schedule as well.
The sister club arrangement developed after Pickles majority owner Alan Miller and co-owner Jon Ryan, a former Seattle Seahawks punter now with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, saw the Venados play at their home Estadio Teodoro Mariscal and fell in love with the club's brand of entertainment.
"We loved the energy," says Miller, who is based in Los Angeles and runs business ventures are in entertainment and culture marketing. "These guys get what an event should be. They understand atmosphere. I got hooked. After seeing the Venados, I'd go to a (San Diego) Padres game and think, 'This is so boring.'"
Venados fans care about having good baseball and winning, says Roman Barron, their communication director, but the games are about much more than that. From live bands to live cams and interaction with the spectators, the production takes an "anything goes" tack.
"It's a party," says Simon Lynds, a native of England who lives in Mazatlan and serves as head of international community marketing for the organization. "We try to make every game a fiesta."
The Venados baseball team (for more information, go to venados.com) is just part of a sports and entertainment cluster run by Espectaculos Costa del Pacific (Pacific Coast Show). The company's umbrella includes Venados baseball and its 32 home games per season but also a basketball team (17 home games), soccer (15 home games), annual golf tournament, six boxing events per year, an international marathon and triathlon, surfing, skating, Parkour, 13 Venados stores and even a Venados barbershop in the city of about 660,000.
Why partner with the Pickles, a fourth-year franchise with a following but little major media exposure?
"We're trying to develop the Venados brand and take it into other markets," Lynds says. "This is our first toe in the water. We hope to expand this to other parts of the West Coast League" and entice fans in Portland and other WCL cities to visit Mazatlan.
"We want to encourage them to come and experience all we have to offer," Lynds says.
The Venados baseball team has been around since 1942. Lynds describes the new venue as a smaller version of Chase Field, the 49,000-seat home of the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks in downtown Phoenix. The Venados' ballpark, he says, affords fans more intimacy; it also is used on occasion for concerts or other events.
Lynds describes Mazatlan as a working-class, friendly with with a fishing industry tradition and newer entertainment mentality that helps draw 11 million visitors, snowbirds included, per year.
Miller says it's easy for tourists to catch Venados fever.
"It starts as soon as you get off the plane at the airport," the Pickles owner says. "There are Venados signs pretty much everywhere, and they are the absolute pulse of the city."
Miller, a connoisseur of baseball around the world and at ballparks small as well as big, is constantly looking for ways to make Pickles games even more enjoyable and different for fans.
"We want to bring some of that Venados spirit to Portland. We're stealing ideas," he admits.
The Venados' games between the lines are basically the same as anywhere, Miller says, but that's where the chains of tradition end and a higher commitment to fun begins.
"They break the 'rules' of baseball for their fans," Miller says, 'and it works and it's exciting. And they've done a phenomental job of taking a baseball brand and building it to the point where it represents an entire city. The best teams, from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the (Los Angeles) Lakers and so on, all do that.
"Everything they do, I wish we could do. I like breaking rules. If you don't go that direction, I think baseball will eventually die."
Miller says he also hopes the day will come when one or more Pickles players, perhaps of Mexican heritage, can graduate to Venados and climb the professional ladder by playing there.
"I think that can be a viable option for players we try to recruit," Miller says.
As for Venados, "what we love about the Pickes is we think their journey is very similar to our journey," Lynds says.
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