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San Diego Baseball Team Aims Its Pitch Over the Border ...


SOMETIMES fresh eyes see possibilities that eyes accustomed to a scene can miss.

That's what happened when John Moores and Larry Lucchino bought the San Diego Padres professional baseball team in December 1994. The audience for the team had been seen as an American city of 2.8 million people. They envisioned the audience as an international community, nearly 5 million strong, that straddled the US-Mexico border.

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The new owners ''wanted their Padres involved with Mexico, and Mexico as part of their community,'' says Enrique Morones, director of Hispanic marketing for the Padres.

The result has been positive for both the Padres and their Mexican fans, largely concentrated in Tijuana. In the eyes of many San Diego business people and community promoters, the Padres' example has been good for a city that usually has focused on its military installations and with relations with Los Angeles to the north and Asia to the west, but which rarely looked south.

''The Padres woke this city up when they came in here and said, 'Guess what? You're only half a market. We want to look at the whole pie,' '' says Elsa Saxod, executive director of the US-Mexico Border Progress Foundation and a longtime promoter of closer cross-border relations.

When the new owners looked at the $2.8 billion that Tijuanans spend annually in San Diego, they saw market potential - and a common community. Mr. Moores moved to San Diego from Houston, where he had built a software business and where he had been known for his philanthropy, including large donations to the University of Houston. It may not have been a coincidence that he came from Texas, which has a much better record of working and trading with Mexico than does California.

Mr. Lucchino, a former president of the Baltimore Orioles, was also known for his community work.

The new owners worked fast to show that they were serious about the ''new'' Padres. Promotions were developed with Tijuana businesses. ''Mixers'' were held to bring together the business communities of Tijuana and San Diego with a chance to meet Padres ballplayers, including Mexican Fernando Valenzuela, offered as the draw.

Last Sept. 16 - Mexico's Independence Day - the Padres' home game featured fireworks; red, white, and green bunting; and the traditional grito, or cry for independence.

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The new owners also helped bring Doris Meissner, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, together with business leaders from San Diego and Tijuana. ''They wanted her to hear directly from the business communities of the two cities what they think should be done along this border,'' Mr. Morones says.

The idea for that meeting arose in part after a promotional activity with a Tijuana grocery-store chain convinced the Padres owners of the Mexican market's potential. But it also showed the difficulties the border poses for legitimate crossers - who make up the vast majority - and for businesses.

Coupons for tickets to a June game were given out to grocery-store customers, and more than 5,000 coupons were turned in at the stadium. But other Mexican customers complained that they hadn't been able to get to the game because of long delays trying to cross the US border.

That experience also prompted the Padres to develop game packages that include transportation from Mexico and admission to the game.

In December the Padres opened the first major-league baseball store in Mexico in Tijuana. Next year for the first time in major-league history, regular-season games (featuring the Padres) are set to be played in Mexico, at a stadium in Monterrey. There's even talk of a publicity campaign playing on the word padre, which in Mexican slang means ''cool.''

''We talk a lot about the 'new' Padres around here,'' Morones says, ''and part of that is getting these two intertwined communities to know each other better.

''We want the Padres to be seen as a team devoted to its community,'' he adds, ''and a team that sees that community as one, including Mexico.''

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