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MLB Mexico City Series: As Giants, Padres Prepare to Square Off, Altitude and Turf Are On the Minds of Managers, Players

 Leif Skodnick  |    Apr 29th, 2023 9:10pm EDT

Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants is interviewed prior to the game between the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres at Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium on Saturday, April 29, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network

MEXICO CITY – From seats in the top row of the outfield sections at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, a spectator is graced with a panoramic view of the field.

Look outside the stadium, and the three ranges of the Sierra Madre that surround the largest city in North America as the skyscrapers of the capital city loom in the distance.

Hours before the first game of the 2023 MLB Mexico City Series, workers buzzed about, dragging the artificial turf, mopping floors, moving concession items where they needed to go. 

Overhead, the steel and Teflon roof structure provided sun over the empty seating bowl, which is reminiscent of any modern Triple-A ballpark in the United States, but the elevation and artificial turf here at Estadio Alfred Harp Helu can be expected to weigh in strategic decisions made during the two-game set between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants here this weekend.

Elevation-wise, the ballpark is higher than Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies and the highest ballpark in the Major Leagues, by a scant 2,000 feet. 

“I wanted to test it, and it sounds like a lot of players might experience it, so if you’re running on the field, it’s tough to catch your breath,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler, who did some running on the field yesterday. “So I can only imagine what it’s going to be like for a starting pitcher.”

His counterpart with the Padres, Bob Melvin, agreed, noting that the faster pace of Major League Baseball in 2023 could exacerbate the issue, especially for pitchers.

“The pitch Clock… you’re having to throw pitches quicker, the altitude here comes into play,” Melvin said. “Obviously there’s potentially going to be some offense as well. You can see a lot of old offense in this series. But I think having some experience in Colorado does give you a little bit of indication on what’s going to happen here.”

And that’s not to mention that the turf field at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu is a hard, fast surface, possibly playing harder and faster than any field in the majors has in decades.

“The ball’s going to move fast on that surface,” Kapler said. “And it, I mean, obviously, it’s new turf, but it’s also, it’s hard turf. It’s not, but you get variations in some of the turfs that we play on.”

Asked about the turf, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said, “I’ve heard it’s kind of a harder turf, so I’m sure the infield is going to be pretty fast. But I haven’t seen a ground ball yet. But I heard it was pretty hard out there, so that makes my guess pretty fast.”

Asked again after the Giants took infield practice, Crawford told World Baseball Network that the turf was harder, faster, and bouncier than the turf in Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Toronto.

If the ball is flying in the first game of the set, it may not just be the altitude, though. Giants starter Sean Manaea is second in both home runs allowed (34) and homers per nine innings (1.76) since the start of the 2022 season. Both bullpens are in the top 10 in home runs allowed, with San Francisco having allowed 15, good for sixth place on that ignominous list, and San Diego, having allowed 12, is tied for eighth.

“I liken it to Coors Field. You know, that ball in the air, you can probably never get too far behind it,” Crawford said, noting that while it will be different defensively, at the plate, it will be business as usual.

“As a hitter you don’t want to change your approach a whole lot. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard, and obviously it’s going to carry a little bit farther.”