TJ GARCIA | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR
EDINBURG — Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the crowd.
And it was quite a game — an historic one — and one heck of a crowd.
Forget the peanuts and Cracker Jack, nearly 5,300 boisterous fans from around the Rio Grande Valley jammed into UTRGV Baseball Stadium on Thursday for Game 1 of the 5A Region IV Championship series between the Sharyland Rattlers and its across town rival program the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks.
The series winner earns a trip to the state tournament.
Never before have two RGV baseball teams faced off this deep into the playoffs. And while the RGV has long been a baseball hotbed, local baseball aficionados and coaches said they’ve never seen a series like this.
“This is a wonderful thing for the Valley to observe and witness history. It’s something beautiful,” said 84-year-old Nick Cantu of Edinburg. “I could be home watching the (Houston) Astros play, but this is more important to me to be here tonight.”
Cantu and 5,000 of his “closest friends,” nearly all draped in red — the common color for both Sharyland schools — hollered, chanted and rooted for their home team, and because this is baseball, occasionally booed the umpires. Fans from Brownsville, Los Fresnos, McAllen, Mercedes and points in between carried banners, kids in baseball hats brought gloves hoping for a foul ball and proud parents wore their sons’ jerseys.
Through five innings, Sharyland Pioneer led Sharyland High, 3-1, in the best-of-three series.
Every ding of the bat and strikeout illicited “oos” and “ahhs” from the 5,277 in attendance, according to URTGV officials. It was a festive, exciting and purely baseball ambiance rarely seen on this scale in the RGV. To be sure, there have been big games in the Valley before, but nothing like this, said Mission resident Gabe De La Garza, a former UTPA player.
“I’ve never seen two schools from the same city play a game to see who advances to the state level much less as part of a huge rivalry like this one,” said De La Garza, who graduated from Mission High in 1996. “For both teams to end up in this round is just crazy. I’ve been calling it. I told everybody, it would be really cool to see both of them match up. It’s so cool to seem them match up so late in the playoffs.”
What’s also made this diamond dogfight intriguing is that’s is a family affair. Two Sharyland ISD schools facing each other in the fifth round of the playoffs. They are neighbors, friends, family and awfully talented at baseball. Rattlers vs. Diamondbacks.
Sharyland has been a baseball playoff mainstay for decades, sending players to the collegiate and professional ranks with regularity. Meanwhile, Pioneer is the new kid on the block barely five years old. Baseball and Sharyland devotees knew this was THE game to go to. Thousands bought advance tickets just to ensure a seat.
The stadium was so packed that some late-arriving were forced to watch standing from beyond the outfield fence on a makeshift berm.
“We got here about five o’clock, and we left the house around 4:30,” said Ysaura Garza, whose son Rafael Garza plays for Pioneer. “This game is the tops. We’ve never had this many fans watch the boys play so I am sure they are stoked about it.”
Apparently everybody was.