Los Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos (The Owls of the Two Laredos) of the Mexican League was the first binational professional baseball team. Although the sister cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo have been separated by the Rio Grande and nationality since 1848, they have always had a shared identity, culture, and heritage. In 1985 they also had a shared baseball team.
The Tecos, as they are known by their fans, have a history dating back to 1932 in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Gen. Luís Horcasitas, president of La Junta Federal de Mejoras Materiales (Federal Board for Material Improvements) in Nuevo Laredo, with stockholders Gen. Leopoldo Dorantes and Pablo Peña, commissioned Erasmo Flores to establish a baseball team named after the business. The organization became known as La Junta (“the Board”) and employed talent from both sides of the Rio Grande to field teams. The city of Laredo also fielded a respectable team at the time, which led to an intercity baseball rivalry. When teams from other cities came to play, the two Laredo teams would pool talent and alternate cities in which the games were played. Some players from Laredo that stood out were pitchers Ismael “Oso” Montalvo, Fernando “Big” Dovalina, and his brother “Lefty.”
In 1935 La Junta graduated to the semi-professional ranks and began barnstorming with a set of paid playing dates in various cities. La Junta toured the United States and compiled a record of 62–18–3. Interestingly, one loss and one tie came at the hands of the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige when they played the team from Bismarck North Dakota.
La Junta became a formally professional team when they joined the Mexican League in 1940. This coincided with that league’s initiation of a decade of modernization and rivalry with Major League Baseball (MLB) under the leadership of millionaire Jorge Pasquel. He sought committed owners, centralized organization of the teams, created a more structured schedule, and recruited players from north of the border. Pasquel quickly signed American Negro League stars and paid them well. In La Junta’s inaugural season, pitcher Edward “Pullman” Porter, a veteran of the Negro League, set a record of 232 strikeouts that stood for twelve years. For Negro Leaguers such as Satchel Paige, Ray Dandridge, and Willie Wells, playing in the Mexican League offered opportunities for higher earnings and unrestricted social mobility. The rivalry between the two leagues peaked in 1946, when Pasquel’s battles with MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler became known as the “baseball war” of 1946.
For La Junta, however, the 1940s proved to be a struggle. The team dropped out of the league following their first season and reemerged as Los Tecolotes (The Owls) three years later, in 1944. They took the name because Nuevo Laredo was the first city to host night games. Again they dropped out of the league after the 1946 season only to return in 1949. This time, however, they had to compete for fans with a new team, the Laredo Apaches of the Rio Grande Valley League.
The competition with the Apaches lasted two years as the Rio Grande Valley League folded after the 1951 season. Overall, however, the 1950s proved to be a good decade for the Tecos. Owner Dr. Héctor Gonzales spent whatever it took to produce a championship caliber team, and from 1953 to 1958 the Tecos were league champions. The following year, although the Tecos finished in second place, poor attendance forced the sale of the team to the Pericos de Puebla of the Liga Invernal Veracruzana, which operated the team until the 1970s. During this time the team was located in several Mexican cities, including Puebla and Mérida.
In 1976 former Teco player Tomás Herrera sought to bring the team back to Nuevo Laredo. He worked with owner Ariel Magaña Carillo and general manager (and future vice president) Cuauhtémoc “Chito” Rodríguez to make this a reality. Over the next six years the franchise enjoyed minimal success as Rodriguez patiently put together a contender. The successful Nuevo Laredo trucking magnate Victor Lazano then purchased the Tecos in 1981.
Under Lazano’s ownership, on opening day in 1985 the Tecolotes took the field representing Los Dos Laredos, making them the first and only binational professional baseball team. Lazano, a native Nuevo Laredoian and educated in Laredo, did not act alone, however. He put together a front office team that was a manifestation of binationalism. First, he kept “Chito” Rodríguez, a Mexican citizen who served in the United States Air Force and who lived and worked in Laredo. Rodríguez boosted exposure and the popularity of the team on the north side of the river by putting together the home run-hitting combination of Alejandro Ortiz, Andrés Mora, and Carlos Soto, known as “Los Tres Mosqueteros.” Rodríguez also had a knack for importing the right players from foreign leagues, many of whom were American professionals.
The final pieces to the puzzle were politically savvy people on the Laredo side of the border. Larry Dovalina, director of the Laredo Civic Center, came from a longtime baseball family; his uncles, Fernando and Lefty, were regional stars, and his father Lázaro played for the 1949 Laredo Apaches. More importantly, dating back to 1846, Dovalina’s family had been influential in politics on both sides of the river. Another key supporter of the team was Assistant City Manager Carlos Villarreal, a politically-influential fan of the Tecos. Although technically not part of the team’s leadership, Dovalina and Villarreal secured the backing of Laredo’s mayor, Aldo Tatangelo, city funds to upgrade West Martin Field, and a twenty-year agreement to pay the Tecos to play one-third of their home games in Laredo.
For nine years Los Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos were the pinnacle of the Mexican League and made the playoffs in each of those years and won the Mexican League Championship in 1989. They were the only Mexican League team with a working relationship with an MLB franchise, the Atlanta Braves. This relationship helped Rodríguez scout and bring in top American talent and offered players the possibility to be called up to a Major League organization where they could improve their skills with the world’s top baseball organizations. Lastly, it also allowed for scouts and coaches from the Braves to work with the team on a consulting basis, where training and practicing ideas could be exchanged.
In 1988 the American press finally took notice of the binational phenomenon when the New York Times published an article about the Mexican League All-Star Game being played in the United States (in Laredo) for the first (and only) time. The Dallas Morning News pointed out the major economic reason behind the agreement—the Mexican government’s devaluation of the peso in 1982, which had a devastating economic impact on both cities.
After losing in the league finals in 1993, the team saw its binational agreement begin to disintegrate. Cultural and nationalistic antagonisms, which were hidden from the public over the course of a decade, began to take their toll on the franchise. Whereas playing in the Mexican League was seen by Mexican players as an achievement in their career, for many of the American imports it was seen as the end of the road. Americans usually enjoyed higher salaries and better travel accommodations, which created what amounted to a privileged class within the team. These and other factors fueled resentment among many Mexican players toward their American teammates and broke down team chemistry.
Similar antagonisms decayed the relationship within the Teco front office. Top management from the Mexican side did not feel the need to win fan loyalty. They sold off their best players to make up for financial shortfalls. Frustrated with the practice, those on the Laredo side announced that they would not renew the agreement after the 1994 season. Their attitude was that the team needed to be run as a form of family entertainment in order to create fan loyalty, like most successful American minor league teams.
In 1995 the Tecolotes lost their binational identity, only to have the agreement renewed from 1996 to 2003. During that span the Tecos posted disappointing results. Except for a playoff run in 2002, they finished with losing records every year. In 2004 they were moved to Tijuana and took the name the Potros de Tijuana, and the idea of binational baseball was put to rest.