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Padres Fever Raging in Tijuana

October 19, 1998

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ For San Diegans who like to gamble, smoke in bars or buy beer at 18, the perfect place to watch the World Series is just 20 miles away.

For Tijuana residents, who hold baseball second only to soccer as their favorite pastime, the Padres’ climb to the Series is just as much their accomplishment as it is San Diego’s.

In these sister cities where cultures blend and crossing the border means opportunity to both sides, Padres Fever creates another unshakable bond.

``It’s the team of the region, of Tijuana and all of Baja California,″ said Raul Robles, 35, who has a ticket to Game 4 Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Tijuana man watched Game 2 of the ``Serie Mundial″ Sunday at the crowded Las Pulgas bar on the city’s main nightclub strip, as did Ernesto Hernandez, 28, who went to 30 Padres home games this season.

``All of the people (here) are supporting San Diego,″ said Hernandez, refusing to give up hope despite the Padres’ two losses in New York. ``The Padres are going to win here in San Diego.″

The fan base is so deep in Mexico that Padres majority owner John Moores and president Larry Lucchino arranged for games to be broadcast across the border and opened the first major league merchandise store in Mexico, the Padres Store in Tijuana.

San Diegan Robert Hildebracht, 38, is happy about the broadcasting arrangement because he’d rather watch the game in Tijuana. He gets his next chance Tuesday in Game 3.

``I like to drink beer, I like to watch baseball and I like to smoke, and you can do all that here,″ Hildebracht said. Smoking in bars is banned in California.

Some Americans among the crowd of mostly locals at Las Pulgas were there to take advantage of Mexico’s legal drinking age, 18.

``We’re underage and we want to drink,″ said Alex Mendoza, 19, who is two birthdays shy of legally drinking in California. He crossed the border with a friend and a cousin to enjoy the game.

But most American sports fans travel to Tijuana to gamble. There are about 10 betting shops where wagers are taken on everything from the NBA to the Kentucky Derby to college football.

``I don’t have to go to Vegas,″ said Jeffrey Amey, 39, a San Diegan and a regular visitor to Caliente Race and Sports Book near the border. ``The odds are better there, but I don’t have to buy a plane ticket.″

Americans can park their cars on the U.S. side of the border or take the San Diego Trolley to the international line, then make a short walk to betting parlors along the town’s main streets.

Just past the taxi station, the taco stands and tables of souvenir trinkets is an open-air parlor, where bettors sit on white plastic chairs and root for teams playing in games that are shown on several 20-inch, awning-covered televisions.

There are straight bets, over-under wagering and parlays. Bettors may put money on the Padres or the Yankees to win the series, on a single game or on factors such as which team hits the most home runs.

``My oldest son is a big Padres fan and he wanted to bet on the World Series,″ said David Junker, 38, who brought his three sons _ aged 8 to 13 _ to Caliente.

A friend bet $10 for Junker’s son that the Padres would win the series. The payoff would be $27.50 plus the $10 back.

Sunday wasn’t a good night for Brad Goodell, 26, who put down $200 on the game. He’d hoped to win between $600 and $700 with a combination of bets.

Now Goodell, a regular at Caliente’s, suspects a sweep is coming. But he didn’t say if next time he’ll be betting against his beloved Padres.

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