MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ By the time the ticket window opened, there already were several thousand people in line.

Baseball fever had struck this northern Mexican city, and word that an extra 1,000 tickets would go on sale for Sunday night's major league opener between the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies set off a scramble.

By 2 a.m. Thursday, there were close to 1,000 people waiting. Later in the morning, the stadium parking lot was jammed with fans in cowboy hats and baseball caps alike.

At the front of the line was Leticia Gonzalez, a 43-year-old homemaker who said she had been waiting a full 24 hours to buy tickets for herself and her three sons, all of whom play in youth leagues.

``I can't go to Colorado to see Vinny (Castilla),'' she said. ``This is probably the only chance I'll get.''

For most of the people in line, the extra tickets meant only more frustration. The tickets sold out in less than an hour, leaving thousands wanting.

Several hundred people jumped up and down on the car of a man accused of being a scalper, demanding that he sell them his tickets at cost. A half-dozen terrified policemen finally extricated the man safely.

As is the case across much of northern and coastal Mexico, baseball is big in Monterrey, an industrial center just a couple of hours south of the Texas border.

Baseball had an indisputable dominance here in the 1940s, when the Mexican League was flush with money and brought down players from the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues. Roy Campanella played for the local Sultans.

In the past decades, Mexico's television networks have pitched soccer and recently have stopped broadcasting Mexican baseball games, but in Monterrey baseball continues to be a major sport.

That allegiance has paid off before with visits by major league teams. In 1991 and 1993 U.S. teams played exhibition games in Monterrey, and in 1996 the Padres and the Mets staged a three-game series here.

Residents consider Sunday's opening-day game a confirmation of their fanaticism _ and many hope it means someday a big league franchise could be located here, as well.

``I think it's a question of time and economic stability,'' said Hector Bencomo, a Sultans official and baseball commentator on local television and radio. ``The fans are ready.''

Indeed, in addition to the Sultans, a professional team with one of the best stadiums in Mexico, Monterrey has 53 little leagues in which thousands of children hope to follow in Castilla's footsteps.

In 1997, Monterrey's Guadalupe Linda Vista team of 12-year-olds won the Little League World Series, and in 1998 the team was Latin American champs.

On a recent afternoon, the Linda Vista Marlins _ a team in the city's Pacifier League _ was practicing for a big game. The players, all under 5 years old, struggled with the weight of their miniature bats, but some managed to connect and take off scrambling toward first base.

Otilia Lopez, a 30-year-old homemaker, proudly watched from the stands as her 4-year-old son, Naoki, stood for batting practice.

``We bought him his batting cage. We bought him four gloves and a lot of baseballs,'' she said. ``So of course we're going to take him to see the game.''