Mar 23, 2010, 10:00 AM EDT
I’m still not convinced that this is the best sports mascot ever invented — not while Blowie is still around — but it has to be in the top five. Here are the Tijuana Zonkeys, a Mexican minor league pro basketball team named after that city’s tradition of painting donkeys to look like zebras for the amusement of tourists. (We’ll keep this between you and me and not tell PETA, okay?).
“It’s a crazy, cartoonish figure, and in a way, that’s what the city’s all about,” said Manuel Pasero, 32, a Tijuana attorney who is the team’s president. “It’s a crazy, cartoonish city where everything is possible.”
But the Zonkeys are unique in more ways than one. The team is backed by U.S. investors, has two players from the U.S., a management team from both sides of the border and is working mightily to develop a binational following. Unlike the painted donkeys on Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion, the team is a true hybrid. From the San Diego Union Tribune:
The team is part of the Cibacopa, a Pacific Coast development league focused on nurturing local athletes such as Omar Bermudez, 20, a Tijuana native and engineering student at the Autonomous University of Baja California.
Whether Los Zonkeys will find a following in Tijuana depends on a range of factors: the skill of the management team, the sideshows and the team’s ability to connect with the public.
Juan Manuel Martinez, the dean of Tijuana sports journalists, said the critical factor is familiar to sports franchises and fans everywhere: victories.
“Mexicans are very difficult. What they need is a good team, a winning team,” said Martinez, who is celebrating his 48th year in radio. “The best promotion they can have is to win games.”
And that’s the type of promotion the city desperately needs: Tourism there is down 80 percent since 2001.
By the way, if you want an actual zonkey — not the painted kind — it will cost you about $4,000. But you can enter him in the Zonkey Nationals and win a fortune!
Tijuana’s Zonkeys hope to earn stripes [San Diego Union Tribune]
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