Monday, March 12, 2018

Toros trash Ohtani as TJ tops Angels, 8-7, in Tempe

If the Mexican League champion Tijuana Toros were supposed to be intimidated while facing the pitches of the most-ballyhooed rookie in Major League Baseball this season, they did a lousy job of looking the part.  The Toros traveled north from their Tucson training camp to Tempe last Friday for a contest against the Los Angeles Angels and their Japanese wunderkind, Shohei Ohtani. 

The 23-year-old Ohtani distinguished himself over five seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League by combining a fastball that could top 100 MPH with a power-laden bat to become a three-time All-Star, an All-PL pick as both a pitcher and designated hitter and the PL MVP during the Fighters' 2016 Japan Series championship season.  After batting .286 with 48 homers and 166 RBIs over 403 games for the Hokkaido team while pitching his way to a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA, he was posted as a free agent among MLB teams last fall, bidding for the two-way star's services in the majors was very spirited until Ohtani signed with the Angels for $3.27 million over six years (the MLB minimum, as required by rules) plus a $2.35 million bonus.  Scouts have estimated his "real" value over the course of his Halos' contract as closer to $200 million.

Even with all that preceding him last Friday, the Toros treated Ohtani like any veteran-laden team would treat a rookie pitcher: As rudely as possible by racking up six runs on six hits and one walk over three innings off the 6'4" righty en route to an 8-7 win over the Angels.  Granted, the Tijuana win came in a "B" game against the American League West team, but the victory gives the Toros triumphs over teams from MLB, the Korea Baseball Organization and Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League.  Ohtani did strike out five TJ batsmen but he also struggled with his command (plunking Cyle Hankerd twice), his fastball generally topped out at 95 MPH and he gave up a homer to right field by veteran outfielder Dustin Martin in the first inning.  Former MLBer Jorge Cantu, who decided to NOT retire after all, whacked a pair of doubles off Ohtani, eventually scoring on a Juan Apodaca single after his first two-bagger in the second frame and driving in Martin and Hankerd in the third with another double.

Even with the early offensive outbursts, the Toros were eventually tied with the Angels, 7-7, in the top of the ninth when Eudor Garcia singled in Jose Guadalupe Chavez with the eventual game-winning run.  Jesus Pirela held the Angels scoreless in the bottom of the ninth to save the win for Tijuana reliever Danny Gutierrez, who'd pitched the eighth and gave up the two tying runs.  As for Ohtani, whose outing was witnessed by Angels GM Billy Eppler and pitching coach Charles Nagy along with about 300 in the Diablo Stadium stands?  "I feel like I made a lot of good pitches," he said through an interpreter, "and quite a few bad ones."  Catcher Rene Rivera, a MLB veteran and Ohtani's batterymate on Friday, simply said, "It's going to be a process. It's going in a good direction."

The Toros returned to camp in Tucson after the game to continue preparation for their March 22 season opener against Monclova at home in Estadio Gasmart.

Mexican League to stream 140 games live on Facebook in 2018

After a tumultuous first six months on the job, new Mexican League president Javier Salinas has probably been ready for any good news that comes along.  The former Liga MX soccer marketing executive, who was brought to the LMB in no small part for his background of bringing a sports league into more peoples' homes, had some good news for baseball fans last week when he announced that a total of 140 Liga games will be streamed live on Facebook in 2018.

The plan is two carry 132 games split between the LMB's two regular seasons, plus another four games apiece for the Liga's two playoff tournaments.  Isaura Morales, who heads Facebook's alliances with Latin American sports leagues and teams, says, "This collaboration between the LMB and Facebook is part of our commitment to innovate ways in which baseball fans can watch and follow their favorite team from anywhere.  By offering transmissions through Facebook Live, the LMB can reach new audiences in a truly interactive and social way."

For his part, Salinas says, "We're very excited to become pioneers of live sports broadcasts in the country, since our number one priority is to satisfy our fans.  That's why we signed this agreement with Facebook, because we know it's a platform capable of of offering our audiences a unique experience that can be enjoyed from any device.  We're sure our fans will be very happy with this new way to transmit our games."

The first Facebook stream of a Mexican League game is scheduled for the March 22 season opener in Tijuana between the defending champion Toros and their LMB North rival Monclova Acereros.  The LMB's Facebook page can be accessed at

Bronswell Patrick chosen as new skipper in Hermosillo

The Hermosillo Naranjeros have picked a former major league pitcher as their new manager, replacing Lorenzo Bundy at the helm.  Bundy completed his 23rd season as a Mexican Pacific League manager last winter, winning his 700th career regular season game (second only to Francisco "Paquin" Estrada's 856 over 27 campaigns) and taking the Orangemen to the MexPac playoffs before losing to Navojoa in the first round.  The Philadelphia native spent five seasons with the Naranjeros after previously managing six other MexPac teams (the only LMP squad he HASN'T managed is Jalisco).  He's won pennants with Navojoa and Mazatlan and Hermosillo and is beginning his first season managing Puebla in the Mexican League after his contract with the Naranjeros did not renew his contract for 2018-19.

Enter Bronswell Patrick.  The 47-year-old Greenville, South Carolina product was a 23rd round draft pick by Oakland in 1988 out of high school, embarking that summer on an 18-year career in pro ball, reaching the majors in 1998 with Milwaukee (for whom he was 4-1 with a 4.69 ERA in 32 appearances (including three starts) and 1999 with San Francisco (1-0, 10.31 in six trips from the bullpen).  Patrick became the first Brewers pitcher to homer in a game since former infielder Skip Lockwood went deep in 1971, two years before the advent of the designated hitter.  He went on to pitch two years in Mexico City, going 11-7 in 2001 and 13-2 in 2003 for the Diablos to book-end a 2002 season spent in Korea, where he was 5-7 for the Samsung Lions.  Patrick wrapped up his playing career in 2006-07 when he pitched six games that winter for Los Mochis, losing both decisions and posting a 5.75 ERA for the Caneros.

Patrick has coached over the past decade in the San Diego system, starting with the Padres' Arizona Rookie League team in 2008.  This summer, he'll serve as pitching coach for the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas of the Pacific Coast League.  While Hermosillo marks his first managerial job, Patrick served as the Naranjeros pitching coach in the past.  He headed the Hermosillo mound staff during their last championship season of 2013-14 and was Bundy's pitching coach for the 2016-17 campaign.  Upon his appointment to his new post in Hermosillo last week, Patrick said, "Over the last couple years while I was a pitching coach with the Naranjeros, I thought about being a manager.  It was something I wanted to do and in recent years that thought's been in my head, so now I'm happy that the Naranjeros and (owner) Enrique Mazon have given me the opportunity to manage the club."

Joining Patrick's coaching staff will be new batting coach Darryl Brinkley, a longtime minor league outfielder who spent time in the Padres, Orioles and Pirates systems but mostly played for teams in independent leagues as well as in Mexico and Korea before retiring after 16 seasons in 2009 after batting .297 with 13 homers in 97 games for Edmonton in the Golden Baseball League.  Brinkley played all or part of eight seasons in the Mexican League, leading the San Luis Tuneros in 2006 with a .355 batting average for manager Dan Firova (now in Monclova).

Monday, March 5, 2018

Guerreros playing exhibition games in Cuba

The Oaxaca Guerreros are spending a portion of their 2018 training on a trip to Cuba, where manager Jose Luis "Borrego" Sandoval has had his Warriors go up against one Cuban National Series team and among a number of exhibition games.  Oaxaca opened the island portion of their preseason schedule last Friday with a 1-1 tie against Matanzas of the CNS.  Raymundo Torres went 3-for-3 for the Guerreros, driving in Carlos Paulino all the way from first with a single in the third with his team's lone run of the game. 

A former Twins farmhand, Paulino had a 2-for-2 game for Oaxaca, who started Patrick Johnson on the mound after team owner Alfredo Harp Helu decided in the offseason to drop his "Mexicans-only" player policy after both his Guerreros and Mexico City Diablos Rojos failed to make the playoffs in 2017 while finishing near the bottom of the league attendance tables.  Johnson tossed three scoreless innings, walking one Cocodrilos batter and striking out three before he gave way to relievers Luis Payan, Rodolfo Aguilar and Axel Rios.  The Matanzas roster features longtime veteran Yoandy Garlobo, who finished second to the USA's Ken Griffey, Junior among batters in the 2006 World Baseball Classic with a .480 average en route to being named to the All-WBC Team that year.

The Guerreros then took on Occidentales, a team comprised of 25 players from CNS West Division clubs, Saturday in Havana.  Occidentales took a 5-1 victory over the guests as Oaxaca didn't score until the ninth, with Iker Franco singling in Manuelo Cruz from third.  The Westerners roster includes outfielders Yoelkis Cespedes and Frederich Cepeda.  The Guerreros came back Sunday by walloping Orientales (25 CNS East players, including several National Teamers) by an 8-0 count as Oaxaca's batters collected 12 hits to support aptly-named starter Daniel Guerrero and five relievers in their shutout effort. 

After an off-day Monday, the Guerreros will meet Occidental again Tuesday in Matanzas as starting pitcher Salvador Valdez makes his debut in a Oaxaca uniform.  The Guerreros will open the Mexican League's 2018 first season on March 23 at Leon.

Toros meet KBO, CPBL clubs in Tucson

The Tijuana Toros are conducting their training camp in Tucson, Arizona for the fourth year in a row and the 2017 Mexican League champions have spiced up their stay in Optics Valley with preseason games against visiting teams from the Korea Baseball Organization and Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Manager Pedro Mere's champions first met the CPBL's Chinatrust Brothers, a Taichung-based squad managed by former major leaguer Cory Snyder, last Wednesday afternoon.  The game was a reunion of sorts between Mere and Snyder, who last managed on the same field during the 2016 LMB title series between Tijuana and Snyder's Puebla Pericos, who won the series and pennant.  Snyder has been joined in Taiwan by two other ex-MLBers, pitching coach Rick Waits and batting coach Tommy Cruz, brother of Jose and Hector.  The Brothers are in their 29th season, winning seven CPBL titles.

The Toros came from way back Thursday to top Chinatrust, 7-6, thanks to Pedro Arenas' tiebreaking single in the eighth.  The win went to reliever Fabian Williamson while the save was credited to Jesus Pirela.  The contest was notable for a remarkable Tijuana comeback after the Toros were behind, 6-1, in the fifth inning.  Things culminated in the eighth when Gabriel Gutierrez singled Juan Kirk in with the tying run and Gutierrez scored the game-winner on Arenas' safety.

One day later, Tijuana met the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, making it two wins in a row by beating the Heroes, 6-1, at Kino Stadium as the Toros plated four runs in the bottom of the second and scored two more in the fifth in what turned out to be an easy win.  Ageless reliever Rafael Diaz, entering his 21st season at age 47 as the only hurler in LMB history with more than 100 wins and 100 saves, earned the win by tossing a scoreless fifth.

The Toros and Nexen, whose roster includes 2-time KBO MVP and former Twins first baseman Byung-Ho Park plus 2017 KBO Rookie of the Year Jung-Hoo Lee (who hit .324 last year at age 19) met again last Thursday.  This time, the Heroes were victorious, 10-5, to earn the split.  Joe Munoz swatted a two-run homer for Tijuana, but not before Nexen had already built a commanding 6-1 lead by the time Munoz clobbered his panoramic shot to left in the seventh frame.  Alex Sanabia absorbed the loss for the Toros, but he was hardly the only pitcher touched up by the Koreans.

The Toros then played the Quintana Roo Tigres, also training in Tucson, in a three-game series at Kino Stadium over the weekend starting with a 7-1 win over manager Tim Johnson's Cancun nine on Saturday.  The two teams then played to a scoreless draw Sunday before the third and final game Monday before the Toros start playing MLB teams this week.  Rumor has Angels prodigy Shohei Ohtani pitching against Tijuana on Friday.

Fernandez out in Mazatlan; Gil fined 100K pesos

It's already been a busy offseason in the Mexican Pacific League, whose season officially ended less than a month ago when Guadalajara hosted the Caribbean Series at Estadio Charros.  The Mazatlan Venados have said "adios" to manager Daniel Fernandez, Culiacan manager Benji Gil was fined 100,000 pesos by the LMP after he celebrated his team's Game Seven win in the championship series at Navojoa with an obscene gesture and speculation is that three-time pennant-winning manager Eddy Diaz is returning to Obregon, but not as dugout boss.

Let's begin with Fernandez, one of the all-time great batters of Mexican baseball (representing the Mexico City Diablos Rojos in 15 All-Star Games) and the LMB's Manager of the Year with Veracruz in 2008.  Fernandez also excelled for Mazatlan as a player, and he was brought back to the Pearl of the Pacific in 2016 to replace Juan Jose Pacho at the Venados' helm.  Although the Deer appeared in the postseason both seasons under Fernandez, they were first-round casualties each time.  Mazatlan improved eight games last winter to a composite regular-season record of 37-31, but owner Jose Toledo and GM Jesus "Chino" Valdez will be looking for a manager with a "smallball" philosophy of creating runs from scratch instead of one swing.

Now we move on to Gil, already known as a combustible sort during his first stint in Culiacan, where he won a title in 2014-15 but also nearly came to blows in the dugout with outfielder Rico Noel during a game and essentially wore out his welcome with the Tomateros and the Ley family, who has owned the franchise since its 1966 inception.  The former Angels shortstop was brought back this winter and rewarded the Leys and Culiacan with a second pennant, but made a gesture (think PeeWee Herman in an adult theater) during a celebration after the Tomateros won the LMP Championship Series deciding game in Navojoa in January.  Gil's rewards were a verbal rebuke from league president Omar Canizales and a fine of 100,000 pesos (about $5,300 in US dollars).  A statement signed by Canizales states that Gil violated Article 36 of Mexico's federal labor laws "based on maintaining respect and discipline."  Gil faces suspension or outright expulsion from the LMP if he commits any further transgressions.

Finally, there's Diaz, who managed Obregon to three consecutive LMP titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (the only skipper in MexPac history with a three-peat), winning the Caribbean Series in 2011 and 2013.   Things have gone south with the Yaquis after promised player bonuses tied to that 2013 CS title were never given, resulting in a lawsuit from former MLB pitcher Luis Ayala, a five-year suspension handed to then-GM Francisco Minjarez by the LMP and Diaz' eventual exit from the franchise.  The Yaquis missed the playoffs last winter while attendance at 15,000-seat Nuevo Estadio Yaquis was noticeably down.  Diaz has visited Obregon in recent weeks, leading to speculation that he may replace manager Juan Navarrete (who will not return next winter) or even move into the front office as GM.  Then again, Minjarez' suspension has been completed and the current Diablos Rojos general manager, embroiled in the "Rookiegate" scandal at present, may return to his old post in the Sonora city.

Friday, March 2, 2018

BBM EXTRA: Salon de la Fama writer Tommy Morales dies at 85

I'm going to step out of my usual third-person mode to mark the passing of a Mexican baseball writer who can only be described as "legendary," Tomas Morales, on Tuesday at age 85 following bouts with various illnesses in recent years.  Morales produced his "Tommy al Bat" column for five decades and has been a full member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame since 1990 as a writer and TV/radio commentator.  He covered many World Series and Caribbean Series since breaking in during the early 1950's en route to being considered the Dean of Mexican baseball cronistas, sharing his lifelong love of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and New York Yankees along with the game itself.  Even in declining health, the passion was always there and while there are many more honors that he picked up along the way, they by no means paint a full picture of the man.

I first became aware of Tommy Morales in 1972 at age 12 when my vacationing family took a day trip from San Diego to Tijuana, where I bought a copy of the SuperHit magazine he edited from a street newsstand.  It was my first real exposure to Mexican baseball and people like Andres Ayon, Angel Macias and, of course, Hector Espino.  Even though I couldn't read a word of the Spanish text, that magazine (which I still have) represented my first window into that world and Tommy's name was on top of a LOT of the articles.  Several years later on a one-day stay in Nogales, I picked up a copy of Hit magazine, another Tommy Morales-led production.  The names had changed but there again was that open window.  I gave no thought at the time that I would someday be writing about Mexican baseball myself, let alone that Tommy Morales would be a subscriber to both my Viva Beisbol and Baseball Mexico newsletters.  I still have a lot to learn about the game south of the border, but always realized what an honor it was to have THAT name on my list of subscribers.

Tommy reflected top American sportswriters Shirley Povich and Roger Angell in that he kept on being productive well into his eighties.  Unlike Povich or Angell, who cut back noticeably in their later years, Tommy remained productive through the Mexican League's 2017 season until his "Tommy al Bat" blog went silent.  I wondered on occasion whether he was in ill health or just mostly taking the winter off (his last entry was on January 20) up until Carlos Fragoso, a mutual friend in Mexico City who deserves huge credit himself for BBM's existence, emailed my Tuesday to let me know Tommy had passed on.  Life is funny sometimes.  As a Christian, I've been a huge Billy Graham fan for decades and always expected to cry when he passed on, but that strangely did not happen when the day arrived last week.  After Carlos' email, however, I did.  At any rate, it's tough to lose two heroes within a week of each other and neither of these men can or will be replaced.

I guess a constructive way to end this extra is to mention that while Tommy Morales is gone, there are several other excellent writers to follow Mexican baseball by.  Tommy's crown, to me, is now passed to Enrique Kerlegand (pictured left), who, like Tommy, has been chronicling the game for decades.  The two were colleagues as writers of the Mexican League's 90th anniversary book a few years ago and, also like Tommy, Enrique's passion and knowledge of baseball shines through in his own "Tiempo de Beisbol" on the Puro Beisbol website.

Kerlegand is one of a stable of excellent scribes at Puro Beisbol.  Editor Fernando Ballesteros has impressed me as perhaps the best scoop-getter in the game down there and his "Zona del Contacto" column is must reading for anyone wanting to stay current on Mexican baseball.  That's where you often will hear something first."  Kudos also to Hector Bencomo, whose "Imparable" has become one of my favorite reads, both for his sense of humor and passion for his subject.  Another very good columnist is David Braverman, whose "Out 27" is a little harder for me to access via Google Translate (my Spanish being still pretty shaky fifty-six years after picking up that copy of SuperHit), but the extra effort is almost always rewarded by insightful and thoughtful observations.  The Solo Beisbol site has some very good scribes, too, such as Gilberto Ruiz Razo ("Septima Entrada"), Jose Zazueta ("Chepe On Deck") and Dr. Tomas Lopez ("Desde La Butaca"), among others, and there's no way I could salute the leading escribars de beisbol without mentioning Beatriz Pereyra (pictured right) at Proceso, who doesn't write nearly as often about baseball as I wish she would but produces some of the best-researched and sourced  stories you'll find anywhere when she does.  I've been really impressed with her work.

You'll find links to those websites in their original Spanish in the right-hand column of this site but if you're like me and struggle to comprende, punching in their names for a Google search and then downloading the translated text is how I've been doing it for years.  Anyone familiar with going that route knows that you usually have to translate the translation and even then, you're not always sure.  Still, when you do it long enough, even though we may never fully understand and appreciate a Tommy Morales, Fernando Ballesteros or Beatriz Pereya in their native tongue, it's possible to pick up on a writer's overall style and vision with enough exposure.  In other words, sometimes you can just TELL.

And as for "Tommy al Bat" and its presence in BBM's right-hand column now that Tommy himself is gone?  I thought about that.  For about five seconds.  As long as his site and archives are online and available, there will always be a place for Tomas Morales on this site.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Training camp opens for 15 Liga teams...then there's Tabasco

Tabasco Olmecas team president Juan Luis Dagdug
As February heads into its final week of 2018, training camp is in full swing for all 30 Major League Baseball teams as well as 15 of their counterparts south of the border in the Mexican League.  Then there are the Tabasco Olmecas.

The Villahermosa-based team staggered through a moribund season last year, finishing a Liga-worst 38-69 on the field to come in 26 games out of first place in the mediocre South Division.  The poor showing was reflected in the box office at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero, where only 71,829 souls passed through the turnstiles over 50 dates for an average of just 1,437 per opening.  The ballpark itself was plagued by electrical problems throughout the campaign, with power outages a common occurrence, which didn't help attendance at all.  The nadir of the Olmecas season came Sunday, July 2, when only 178 were in the stands to witness a 5-0 loss to Monterrey.  It was that kind of year in Tabasco.

Former team chairman Carlos Jose Dagdug, who resigned from his club duties after the 2017 schedule was completed, told Tabasco Hoy last fall that it would take about 40 million pesos (approximately 2.2 million US dollars) to field a competitive team in Villahermosa this year under manager Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez.  The former MLB shortstop had yet to convene training camp for the squad as of late last week, however, as rumors float that cash shortages in the front office have led to the delay.  Whatever the cause, the situation mirrors the late starts by newcomers Durango and Leon last year, with both teams playing on the road for the first month of the season while their own ballpark upgrades were being performed.

One positive bit of news coming out of Tabasco is that renovations to Parque Centenario 27 de Febrer, which turns 54 Tuesday, are underway and hoped to be mostly completed when the regular season opens in late March.  LMB president Javier Salinas toured the facility last week with new team president Juan Luis Dagdug (Carlos' brother)  as part of a visit to the troubled franchise, calling the Olmecas one of the "pillars" of the Mexican League due to their continuous play since starting in 1977.  Renovations will include a paint job, restroom upgrades, remodeled locker rooms maintenance to the grandstand roof.  Hopefully a call to an electrician is also on the agenda.

Acereros undergoing makeover for 2018 season

Former Monclova SS Amadeo Zazueta (now with Leon)
When the already-strong Monclova Acereros were able to pluck most of the players from the 2016 Mexican League champion Puebla Pericos after Pericos owner Gerardo Benavides purchased the Acereros last winter, Monclova was considered a favorite by many to win the LMB flag in 2017.  Indeed, the team did well during the regular season by going 67-41 to finish third in the tough North Division, but were swept in four games by Monterrey in the first round of the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the roster-ravaged Pericos managed to pull things together under new manager Tim Johnson and reached the LMB Championship Series before falling to Tijuana. 

Never the type of person to sit idly even in the best of times, Benavides was expected to rearrange the landscape of his preferred hometown team.  He started with his manager, Jorge Luis Loredo, who took over the team after the Wally Backman experiment failed and steadied the ship before the Acereros' ignominious postseason exit.  Loredo was not rehired and will coach for Houston Jimenez in Tabasco this year while former MLB and LMB catcher Dan Firova was hired to manage in Monclova.

A six-player "trade" with Puebla shortly after the season ended netted shortstop Alberto Carreon, third baseman Issmael Salas and catcher Cesar Tapia while the Acereos only gave up catcher DJ Dixon and pitchers Julio Felix and Romario Gil, but Salas has already been returned to Puebla without ever suiting up for the Steelers.  Then shortstop Amadeo Zazueta, who played in the All-Star Game at Campeche and had a terrific year at the plate with a .341 batting average, was shipped to Leon without a player coming in return from the Bravos.

Finally, Monclova worked a deal with Tijuana last Friday in which speedy centerfielder Justin Greene and solid right-handed pitcher Hector Galvan were sent to the Toros in exchange for reserve outfielder Chris Valencia and righty pitchers Jordan Aboites and Edwin Quirarte, a deal that at first glance seems to clearly favor the defending champions.  Another head-scratching transaction was the importing of former MLB second baseman Jemile Weeks, who hit .303 for Oakland in 2011 but has otherwise been a bit of a journeyman, appearing for four big league teams between 2011 and 2016.  What Firova will do with Weeks is uncertain, given that he already has arguably the best Mexican second sacker in the game on his roster in Manny Rodriguez.

Whether all the personnel moves result in Monclova winning the city's first LMB pennant since the Acereros made their debut in 1974 (Benavides' grandfather was owner) remains to be seen, but Firova himself may need a scorecard to keep track of who's playing for him on any given night.

Venados' owner willing to host 2019 Caribbean Series, if needed

Artist's conception of remodeled Mazatlan ballpark
If the Caribbean Series is going to have to be moved a second year in a row, another Mexican Pacific League team (at least their owner) has let it be known they'd be willing and able to pinch-hit as an emergency site for the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball.  This year, of course, the Jalisco Charros stepped up to host the event after political and economic turmoil in Venezuela led the tournament organizers to move the CS out of Barquisimieto to Guadalajara, making it two years in a row that Mexico has held the Serie del Caribe (Culiacan was the site in 2017).  Barquisimieto will get another crack next February if conditions in Venezuela stabilize but if things don't work out again, the Mazatlan Venados owner says he's interested in bringing the CS to the Pearl of the Pacific for a second time.

Venados owner Antonio Toledo tells Puro Beisbol's Fernando Ballesteros that if Venezuela has to drop out as CS host, "The Dominican Republic would be the second option but in case they're not in condition to take over, we could get in."  After years of jockeying for an all-new ballpark north of the city's tourist zone, it was decided instead to completely renovate Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, which has been home to the Venados since its 1962 opening.  While various maintenance and repair projects (including a 2000 seating expansion) have been performed at the 15,000-seat ballpark, which sits between the Zona Dorado to the north and downtown Mazatlan to the south, this is the first-ever major overhaul of the facility.  "Our remodeled stadium should be ready by the beginning of October," Toledo told Ballesteros, "but if it's not, it's possible we can play a few series on the road to start the season."

Mazatlan is one of five LMP cities that typically rotate as Caribbean Series hosts, along with Mexicali, Hermosillo, Culiacan and now Guadalajara.  The tourney itself historically has rotated between Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic over the past four decades, although Miami was the site for two ill-fated attempts to bring the CS to the United States in the early 90's.  Mazatlan has hosted the tournament four times (1978, 1985, 1993 and 2005), with the Venados becoming the only host team to win the CS in front of its own fans in 2005.

Barquisimieto is scheduled to host the Caribbean Series in 2019, followed by San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2020 and Mazatlan in 2021.  There has been talk of Havana, Cuba being a potential site, although the needed infrastructure may not yet be in place to handle the influx of fans from other countries, while both Panama and Colombia have also been mentioned as COPABE president Jose Manuel Puello seeks to expand the event to other nations.  However, Mexico has proven to be the most supportive of the participating countries since the turn of the century, so it would not be wise to count out Mazatlan two years early...just in case.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dodgers-Padres series in Monterrey sells out in two hours

Fans waiting to buy Dodgers-Padres tickets in Monterrey
If any question remained as to whether the May series in Monterrey between the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers and their NL rivals from San Diego is a big deal, those doubts should be dispelled by the fact that only two hours were required to sell out 22,000-seat Estadio Monterrey for all three games. 

According to Puro Beisbol's Hector Bencomo in his Imparable column on Saturday, ducats went on sale Friday via Ticketmaster and were quickly snapped up, with a few seats to be offered to Padres VIPs reportedly the only tickets remaining.  Although ticketbuyers were required to purchase a three-game package, there's no doubt that a large number of single-game tickets will be made available through secondary sellers like StubHub (at a premium, of course).  Bencomo says that while ticket sales at the offices of the host Monterrey Sultanes was fully staffed, only about 800 walk-up fans were able to buy tickets before the series was sold out, with another frustrated 700 would-be ticketbuyers still standing in a line that stretched through the parking lot.

The so-called Mexico Series will mark the first regular season appearance of Major League Baseball teams south of the border in 19 years, when the Padres and Colorado Rockies opened the 1999 campaign with a single game in Monterrey on April 4.  Three years earlier, San Diego and the New York Mets competed in the first-ever MLB series in Mexico, also at Estadio Monterrey in August 1996.  The ballpark, which opened in July 1990, is currently undergoing a retrofit that will lower the capacity from 27,000 to 22,000 seats but make the facility (Mexico's largest baseball stadium) more user-friendly.

The series will feature a number of marquee names among the playing ranks, mostly among the Dodgers, who'll bring Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Chase Utley and Yasiel Puig.  San Diego will have notable performers Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Clayton Richard and likely Christian Villanueva, a third baseman from Guadalajara who impressed the Padres during a September callup last year by batting .344 with four homers in 32 at-bats over 12 games.

Heras fails to reach terms on loan to Monclova, returns to Yucatan

Yucatan (for now) outfielder Leo Heras
Close observers of Mexican baseball have no doubt noticed the practice of teams "loaning" players to each other.  It's a decades-old system in which one franchise facing a surplus of players at one position will loan a player to another league club with a need at that position for the season, with the loaning team holding the player's rights while the receiving team often picks up the salary of the player being transferred. 

Sometimes such deals can reach ridiculous proportions when the two teams involved are under the same ownership, creating a situation where clubs like Union Laguna and Puebla serve roles with Yucatan and Monclova (respectively) similar to how the old Kansas City Athletics were considered a de facto "farm team" for the New York Yankees in the late 1950's.  Players usually have no recourse, but there are exceptions to the rule and outfielder Leo Heras is the latest to buck the system.

Heras is a 27-year-old Tijuana native who will be entering his twelfth year of pro ball after debuting with his hometown Tijuana Potros in 2007 at age 16.  The 5'9" lefty hitter has built a reputation as a reliable batsman with gap power, some speed and good enough with a glove to be able to play all three outfield slots and fill in at second in a pinch.  He's a career .313 batter over eleven Liga seasons and collecting 67 homers and 115 stolen bases in 741 LMB games, appearing on four All-Star Games along the way. 

Last summer, the one-time Astros farmhand hit .293 with three homers in 95 games for Yucatan after a March trade from Mexico City to the Merida club before turning in a .253/0/19 winterball campaign for Obregon.  While he was toiling for the Yaquis last December, the Leones shipped him on loan to Monclova and the status quo appeared to be undisturbed (with Heras even appearing at an Acereros press conference announcing his arrival) until Heras did the unusual: He balked at the deal.

The issue appears to be money, as Heras and the Steelers were unable to reach an agreement as to how much the outfielder would earn for the 2018 season.  Puro Beisbol's Hector Bencomo weighed in on the subject, speculating that Heras considered the move from Yucatan to Monclova a sale and not a loan, and that the veteran flychaser wanted a percentage of the sale price.  The reason for the fallout and Heras' subsequent return to Merida has never been broached by either side, but the issue of a player seeking compensation when he's sold dates back to the days of legendary slugger Hector Espino. 

Espino's disputes over salaries and sales, mostly with the Monterrey Sultanes, are legendary among Mexican baseball cognoscenti.  A very quiet man by nature, Espino was also every bit as proud and aware of his value as both a player and a man and not afraid to dig in his heels against ownership.  That's something almost unheard of among ballplayers south of the border even today, so Heras' stance ensured his return to Yucatan last week and has likely punched his ticket to another LMB franchise who'll be willing to meet his price.

Diablos GM Minjarez suspended for role in "Rookiegate"

Francisco Minjarez (while a Tigres employee)
Several months after Quintana Roo Tigres owners Fernando and Linda Valenzuela lodged a complaint with the Mexican League over the suspicious transfer of five Tigres prospects to the Mexico City Diablos Rojos while the Valenzuelas were purchasing the Cancun franchise, there has been a response from the LMB office.  Diablos general manager Francisco "Pollo" Minjarez has been suspended indefinitely by the Liga office after having been employed in the Tigres front office prior to last February's sale before moving to Mexico City to serve as the Red Devils GM, and is believed to have played a pivotal role at both ends in the prospect transfer.

Minjarez was working in the Cancun front office under longtime Tigres GM Chito Rodriguez while owner Carlos Peralta was in the process of selling the franchise to the Valenzuelas in a deal finalized a year ago.  Shortly after the Tigres changed hands, Rodriguez retired and Minjares took the GM job in Mexico City under Diablos team president Roberto Mansur, who retired after last season, stating health concerns.  During this timeframe, five Tigres prospects on a master player roster the Valenzuelas claim they had in January 2017 became property of the Diablos in February in what Minjarez told Proceso reporter Beatriz Pereyra was a "gentleman's agreement" between the two sides.  He did not specify whether the agreement was between Peralta and Red Devils owner Alfredo Harp Helu or between Rodriguez and Mansur, two decades-long powers within the LMB, or any combination thereof.

That deal exploded in importance last June when the Diablos sold two of the five former Tigres prospects, 15-year-old infielder Fernando Villalobos and 16-year-old pitcher Damien Mendoza, for US$1.5 million and US$1.2 million, respectively.  The bone of contention with the Tigres and the Valenzuelas is that since they were not informed of the transaction, the rights to the five prospects (including Villalobos and Mendoza) still belonged to them and that they should receive proceeds from the two sales.  For his part, Minjarez told Pereyra that the transfer of the prospects is common among some LMB teams and that the deal had already consummated before the sale of the Tigres was finalized.

There's speculation that Minjarez may return to his former GM position in Obregon, now that a five-year suspension he received from the LMP in 2013 after not paying players promised bonuses after winning their third straight pennant has ended.  The Diablos are not taking this quietly, however, as new team president Othon Diaz wrote a letter to Mexican League president Javier Salinas protesting Minjarez' suspension and a formal protest is not being ruled out.  That would put Salinas in the difficult position of a first-year league president going head-to-head with his league's richest owner and be a real test of his leadership and power.

As for the Valenzuelas, they're still waiting to hear how much of that US$2.7 million they'll be getting.  While Fernando may be a better known figure in Mexico and the USA than Harp (he's no doubt more popular), baseball has always been a tough sell in Cancun, the once-proud franchise may face some difficult times ahead.