Friday, December 2, 2016

WBC schedule released; Jalisco opener on March 9

The dates and game times for the 2017 Baseball World Cup have been released. Guadalajara will be one of the four Pool play host cities (along with Seoul, Tokyo and Miami) for the 16-team event.

Mexico will host Italy, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in Pool D at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco, opening on Thursday, March 9 when they take on Italy at 9PM Eastern time.  In all, there will be six round-robin contests over four days in Guadalajara, followed by a Mach 13 play-in game for the WBC's semifinal round should two national teams tie for first place after three games apiece:

THURSDAY, March 9
9:00PM ET  Italy vs. Mexico

FRIDAY, March 10
9:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

SATURDAY, March 11   
3:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Italy
9:30PM ET  Puerto Rico vs. Mexico

SUNDAY, March 12   
3:30PM ET    Italy vs. Puerto Rico
10:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Mexico

MONDAY, March 13 
 9:00PM ET  Play-in game (if needed)

Ticket prices have not been announced.

This will mark the WBC's first appearance in Mexico since 2009, when Mexico City hosted Cuba, Australia and South Africa in Pool B play at Foro Sol.  A total of 92,665 attended the six contests for an average of 15,444 per game.  That figure will not be reached in Guadalajara, where Estadio Charros has 13,000 permanent seats for Mexican Pacific League baseball (although the venue could be expanded with extra seating in the outfield).

As the WBC approaches, however, discussion around the event (first played in 2006) has turned to its long-term viability.  The brainchild of former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was intended to build interest in baseball on a global basis.  Although the WBC has not harmed the sport's growth internationally, attendance at games has been spotty at best, particularly in Pool play.  While games involving the host nation have at times drawn more than 30,000 and Final Four tilts typicall top the 40,000 mark, those involving non-host nations routinely have fewer than 20,000 people in the stands and it's not unusual to see fewer than 10,000 at the ballpark.  Overall, the WBC has averaged just over 20,000 per game in 2009 and 2013 but the latter tournament saw gatherings of just 4,478 and 5,140 for the first two Pool games in Phoenix while the Pool in Taipei was positively embarrassing, with fewer than 1,500 souls rattling around Intercontinental Baseball Stadium for the three games not involving Taiwan's team.

BBM reader Chris Kabout in Amsterdam forwarded us a story from the Dutch Baseball Hangout site discussing how MLB and their partners will move forward after 2017, quoting a tweet from ESPN Deportes' Cristian Moreno: "I've been told by multiple sources related to World Baseball Classic the 2017 possibly final edition unless legit $$$ earnings come."

PERSONAL OPINION TIME: Revenue will always be a concern for any worldwide sporting event, but may perhaps make more sense for WBC organizers to streamline the event to reduce costs. I believe the WBC could fit into a six-day window by replacing the current 16-day schedule allowing for three days of double-elimination Pool play doubleheaders at four sites, followed by one travel day for Pool winners, one day of semifinals and one day for a championship game at the same venue.  Chris added that AAA ballparks would be suitable for most future Pool play games and I agree.  What's the need for 45,000 seats if over 30,000 of them are empty?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Caneros' Barreda spins no-no vs. Hermosillo

He needed nearly 140 pitches to do it, but Los Mochis pitcher Manny Barreda tossed the first no-hitter of the current Mexican Pacific League season when the Caneros shut out Hermosillo, 2-0, last Saturday.  A crowd of 4,205 was on hand at Mochis' Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada for the contest, which lasted 2 hours, 25 minutes as Barreda evened his record at 2-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.63.

Despite the high number of pitches, Barreda allowed just one third-inning walk to Jorge Flores and struck out nine Naranjeros batsmen as 92 of his 138 deliveries went for strikes.  In all, just two Hermosillo batsmen reached base as Caneros first sacker Saul Soto committed an error in the ninth inning to end Barreda's string of 18 consecutive retired batters after Flores' free pass.  The 28-year-old Arizona native's gem overshadowed a fine start by the Naranjeros' Barry Enright, as the former Diamondbacks and Angels hurler pitched five innings of one-run ball in his second start of the winter but was tagged with the loss.

Mochis took a 1-0 lead off Enright in the fifth frame when Leandro Castro lined his 12th double of the season to left field with two out and came around to score when Rudy Amador followed him with a single to right.  The Caneros manufactured an insurance run one inning later as Isaac Rodriguez led off with a single up the middle against reliever Raul Barron, moved to second on Ramon Urias' sacrifice bunt, took third on Jesus Arredondo's ground-out to second and came in on a J.C. Linares double to left.

Barreda is a native of Sahuarita, Arizona who was a 12th round pick of the New York Yankees out of high school in 2007.  He made his debut that summer with the Yanks' Gulf Coast League rookie team, going 5-0 with a save in 11 appearances, turning in a 3.00 ERA.  The 5'11" righty remained in the Yankee system until he was dealt to the Brewers in 2014, pitching for Milwaukee minor league clubs through 2015.  Overall, Barreda had a 23-13 record with 8 saves in nine minor league seasons, turning in a 3.63 ERA while striking out 454 batters in 422.1 innings over 246 appearances.  He topped out at the AA level for both organizations.

Barreda hooked on with Tijuana late in the 2015 Mexican League season and was 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 25 trips from the bullpen for the Toros last summer.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Retherford scores on grounder, ends LMP All-Star Game

C.J. Retherford (MXI) motored home from third base on Olmo Rosario's (OBR) one-out ground ball to South second baseman Jose Rodriguez ((JAL) in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the North a 4-3 win in the Mexican Pacific League All-Star Game Sunday in Obregon.  A crowd of 15,145 watched the first LMP edition of the midseason classic in 19 years at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis.

Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) opened the game's scoring with a two-run homer off Esteban Haro (NAV) in the top of the second to give the South the first lead of the game, but the North came back in the bottom of the frame with three tallies of their own, including a two-run blast off a Daniel Guerrero (JAL) delivery by Yuniesky Betancourt (MXI) that gave the hosts a 3-2 advantage.  The score stood until the top of the eighth, when a single by Jose Guadalupe Chavez (CUL) brought Elizalde in to knot the contest for the South at 3-3.

Retherford opened the bottom of the ninth by singling to left off Jon Sintes (MAZ), then went from first to third on a safety up the middle by Jose Amador (HMO).  One out later, Rosario tapped a grounder to Rodriguez at second, who was able to relay the ball to shortstop Chavez for the first out but the latter's throw to Cyle Hankerd (MAZ) at first for the inning-ending double play wasn't in time to get Rosario, allowing Retherford's run to count, ending the game.

Betancourt's homer was enough to earn him All-Star Game MVP honors for the night while Amador collected a pair of hits for the winners.  Leandro Castro (MOC) had two singles for the South, who were outhit, 7-5, for the match.  Reliever Jake Sanchez (MXI) got the win while Sintes was tagged with the loss.

Before the game, Jalisco's massive slugger, Japhet Amador, won a home run derby involving representatives of each of the LMP's eight teams.  The Mulege Giant outlasted hometown favorite Leo Heras, 11 to 10, in the final round to pick up a check for MX$15,000.  Amador has signed on to spend a second summer with Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2017.

The event is largely being hailed as a success for both the MexPac and the host Yaquis, although a pair of columnists featured on the Puro Beisbol site offered suggestions for future All-Star tilts.  In his Chepe On Deck column, Culiacan writer Jose Zazueta offered ideas such as more celebrities and singers, larger prize money for the players and autograph sessions for the fans.  Novena Inning scribe Bambino Sedrano of Obregon thought that one day isn't enough, a celebrity game preceding the home run derby wasn't needed and that the player selectors should do better next winter.  According to Sedrano, Navojoa pitcher Hector Velazquez and Culiacan outfielder-first baseman Bryan LaHair (who took part in the home run derby) should have been picked for the game.  The disappointment over the absence of Velazquez (who leads the LMP with 6 wins and a 1.99 ERA) is palpable;  LaHair is hitting just .239 with one homer and 9 RBIs in 19 games for the Tomateros thus far.

Friday, November 25, 2016

MexPac All-Star Game slated for Sunday in Obregon

After an absence of nearly two decades, the Mexican Pacific League will hold a midseason All-Star Game this Sunday at Obregon's new ballpark. The contest will be a Norte-Sur affair with players and coaches from Hermosillo, Mexicali, Navojoa and Obregon forming the North squad under Yaquis manager Eddie Diaz while Culiacan, Los Mochis, Jalisco and Mazaltan comprising the South team headed by Culiacan manager Lino Rivera.

Here are the rosters for both 25-player teams, as selected by fan balloting:

NORTH ALL-STARS
Pitchers (8) - Raul Barron (HMO), Carlos Fisher (OBR), Esteban Haro (NAV), Arturo Lopez (OBR), Ozzie Mendez (NAV), Jake Sanchez (MXI), Javier Solano (MXI), Manuel Valdez (HMO).
Catchers (2) - Xorge Carrillo (MXI), Fernando Flores (NAV).
Infielders (8) - 1B Jose Amador (HMO), 1B Yuniesky Betancourt (MXI), 3B Jesus Castillo (NAV), SS Jorge Flores (HMO), 2B Carlos Gastelum (HMO), 2B Yosmany Guerra (NAV), 3B C.J. Retherford (MXI), 2B Carlos Valencia (OBR).
Outfielders (7) - Randy Arozarena (NAV), Leo Heras (OBR), Quincy Latimore (NAV), Efren Navarro (HMO), Chris Roberson (MXI), Olmo Rosario (OBR), Corey Wimberly (OBR).
Manager - Eddie Diaz (OBR).

SOUTH ALL-STARS
Pitchers (8) - Julian Arballo (MOC), Roberto Espinosa (MAZ), Julio Felix (JAL), Daniel Guerrero (JAL), Alexis Lara (MOC), Derrick Loop (CUL), Hector Daniel Rodriguez (CUL), Alfonso Sanchez (MAZ).
Catchers (2) - Hector Paez (MAZ), Sebastian Valle (MOC).
Infielders (8) - 1B Japhet Amador (JAL), SS Jose Guadalupe Chavez (CUL), 1B Cyle Hankerd (MAZ), 3B Brian Hernandez (MAZ), 3B Agustin Murillo (JAL), 2B Isaac Rodriguez (MOC), 2B Jose Rodriguez (JAL), SS Amadeo Zazueta (JAL).
Outfielders (7) - Jason Bourgeois (MAZ), Leandro Castro (MOC),  Yadir Drake (MOC),Sebastian Elizalde (CUL), Bryan LaHair (CUL), Joey Meneses (CUL), Ronnier Mustelier (CUL).
Manager - Lino Rivera (CUL).

There will be three notable absences from the rosters.  Navojoa pitcher Hector Velazquez, who is tied with Mexicali's Solano for the LMP lead with 6 wins while topping the loop with 57 strkeouts in 48 innings, will be held out by the Mayos to save his arm for the regular season's stretch drive, as will fellow hurlers Edgar Gonzalez of Culiacan and Hermosillo's Juan Pablo Oramos.

Sunday's 5:15PM PT game will be preceded by a home run derby featuring one player representing each of the MexPac's eight teams: Ricky Alvarez (MXI), Japhet Amador (JAL), Jose Amador (HMO), Yadir Drake (MOC), Cyle Hankerd (MAZ), Quincy Latimore (NAV), Ronnier Mustelier (CUL) and Carlos Valencia (OBR).

The All-Star festivities will be held at the LMP's newest ballpark (and the third such facility inaugurated in the past four MexPac seasons), the 16,500-seat Nuevo Estadio Yaquis.  The Yaquis christened their new digs on October 10 after spending more than four decades at Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan.

The last Mexican Pacific League All-Star Game was held November 24, 1997 at Navojoa's Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echeverria.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jalisco Charros: Rojas out, Fermin in as skipper

Just days after the Mexicali Aguilas made the first managerial change of the current Mexican Pacific League season by firing Gil Velazquez and replacing him with Robert "Chapo" Vizcarra, the Jalisco Charros have let Homar Rojas go and brought Felix Fermin (pictured) in as a replacement. The Guadalajara club announced Rojas' dismissal Tuesday after the Charros registered a seventh-place first half finish with a 15-19 record.

Rojas was hired by Jalisco last December after Juan Navarrete was let go and led the Charros to a playoff berth, but the team was eliminated from the postseason after a four-game sweep by Mexicali in the first round.  The 52-year-old native of Santiago, Nuevo Leon spent 23 seasons in the minor leagues as a catcher after making his Mexican League debut with Monterrey in 1982 at age 18.  After spending two seasons with the Sultanes and another three with the Mexico City Tigres, Rojas' rights were dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 1987 campaign.  He put in four years in the Dodgers system, including all or part of three seasons at AA San Antonio, and hit .273 with 9 homers in 241 games.  After returning to Mexico in 1991, he played 14 more years in the LMB before retiring in 2004 at 40 following seven summers in Oaxaca.

Since then, Rojas has been a frequent passenger on the merry-go-round that is managing a baseball team in Mexico, putting in four years piloting Oaxaca, four years with Reynosa, one in Campeche and three with Monclova.  His 12-year record at the helm of LMB clubs is 651-647, including a 69-43 mark with the Acereros last summer, when he managed the North at the All-Star Game in Monterrey.   He has also managed winterball teams in Obregon and Hermosillo, leading both teams to single MexPac pennants while winning Manager of the Year awards twice with the Yaquis.  As usual, the Charros thanked Rojas for his service in a press release.

The 53-year-old Fermin is a product of the Dominican Republic who was signed by Pittsburgh in 1983 and reached the majors with the Pirates four years later.  He went on to spend ten seasons in MLB (including five with Cleveland) between 1987 and 1996, hitting .259 over 903 games while striking out just 147 times.  He peaked with Seattle in 1994 when he batted .317 as the Mariners' starting shortstop, but plummeted to .196 in 1995 and was dealt to the Chicago Cubs after the season.  Known more for his glove than his bat, Fermin was nicknamed "El Gato" or "Felix the Cat" for his quick reflexes in the field. He retired as a player at 32 in 1996.

As a manager, Fermin spent four years managing Monterrey in the Mexican League, winning the LMB flag in 2007 (his first year with the Sultanes). before moving to Carmen in 2011 for another four campaigns during which he was named Manager of the Year in 2013 after the Delfines won the LMB South regular season title.  After being fired by the Delfines on June 29, 2015 with a 29-38 record, Fermin returned to Monterrey with a month remaining in that season and went on to take the Sultanes to the 2016 LMB North regular season crown with a 72-39 mark and reached the North playoff finals before being knocked out by Tijuana. His nine-year managerial record in the Mexican League is 531-440.  This is Fermin's first stint in the MexPac.

Another longtime Mexican baseball manager, Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez, is filling in with the Charros until Fermin officially takes the reins on Thursday.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Velazquez sacked in Mexicali, replaced by Vizcarra

Gil Velazquez has been fired as manager of the Mexican Pacific League's Mexicali Aguilas.  The 37-year-old Velazquez (pictured), a Los Angeles native who hit .233 over 33 MLB games for the Red Sox, Angels and Marlins between 2008 and 2013, had been hired in the offseason to replace last winter's MexPac Manager of the Year, Edgar Gonzalez, who stepped down to manage Mexico's national team at next year's World Baseball Classic.  Velazquez was replaced last Thursday by Roberto Vizcarra, skipper of the Quintana Roo Tigres during the summer Mexican League season.

Velazquez had the Aguilas at 14-17 at the time of his firing, not a bad record in and of itself, but Mexicali had won just two of their previous eleven contests following a 12-8 start out the gate.  In a statement announcing the former infielder had been sent packing, the team gave the usual thanks for Velazquez' service (a seemingly ubiquitous theme whenever a manager is shown the door in Mexico), but general manager Alejandro Ahumada was quoted by reporter Heriberto Munoz in La Cronica of Mexicali as saying, "In baseball, changes are sometimes necessary in search of the results we've been denied.  For that reason, we've decided to make this move to bring in Roberto Vizcarra for his experience in front of a team with this style of play."

After his 18-year playing career concluded in 2014 when he batted .288 for Yucatan in the LMB (followed by a winter season split between Mexicali and Hermosillo), Velazquez was a coach for the Dodgers' Arizona Rookie League team in 2015 before spending last summer managing LA's Class A Great Lakes affiliate in the Midwest League, leading the Midland, Michigan team to a 65-75 mark and a playoff berth.

Roberto "Chapo" Vizcarra spent 23 seasons as a player in the Mexican League between 1986 and 2008, batting .304 with 235 homers and 233 stolen bases in 2,219 games as a middle infielder for five teams.  His best year was in 1991, when he hit .322 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs for Leon.  Vizcarra has spent the past three years managing the LMB Tigres, leading the Cancun squad to an overall 190-135 record and the 2015 Liga pennant.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tensions remain within LMB over Mexican-American players status


Although things have quieted down since the latest Mexican League Board of Governors meeting in Monterrey early this month, a schism on whether to consider American-born players of Mexican descent as “domestic” remains bubbling below the surface.

On one side of the issue are eight teams led by the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Quintana Roo Tigres who believe such players should be regarded as imports (or extraneros), while another seven clubs, including the champion Puebla Pericos and Yucatan Leones, are lobbying for Mexican-Americans to not count against the LMB limit of foreign players of six per team.  The Reynosa Broncos were in the process of being sold and could not take part in the discussion, which became spirited at times, to say the least.  Liga president Plinio Escalante has sided with the latter group, putting him in the crosshairs of the former.

The reason for the rift is not political, but economic.  Most of the teams wanting Mexican-American players regarded as homegrown are not moneyed enough to develop their own talent from the pool of domestic prospects, thus requiring them to bring in Mexican-Americans to be competitive on the field.  The clubs pushing for import status for Mexican-Americans typically do have the wherewithal to develop native talent, often negotiating with MLB organizations for the external playing rights to their best prospects (but maintaining those rights within Mexico).

It's a labryinthian story, but here's the best BBM can make of it: The tensions had been present for some time until a Governors meeting in September, when the owner of both the Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros, Alfredo Harp Helu (pictured), symbolically “resigned” both franchises from the LMB after Tijuana, Puebla, Yucatan and Laguna (the latter two owned by brothers Juan Jose and Erik Arellano) were able to block implementation of Harp’s plan to consider Mexican-Americans as extraneros.  Harp was joined by Monterrey and Quintana Roo in verbal resignation from the league but all are still LMB members as of this writing.

Things took a bizarre turn when members sympathetic to Helu convened their own “assembly” in which they reclaimed positions on the LMB Board of Directors they’d given up by virtue of their September pseudo-resignation.  Tijuana team president Alberto Uribe Maytorena protested vigorously, claiming that such a meeting is illegal and may warrant criminal charges.

A similar split took place last year between largely the same sides regarding Mexican-born players who’d bypassed the usual path of signing with LMB teams as teen prospects and instead signed directly with MLB organizations on their own.  Such players had been blacklisted from returning to play in the Liga for years (Harp and Diablos team president Roberto Mansur were at the center of that one) until that policy was formally reversed.

Some of the fallout from all the internecine squabbling is that Harp’s group has been actively seeking the ouster of Escalante as league president.  The irony is that the Yucatan native had announced his retirement last winter after ten years at his current post effective at the end of the 2016 season.  Instead, he was talked into remaining through next summer because a suitable replacement couldn’t be found, a decision he may now be regretting.