Monday, February 18, 2019

DAN FIROVA TO MANAGE MEXICAN NATIONALS IN JAPAN

Former major leaguer and longtime Mexican league catcher and manager Dan Firova has been selected to lead the Mexican National Team when they play a two-game series against their Japanese counterparts on March 9 and 10 in Osaka.

Dan Firova coaching for Washington Nationals
The 62-year-old Texan, who had cups of coffee with Seattle and Cleveland in the 1980's, spent five seasons with the Dos Laredos Tecos during his 13-year playing career before taking their reins in 1993.  Firova later managed the Mexico City Tigres to LMB pennants in 1997, 2000 and 2001 before embarking on a further journey that took him to eight more Liga teams, managing Monclova to a 29-27 record last Spring before the Acereros replaced him with Pedro Mere in early July after starting 2-4 in the Fall season.  Over 19 seasons managing in the Mexican League, Firova has a career record of 1,387-1,169 and is one of only six helmsmen in the loop's 94-year history with over a thousand wins.  He also spent three seasons between 2015 and 2017 as bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals under managers Matt Williams and Dusty Baker. 

Firova was given the task of managing the Mexican Nationals by the Mexican Baseball Federation (FEMEBE) after Enrique "Che" Reyes (another longtime LMB manager who led Mexico to the U-23 World Championship last year) had to step down from the post.  Reyes is now managing the reconstituted Puebla Pericos, who refused to let him travel to Japan during the team's training camp.  Likewise, coaches Luis Carlos Rivera (Yucatan manager) and Oscar Robles (Tijuana helmsman) will not be allowed to make the trip, although Javier Robles and Martin Arzate are going to make the journey.

When Firova and his team arrive in Japan on March 5, they'll have a pair of new players waiting for them.  Third baseman Christian Villanueva and first baseman Joey Meneses will be playing their first Nippon Professional Baseball seasons for the Yomiuri Giants and Orix Buffaloes, respectively, and while both were considered questionable for the Mexican lineup due to their own training camp commitments, they got OK'ed for the two-game set.  Villanueva and Meneses will replace pitcher Sergio Romo and infielder Danny Espinosa on the Mexican roster.  Romo recently signed a free agent contract with the Miami Marlins while Espinosa inked a non-roster deal with the New York Mets and both will be training in Florida.  Second baseman Manny Rodriguez will also be staying behind to rehab from a muscle injury sustained while playing for Jalisco in the Mexican Pacific League title series.  The Mexican team is also hoping to add pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Jorge de la Rosa, who have yet to sign MLB contracts for 2019.


GUADALAJARA TO HOST PREMIER12 GROUP PLAY IN NOVEMBER

Estadio Charros in Guadalajara
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) has announced groups and venues for their so-called Premier12 tournament to be held later this year.  The Premier12 will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo with group play set to take place at Guadalajara, Taipei and Seoul in November.  The announcement was made last week at the National Palace in Mexico City by WBSC president Riccardo Friccari, with president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and officials from the Mexican Baseball Federation (FEMEBE), National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports (CONADE), Jalisco's state government, Mexican Pacific League and Jalisco Charros also taking part.

The Premier12 is scheduled to run from November 2 to 17 with twelve of the world's top-ranked national teams broken up into three groups with four teams each:

GROUP A (Guadalajara) - United States (#2), Mexico (#6), Netherlands (#8) and Dominican Republic (#12).
GROUP B (Taipei) - Japan (#1), Taiwan (#4), Venezuela (#9) and Puerto Rico (#11).
GROUP C - (Seoul) - South Korea (#3), Cuba (#5), Australia (#7) and Canada (#10).

Play will open in Guadalajara's Estadio Charros on November 2, followed by games in Taipei's Taichung Intercontinental Stadium and Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome.  The Korea Baseball Organization moved the opening of its 2019 schedule to March 23, earliest in KBO history, to allow their season to conclude in October so top domestic players can participate in the tournament.

South Korea won the initial Premier12 in 2015.


FORMER NL HOMER CHAMP CHRIS CARTER SIGNS WITH MONCLOVA

Chris Carter hit 41 HRs for Brewers in 2016
The Monclova Acereros have added a proven longball hitter for the 2019 season by signing former National League home run co-champion Chris Carter to a free agent contract.  The 32-year-old California-born Carter joins reigning Mexican League MVP Francisco Peguero, two-time MVP Jesse Castillo, 2016 LMB batting champ Cesar Tapia and former big leaguer Ruben Rivera (still playing at 45) on a power-laden team seeking its first championship.  Manager Pedro Mere's roster also includes 2018 Pitcher of the Year Josh Lowey, arguably the best LMB starter over the past few seasons.

Carter broke into pro baseball in 2005, when he was a Chicago White Sox 15th-round draft pick out of Las Vegas' Sierra Vista High School.  After three summers in the Chisox system, the 6'4" right-handed batter was dealt twice prior to the 2008 campaign, first to Arizona and then to Oakland, the latter a trade that netted the Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Haren.  Carter spent three more years in the A's organization, belting 97 homers and driving in over 300 runs in that span before making his MLB debut on August 9, 2010 in Seattle.  After batting .186 and .136 over 39 games in 2010 and 2011, Carter began hitting his stride for Oakland in 2012, cracking 16 homers in 67 games while splitting the season between the A's and their AAA affiliate in Sacramento. 

Despite his impressive power, Carter was sent to Houston the following February in a trade that sent Jed Lowrie to the Bay Area and it was with the Astros that the 245-pounder got his first chance to play regularly.  Although he never batted above .227 in three seasons while striking out over 500 times, Carter did slam 90 homers and drive in 234 runs between 2013 and 2015 before signing as a free agent with Milwaukee, where he would achieve his greatest notoriety.  Although again burdened by a low batting average (.222) and high strikeout total (an NL-leading 206), the first baseman cracked 41 homers to tie Colorado's Nolan Arenado for tops in the senior circuit and knocked in 94 runs.  Carter did draw 76 walks to finish with a respectable .321 on-base percentage but the Brewers designated him for assignment after signing Eric Thames, who'd been playing in Korea.

After that, Carter signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the New York Yankees, where he struggled to a .201 average with eight homers over 62 games in 2017 before being released July 10.  He returned to the A's on a minor league deal and finished the year with AAA Nashville (.252/9/22 in 36 games) before splitting last season with two more organizations in 2018, first for the Angels' AAA Salt Lake City affiliate (.255/15/41 in 38 games) before being traded in May to the Twins for future considerations and wrapping up the year with AAA Rochester (.187/7/15 in 35 contests).

Although he's suffered through a pair of forgettable seasons, the Acereros are hoping that Carter can regain enough of the form that resulted in 131 homers and 328 RBIs in MLB between 2013 and 2016.  Although a first baseman by trade, that is also Castillo's position and it's expected that the massive slugger will spend most of his time as designated hitter while also playing the outfield in a pinch.

Monday, February 11, 2019

CHARROS FINISH 2-2, JUST MISS CARIBBEAN TITLE GAME

Jalisco's CS Dream Team 1B Victor Mendoza
The Jalisco Charros won two of their four double round-robin games at the Caribbean Series in Panama City last week, but the Guadalajara team lost out on a berth in the final game against Panama's Herrera Toros via mathematics.  Jalisco, Cuba's Las Tunas Lenadores and Venezuela's Lara Cardenales all finished Group A competition with identical 2-2 records but Jalisco barely missed qualifying despite a 9-4 win over Lara last Friday due to a tiebreaker.  One more run over their four games would've made the difference for the Mexican Pacific League champions.

The Charros scored only two runs over their first two games at Rod Carew National Stadium, beginning with last Monday's 5-1 defeat at the hands of Lara.  Cardenales starter Nestor Molina allowed one Jalisco run in the top of the fifth when Stephen Cardullo singled in Agustin Murillo to take the win.  A familiar face to Mexican League fans as the 2017 Pitcher of the Year with Veracruz and an All-Star Game selection last summer with Dos Laredos, Molina scattered four hits and struck out four over his five frames of work.  Carlos Rivero, who spent part of 2018 with Tijuana, belted a two-run homer off Francisco Moreno in the sixth for Lara but a two-run fourth for the Cardenales gave Molina and mates all the scoring they'd need for the night.  Orlando Lara (3.2 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 2 BB) took the loss for Jalisco, who went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

One night later, the Charros fell, 3-1, to Las Tunas as the Lenadores' Lazaro Blanco, a 32-year-old veteran of international competition, blanked Jalisco on three hits over seven innings to take the victory.  Another longtime figure for the Cuban National Team, Alfredo Despaigne, hit three singles in four at-bats to drive in three Las Tunas runs.  Despaigne spent parts of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with Campeche in the LMB before moving to Japan, where he has become one of NPB's premier power hitters with 118 homers since mid-2014 for the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  Jesus Valdez' two-out single brought in Amadeo Zazueta with Jalisco's lone run in the bottom of the ninth, but Murillo ended the contest by flying out to right on the first pitch he faced from Raidel Martinez as the Mexicans dug themselves an 0-2 hole midway through the round.

Mexican baseball fans representing in Panama
After a day off Wednesday, Jalisco came back Thursday with a revenge win over Las Tunas, a 3-2 knucklebiter that wasn't settled until the eleventh inning.  At the top of that entrada, Ramon Rios drilled a Livan Moinelo pitch up the middle for a two-out single that drove in Dariel Alvarez from second with the go-ahead run.  Ramirez actually whiffed Alvarez for the second out but the third strike sailed past Lenadores catcher Yosvani Alarcon, allowing the former Orioles minor leaguer to reach first safely.  Sergio Romo came in with one out in the ninth and went on to pitch 2.2 scoreless innings for the win, including a 1-2-3 eleventh for Jalisco.  Leadoff hitter Alonzo Harris had three singles and a walk, scoring twice for manager Roberto Vizcarra's Charros.

The Charros' offense finally woke from their torpor on Friday by recording 15 hits during their 9-4 win over Lara.  Jalisco took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Victor Mendoza singled in Harris for one run and a Japhet Amador sacrifice fly scored Amadeo Zazueta from third for another.  A Gabriel Gutierrez RBI single made it a 3-0 Mexican lead in the fourth and while the Cardenales went on to plate four runs over the next two innings, there was no denying the Horsemen a win in this one.  Mendoza wrapped up a productive Caribbean Series by going 4-for-5 with two runs and four RBIs, including a three-run homer off Elvis Araujo in the sixth, while Zazueta singled twice and scored a part of tallies.  Starter Marco Tovar left the game with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, but it was Rafael Martin (from among seven relievers sent in by Vizcarra) who got the win by tossing 2.1 scoreless innings.

In the end, the tiebreaking formula did in Jalisco.  Despite outscoring both Las Tunas and Lara during group play, a slice of arcana called "Total Quality Balance" required the LMP kingpins to outscore the Cardenales by six runs Friday to have a chance of advancing to the finals.  As a result, even though the Cubans beat the Venezuelans, 3-0, Saturday to put all three Group A teams at 2-2, the Charros were done.

In Sunday's title game, Las Tunas met surprising host Herrera, who went 3-1 in Group B after winning only two of six games the previous week at the Latin American Series in Veracruz.  The Panamanians completed their Cinderella performance Sunday with a 3-1 win over Las Tunas, an amazing feat for a team whose country hadn't played in the Caribbean Series since 1960 and were only added to the field as tournament host after political turmoil forced organizers to move the event from Barquisimeto, Venezuela for the second year in a row.

The Charros can console themselves knowing they'd earned some redemption after losing their first two games, came in second among the six combatants with a .261 average and pitched reasonably well with a 2.92 team ERA, although that figure only ranked fifth among the teams as hurlers ruled the week (Las Tunas' team ERA was a paltry 1.40, yet the Cubans only won two of five contests).  Gutierrez led Jalisco with a .385 average over four games while Mendoza and Zazueta each batted .375.  Mendoza, who hit Mexico's only homer of the week, was named as first baseman on the CS Dream Team for his work.  Martin and Romo combined to allow no earned runs in nine innings out of the bullpen, with Romo collecting six strikeouts and letting up just one hit in his 4.2 frames of work.


LIGA ANNOUNCES 2019 SCHEDULE, LAGUNA FRANCHISE SOLD

Mexican League president Javier Salinas
The Mexican League held an Assembly of Presidents meeting last week in Mexico City, where they announced they have finalized the 2019 season schedule (although it has not yet been released to the public), confirmed their June All-Star Game and approved the sale of one of its franchises.

The regular season will open Thursday, April 4 in Monterrey when the defending Fall champion Sultanes will host the Yucatan Leones, who defeated Monterrey in last year's Spring title series.  One day later, the rest of the Liga's 16 teams will play their inaugural games.  The Mexico City Diablos Rojos are set to open their new Estado Alfredo Harp Helu on April 5 against longtime rival Quintana Roo, who shared the nation's capital with the Diablos for 46 years before moving to Puebla in 2002 and eventually landing in Cancun five years later.  The Diablos and Tigres have 28 Mexican League pennants between them, with Mexico City winning 16 titles.

The LMB will play a 120-game schedule this year, divided into two 60-game halves.  The first half will conclude just before All-Star Weekend commences on Saturday, June 15, a day which will feature both the traditional Home Run Derby and the Double Play Derby, a competition among top keystone combinations from around the league that debuted at last year's All-Star Weekend in Merida.  The host Yucatan Leones got the sweep as Luis "Cacao" Valdez beat Monterrey's Ricky Alvarez in the final round to win the Home Run Derby while Everth Cabrera and Diego Madero teamed up to beat out four other duos and cop the Double Play Derby last June 28.  One day later, the South crushed the North, 10-2, with veteran Mexico City outfielder Ivan Terrazas winning MVP honors at Parque Kukulcan.

The second half of the Liga season will open Friday, June 21 and run through Thursday, August 29.  If a single elimination game is required should the fourth- and fifth-place teams in either division finish within three games of each other, it would be played Saturday, August 31 at the fourth-place team's ballpark.  The full playoffs will begin September 3 with the division semifinals and conclude with the Serie del Rey between September 24 and October 2 (if a Game Seven is required).

Union Laguna players after 2018 win in Durango
Also at the Assembly meeting, owners approved the sale of the Union Laguna franchise by brothers Jose Juan and Erick Arellano to a group of businessmen headed by Francisco Orozco, the executive director of the Solucionika telecommunications company.  Orozco also owns his hometown Saltillo Dinos franchise in Mexico's League of American Football (LFA), a semipro circuit which will open its third season later this month.  Terms of the sale were not disclosed but the Arellanos made no secret of the fact that they wanted to take the Torreon-based team off their hands so they could focus all their time and resources on the Yucatan Leones, which they also own.

One of the conditions of the transaction was that the team, which may change its nickname from Algodoneros, will stay in the Torreon-Gomez Palacio area.  Last year, Union Laguna went 41-73 overall and missed the playoffs both seasons while playing in front of 176,931 fans in 55 openings at Estadio Revolucion, an 86-year-old ballpark seating 9,500.  One of the first items on the new ownership group's docket was to find a new manager and they did so with the selection of Jonathan Aceves, a former catcher who spent nine years in the White Sox system and one with the Marlins organization before playing another twelve summers in the Mexican League (all but one game with Saltillo).  He retired in the offseason.  Last year's Laguna skipper, Ramon Orantes, has taken the reins in Tabasco for 2019.

An added note from LMB president Javier Salinas was that while Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently promised the return of the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila to the port city, that will not happen before 2020 at the earliest and that the Liga is expected to play with the same 16 teams it ended last year with.

However, the jockeying may not be over yet.  Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso says that AMLO is determined to fulfill his promise to bring the LMB back to Veracruz this year, and that the Jalisco Charros of the Mexican Pacific League are being lobbied to field a summer team to bring the number of Mexican League teams up to 18.  The Monterrey Sultanes recently agreed to create an LMP team to play winterball with the reconstituted Guasave Algodoneros, the latter fulfilling another Lopez  Obrador promise.  An admitted baseball fanatic, AMLO seems to be remaking the sport in Mexico in a way not seen since the days of Jorge Pasquel.


LMB ENDS AGREEMENT WITH LIGA NORTE, LA PAZ ADDED TO LNM



In a move that sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community in northwest Mexico, the Mexican League has decided to not renew an agreement with the Northern Mexico League for the 2019 season.  The decision, which was announced by LMB president Javier Salinas late last month, means the Class AA Liga Norte will not receive financial assistance from the Class AAA Liga this year.  Teams in the LNM have served as affiliates for LMB franchises over the past several summers, which Salinas said may continue on an individual team-by-team basis despite the lack of a signed interleague agreement.

The move comes as a blow to the Liga Norte, which has relied on the Mexican League to help cover operating expenses for the six-team loop.  In his announcement, Salinas referred to a debt of 240,000 pesos (about US$12,585) that he would like to have paid to the LMB.  The LNM held a meeting in Tijuana last week that was attended by former major league infielder Edgar Gonzalez, who has been tabbed by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to oversee the development and promotion of baseball on a nationwide basis.  Liga Norte president Francisco Ochoa Montano and others appear to be hoping their league, which is considered by some to be the top player development circuit in Mexico, can receive assistance from the federal government in lieu of lost support from the LMB league offices.

Estadio Arturo C. Nahl in La Paz
Earlier this year, the Liga Norte announced a new franchise, the La Paz Delfines, who will begin play in the Baja California Sur city this spring.  There has been past interest among officials from La Paz in securing a Mexican Pacific League franchise in the future, but the city of 244,000 will instead receive an LNM team to replace Tecate after the Indios requested a year off.  The Delfines will represent the first Liga Norte franchise to ever play outside the states of Sonora and Sinaloa in the loop's seven-year history.  Baja California Sur governor Carlos Mendoza Davis said, "We are proud of the announcement of the LNM and of the entrance of La Paz to this professional baseball circuit, fulfilling a wish of the fans who will be able to enjoy the games at Estadio Arturo C. Nahl, which will be completely rehabilitated."  The ballpark is expected to seat 3,800 spectators when league play opens April 12.

The Ensenada Marineros have won the last two LNM pennants.  They'll be joined in 2019 by La Paz, the Caborca Rojos, Puerto Penasco Tiburones, San Luis Algodoneros and San Quintin Freseros.  San Luis will play one more season at Estadio Andres Mena Montijo before moving into a new 7,500-seat in 2020, a year in which both Tecate and the Mexicali Sentinales are expected to return, making the Liga Norte an eight-team association.

Monday, February 4, 2019

JALISCO WINS FLAG, IN PANAMA FOR SERIE DEL CARIBE


Jalisco Charros pitcher Marco Tovar
The Jalisco Charros broke up a tight Game Six with nine runs in the fifth inning and went on to clobber the Obregon Yaquis, 11-1, last Monday in Guadalajara to win their first Mexican Pacific League championship series, 4 games to 2.  The Charros are now in Panama City, where they'll start a hastily-rescheduled Caribbean Series on Monday night against the Venezuelan champion Lara Cardinales at 8PM Eastern.
Jalisco and starting pitcher Marco Tovar held a precarious 2-1 lead over Obregon heading into the bottom of the fifth, when the Horsemen sent twelve batters to the plate to knock out Yaquis starter Yoanner Negrin. Negrin hit finals MVP Dariel Alvarez to open the frame and allowed four consecutive hits before being relieved by Jesus Anguamea after Stephen Cardullo lined a two-run double to left that scored Japhet Amador and Henry Urrutia, giving Jalisco a 5-1 lead.  Anguamea plunked the first batter he faced, Gabriel Gutierrez, to reload the bases before striking out Alonzo Harris for the first out of the inning.  Amadeo Zazueta then singled to left to plate two more runs, making it a 7-1 Charros lead. Manny Rodriguez then singled in Gutierrez and Alvarez cracked a three-run homer to left to stake Tovar and Jalisco their final 11-1 margin of victory.  After tossing a scoreless sixth, Tovar was taken out after 78 pitches and it was left to Rafael Martin, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Romo to close out the contest.

LMP Championship Series MVP Dariel Alvarez

Alvarez went 4-for-4 for the winners, scoring twice and driving in four runs to key Jalisco's 16-hit attack.  The 30-year-old Cuban outfielder had cups of coffee with Baltimore in 2015 and 2016 before missing the last two summers after undergoing Tommy John surgery while the Orioles were trying to convert him to pitcher.  Alvarez is still a free agent but after hitting .370 and earning the LMP finals MVP on the heels of a regular season during which he hit .315 with 14 homers for the Charros (leading the MexPac with a .571 slugging percentage), he likely caught some MLB organization's attention.

Despite his Game Six difficulties, Anguamea was picked up from Obregon as a reinforcement player for the Charros, who also added second baseman Ramon Rios from Mazatlan after regular season MVP Rodriguez sustained what's being called a "muscular injury." Anguamea and Rios were joined as add-ons by catcher Sebastian Valle (Mazatlan), infielders Victor Mendoza (Navojoa), Jasson Atondo (Hermosillo) and Rodolfo Amador (Los Mochis), outfielder/DH Jesus Valdez (Obregon) and pitchers Edgar Torres and Francisco Moreno (both from Mazatlan) and Mexicali's Jake Sanchez and Efren Delgado.

The Caribbean Series will feature six teams for the first time, with Panamanian champion Herrera a late addition after the event was moved to the Central American nation last week after unrest in Venezuela scuttled plans to hold it in Barquisimeto for the second year in a row.  The late start, coupled with Major League Baseball's spring training set to open next week, compresses the tournament into two three-team divisions playing double round-robins between Monday through Saturday, with the top teams in each division meeting next Sunday for the CS title.  

Jalisco will represent Mexico in Group A along with the Las Tunas Lenadores (Cuba) and Lara Cardinales (Venezuela) while Group B consists of the Santurce Cangrejeros (Puerto Rico), Orientales Estrellas (Dominican Republic) and the host Herrera Toros (Panama).  All games will take place at Rod Carew National Stadium in Panama City. Newly-elected Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, a native of Panama, will toss out the ceremonial first pitch...we're guessing it'll be a cutter.


2019 CARIBBEAN SERIES SCHEDULE
MON, February 4:  Orientales at Santurce (3PM), Jalisco at Lara (8PM)
TUE, February 5: Las Tunas at Jalisco (3PM), Orientales at Herrera (8PM)
WED, February 6: Las Tunas at Lara (3PM), Herrera at Santurce (8PM)
THU, February 7:   Jalisco at Las Tunas (3PM), Santurce at Orientales (8PM)
FRI, February 8: Herrera at Orientales (3PM), Lara at Jalisco (8PM)
SAT, February 9: Lara at Las Tunas (1PM), Santurce at Herrera (7PM)
SUN, February 10: Group A winner vs. Group B winner (4PM)
ALL TIMES EASTERN

JALISCO CHARROS CARIBBEAN SERIES ROSTER
PITCHERS (14): Jesus Anguamea, Manny Barreda, Alex Delgado, Manuel Al Flores, Felipe Gonzalez, Orlando Lara, Rafael Martin, Francisco Moreno, William Oliver, Jose Oyervides, Sergio Romo, Jake Sanchez, Edgar Torres, Marco Tovar.
CATCHERS (2): Gabriel Gutierrez, Sebastian Valle.
INFIELDERS (7): Japhet Amador, Rodolfo Amador, Jasson Atondo, Victor Mendoza, Agustin Murillo, Ramon Rios, Amadeo Zazueta.
OUTFIELDERS (5): Dariel Alvarez, Stephen Cardullo, Carlos Figueroa, Alonzo Harris, Jesus Valdez.
MANAGER: Roberto Vizcarra
COACHES: Martin Arzate, Javier Colina, Houston Jimenez, Roberto Mendez, Julio Cesar Miranda, Rafael Montalvo, Jesus Moreno, Leo Rodriguez, Marco Antonio Romero.


TOBIS FALL IN LATIN AMERICAN SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP GAME


Nicaragua's Leon Leones: 2019 LAS champions
The Acayucan Tobis overcame an opening day loss (a 1-0 shocker to Argentina's Cordoba Falcones) to reach the Latin American Series title game before dropping a 3-1 contest in eleven innings to Nicaragua's Leon Leones Saturday in front of a full house at Beto Avila Park in Veracruz.

The Tobis scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning when Eliseo Aldazaba drew a bases-loaded walk on four pitches, pushing Kevin Flores across the plate.  Leon tied the contest up in the top of the second when Keurys de la Cruz doubled and later scored on a single by Edgard Montiel to make it 1-1.  The score stood until the top of the eleventh, when de la Cruz came up with another double, this time down the left-field line with the sacks full to bring in Darian Gonzalez and Adrian Moreno with the go-ahead runs.  Acayucan was unable to score in the bottom of the frame as Nicaragua's champions won the Serie Latinoamericana for the fourth time in the seven-year history of the tournament.  Leon cruised through the first round with a perfect 5-0 record and won their Friday semifinal game over Panama's Herrera Toros, 5-4, on Maikel Caseras' walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.

Following their first-day loss on January 26, Acayucan won two of their remaining four first-round contests (beating Colombia's Barranquilla Caimanes, 6-1, last Sunday and blanking Herrera, 4-0, on Tuesday) to reach the LAS Final Four, where they faced countrymen Xalapa.  The Chileros lost to the Tobis in seven games in the Veracruz Winter League title series, but were able to edge Acayucan in extra innings last Monday in the first round by a 4-3 count as Yancarlo Angulo led off the tenth by drawing a walk off Tobis veteran Adrian C. Ramirez and later scored the go-ahead counter on an Oscar Soto single.  Kevin Flores led off the bottom of the tenth with a single for Acayucan and advanced to second on a sacrifice fly by Eliseo Aldazaba but the next two Tobis batters were retired as Juan Pablo Tellez saved the win for fellow reliever Heriberto Sanchez.

2018-19 LIV pennant winners Acayucan Tobis
Friday's semifinal rematch between the two LIV teams was no less riveting. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth entrada, when Acayucan scored without a hit when leadoff batter Yadier Mujica got on board via a Xalapa error, moved to second when Eduardo Arredondo as hit by a pitch, took third on a Yadir Drake sacrifice bunt and came in with the first run of the game on Angel Francisco Rivera's ground out.  Aldazaba cracked a leadoff homer in the bottom of the sixth and Mujica led off the seventh with a double and later scored from third with the final run of the night to give Acayucan a 3-0 lead they never relinquished as Edgar Gonzalez and four reliever combined on a five-hit shutout.

Although Nicaragua's Leones ran the table for the LAS and were clearly the best team in the tournament, Panama's Herrera was tabbed to fill a sixth berth in the Caribbean Series by virtue of being champion of the host country's national winter league.  The competition is expected to get a little tougher.


AMLO PROMISES VERACRUZ ANOTHER LIGA TEAM...THIS YEAR


Three LMB baseball fans from Veracruz
Whatever one thinks of new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador probably depends on their political leanings, but his supporters and detractors alike have to agree on one thing: When it comes to baseball, the man has been very proactive.  Just days after fulfilling a campaign promise by brokering a Mexican Pacific League expansion franchise for Guasave (along with a tenth LMP team in Monterrey), the so-called AMLO said during a morning press conference last Thursday that Veracruz would see a return of their Mexican League team for a 2019 season that will be opening in two months.

De Pelota en Pelotas website writer Hector "Chapis" Sanchez quoted Lopez Obrador, who was in Veracruz last week during the recently-concluded Latin American Series, as saying that the LMB would be expanding from 16 to 18 teams for the coming season and that one of them would be the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila.  The most recent edition of Mexico's oldest professional baseball team (the original Veracruz Reds were formed in 1903) moved to the Texas border after the 2017 season as the Dos Laredos Tecolotes, who played in both Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Laredo, Texas last year.

The Tecos will move their home games south of the border to Parque La Junta, a 72-year-old facility that seats 6,000 and has been host to five previous Liga championship teams. The Tecos played their Mexican home games at Estadio Nuevo Laredo last year but the 12,000-seater (which is 60 years newer than Parque La Junta) is located out of town, which has been a bone of contention among local baseball fans concerned for their safety traveling to the ballpark in a region that's been the scene of some of Mexico's toughest drug war battles among cartels and federal police agencies.

Although Veracruz has been one of the most prominent states in Mexican baseball for decades and the home of 1940's majordomo Jorge Pasquel, it is reminiscent of Florida among states in the USA as a place where you'll find plenty of players on the field but not so many fans in the stands.  Whether AMLO is able to push the LMB to expand to 18 teams in fewer than ten weeks or not, LMB president Javier Salinas has to be wondering what his role is within the league that hired him to replace Plinio Escalante after the latter retired following the 2017 season.

Salinas had originally convinced owners to contract from 16 to 12 teams for the upcoming season, with Aguascalientes, Laguna, Leon and Puebla going on hiatus for at least one year.  Instead, Lopez Obrador managed to bring those four franchises back from the freezer even though the Aguascalientes franchise is out of money for all intent and purposes while Laguna owners Erick and Jose Juan Arellano have repeatedly expressed their desire to divest themselves of the Algodoneros  (a move likely supported by fans in Torreon and Gomez Palacio) so they could devote all their attention and resources on the Yucatan Leones team they also own.

At this point, all anybody can do is keep an eye on things and wait for the dust to settle.  Just don't ask when.

Monday, January 28, 2019

UPDATE: CARIBBEAN SERIES MOVED TO PANAMA

After a week of speculation concerning whether the Caribbean Series would be played in Barquisimeto, Venezuela as planned, the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation (CBPC) announced Monday that the annual tournament has been moved from the strife-ridden nation to Panama City, where it will be held between February 4-10 at Rod Carew National Stadium, a 27,000-seat ballpark completed in 1999.  The event is being pushed back two days from its original February 2 start to allow organizers more time to put things together while completing the tournament in enough time for Major League Baseball minor leaguers to report on time to spring training camps in Arizona or Florida.

For the first time, six national champions will be represented at the Serie del Caribe, including the new host Herrera Toros, who are presently playing in Veracruz at the Latin American Series as titlists from the Panamanian Professional Baseball League, aka Probeis.  Other teams set to converge next week in Panama are the Santurce Cangrejeros (Puerto Rico), Orientales Estrellas (Dominican Republic), Lara Cardinales (Venezuela), Las Tunas Lenadores (Cuba) and either the Jalisco Charros or Obregon Yaquis, who are in the middle of the Mexican Pacific League championship series.

Rod Carew National Baseball Stadium, Panama
Although Panama is a last-minute Caribbean Series entry, the country is no stranger to the crown jewel of Latin baseball.  The Central American nation was one of four charter participants in the 1949 Serie del Caribe along with Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.  The Carta Vieja Yankees won the 1950 CS under manager Wayne Blackburn as Panama took part in the first twelve tournaments and hosted it three times before new dictator (and former pitcher) Fidel Castro pulled Cuba out after the 1960 event, which was ironically held in Panama City.  That move led to the CS shutting down for nine winters before starting back up in 1970 with Mexico and the Dominican Republic replacing Cuba and Panama in the four-team lineup.  Cuba returned to the fold on a temporary basis in 2014 while Panama is one of the countries in the mix for future Caribbean Series when the six-nation Latin American Series becomes a qualifying tournament for the CS next year.

Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros cited sources as saying both Guadalajara and Santo Domingo also expressed interest in filling in as host.