Saturday, September 19, 2009

MEXICAN BASEBALL HISTORY 3: The Mexican Pacific League

At the same time Jorge Pasquel was beginning his most concerted push to raid Major League Baseball rosters for players willing to come south to play in his Mexican League, Mexico’s premier winter league was beginning its first season of play.

In 1945, a group of baseball aficionados led by Teodoro Mariscal of Mazatlan formed what was then known as the Liga del Costa del Pacifico, or Pacific Coast League. The LCP began with four teams: The Maztlan Venados, Hermosillo Queliteros, Guaymas Ostioneros and Culiacan Tecuarineros. Mariscal served as league president the first season, and the first games were held the weekend of October 27-28, 1945. Alejandro “Fray Nano” Reyes, the founder of the Mexican League, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Culiacan.

Mazatlan won the first Coast League pennant with a 30-24 record. The LCP was considered a success, and it expanded to six teams in 1947 with the addition of Los Mochis and Obregon. Although there would be occasional shifting around of franchises, the league stuck with a six-team lineup for years. The Pacific Coast League lasted through the 1957-58 season, and became a popular destination among American players and Negro League veterans for winter ball experience.

However, the league underwent an overhaul.before the 1958-59 season, changing it’s name to Sonora Winter League and cutting back to four teams: the Hermosillo Naranjeros, Guaymas Ostioneros, Obregon Rojos and Empalme Rieleros. This is considered the beginning of the modern era of what is now the MexPac. When the Culiacan Tomateros and Mazatlan Venados were brought into the circuit in 1965, the league was again renamed to Sonora-Sinaloa League. The league finally settled on its current name of Mexican Pacific League in 1970 when the Confederation of Caribbean Baseball (or COPABE) requested a name change as a prerequisite to admitting Mexico into the Caribbean Series, which was being revived that winter after an absence of ten years following the demise of Cuba’s winter pro baseball with the rise of Fidel Castro and communism.

While the Mexican Pacific League is not officially recognized by Minor League Baseball, it is probably a stronger organization than a number of circuits north of the border. Almost all eight MexPac teams average more than 5,000 fans per opening over their 68-game schedules, and the level of play is comparable to Class AAA ball as team rosters feature a mix of Mexican League veterans and top prospects from Major League Baseball organizations, although MLB teams are not sending as many young players to spend their winters in Mexico or other Caribbean leagues because of the growth of offseason programs in their spring training complexes in Florida and Arizona.

Over the five decades of winterball in Mexico, Hermosillo teams have won 16 pennants since 1947, while Mazatlan and Culiacan have both won 14 titles. The MexPac has enjoyed limited success in the Caribbean Series, winning just five championships since 1970, most recently Mazatlan’s remarkable champions of 2005. That year, the Venados lost their first-round LMP playoff series, but advanced to the semifinals as the so-called “lucky loser” team with the best record in defeat. They then went on the win the MexPac title and took the Caribbean Series held that February at home in Mazatlan. It remains one of Mexican baseball’s greatest comeback stories.

NEXT WEEK: Mexican Baseball History 4: The Modern Era

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