Friday, December 4, 2009

MENDOZA NAMED NEW SKIPPER IN MONCLOVA

Former major league shortstop and Salon de la Fama member Mario Mendoza has been hired to manage the Mexican League’s Monclova Acereros for 2010. The Steelers finished a decent 57-50 under Francisco Rodriguez and had the fourth-best record in the Northern Zone last summer, but were nudged out of the playoffs by the Laguna Vaqueros, who had 14.5 points over both halves of the season to Monclova’s 14.

Mendoza, who turns 63 this month, was a big leaguer from 1974 through 1982, batting .215 with four homers. The term “Mendoza Line” was created by statisticians who would cut off the list of hitting leaders after Mendoza’s name because of his light bat. The Chihuahua also carried a light glove, however, and stayed in the majors for nine seasons for his fielding.
Mendoza then went to the Mexican League, where he batted .291 over seven seasons (including two years above .300), and also hit .239 in 986 games in the Mexican Pacific League. Mendoza was enshrined in Monterrey in 2000.

Since retiring as a player, Mendoza has managed in both the Liga and Mex Pac. Monclova will be his ninth managerial stop.

PHILLIES SIGN CASTRO TO ONE-YEAR CONTRACT

Los Mochis native Juan Castro has signed a one-year contract with the two-time National League champion Philadelphia Phillies for the 2010 season. The 37-year-old infielder spent the past summer as a utility man for the Los Angeles Dodgers, batting .277 in 57 games.

Castro broke into pro ball with the Dodgers organization in 1991, making his major league debut with Los Angeles four years later. He was traded to Cincinnati in 2000 and spent four years with the Reds before bouncing around the majors after 2004. The Phillies will be Castro’s fifth major league team.

Castro’s agent, Oscar Suarez, says the Dodgers and Phils were the free agent’s top two suitors. The career .230 hitter will likely be a backup to Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Castro has played 538 games at short, 251 games at third base and 241 games at second.

VERACRUZ WINTER PLAYOFFS TO INCLUDE TOP SIX TEAMS

The team presidents of the Veracruz Winter League have decided to allow the top six finishers in the regular season to advance to the league playoffs this season. At a meeting in Cordoba last month, the eight team representatives approved a postseason format similar to that of the Mexican Pacific League.

When the schedule is concluded in Veracruz, the top six teams will move on to the first round, with the regular season champion squaring off against the sixth-place team, the runners-up battling the fifth-place finisher, and the third- and fourth-place teams meeting each other in best-of-5 series. All three winners will advance to the semifinals, as will a “wildcard” team that fared best among the three teams losing their respective first round series. The semis and the finals will all be best-of-7 formats, with the top seeds hosting the first two games and (if needed) the final two games of the series.

The LIV regular season will end Sunday, December 13.

YANKEES INFIELDER RAMIRO PENA BACK WITH TOMATEROS

Less than a month after his New York Yankees teammates clinched the team’s 27th World Series championship, Ramiro Pena was taking ground balls at shortstop for the Culiacan Tomateros of the Mexican Pacific League. This is the third winter the 24-year-old Monterrey native has played for Culiacan after having hit .315 in 72 games sin two seasons.

Pena was signed by the Yankees as a 19-year-old in 2005 and worked his way up the system until his major league debut for New York on April 6 as a pinch-runner. Three nights later he singled off Baltimore’s Chris Ray in his first MLB plate appearance. When the Yanks picked up veteran Eric Hinske in a trade, Pena was optioned to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 29, but was recalled August 7 and remained with the big club the rest of the season. Pena ended up hitting .287 in 69 games for the Yankees, belting his first major league homer on September 28 off Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar.

While in Culiacan, he’ll have to battle Mike McCoy for playing time at shortstop. McCoy was eighth among LMP batters with a .333 average and a Mex Pac-leading 21 stolen bases after 40 games. Pena was hitting .250 in 16 at-bats after his first four games. For now, McCoy has slid over to play third to make room for Pena at short.

GROUND BROKEN ON BASEBALL ACADEMY IN OAXACA

A new baseball academy is being constructed in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Organizers behind the Alfredo Harp Helu Academy in San Bartolo Coyotepec had a groundbreaking ceremony last month.

The academy will take up about five acres of land and include two full-sized baseball fields, an infield area, three batting cages and six roofed bullpens (with a central tower installed at the top of one of the two full fields). The complex will also include a kitchen and dining room, a multipurpose room, a medical center for therapy and rehabilitation, a dressing room with showers, a gymnasium, laundry facilities, a library with computers and a TV/reading area, all within an 18,000-square foot building.

Alfredo Harp Helu is the 65-year-old former owner of Banamex, the largest bank in Latin America. The Mexico City-born Harp is worth approximately US$1.8 billion, and owns all or part of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Harp told those gathered, “Today, a dream comes true for us, especially for many young talents who want to dedicate their lives to the profession of a ballplayer.”

The academy is expected to open in late 2010.

LIGA CHAMPION SARAPEROS HOLD PLAYER TRYOUTS IN SALTILLO

Although the Saltillo Saraperos are still glowing in the aftermath of their first outright Mexican League championship, that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped looking to improve. The Saraperos recently hosted 70 young players in a tryout camp at Estadio Francisco I. Madero under the watchful eye of Saltillo scouting director Jose Luis Garcia.

The players, ages 15 through 19, were all timed in 60-yard dashes before being broken up into groups according to position for fielding drills. Pitchers were clocked for speed as well as evaluated for variety of pitches thrown. Players were invited back for a second day to give them time to show their batting skills. Saraperos general manager Eduardo Valenzuela was also on hand to watch the first day of tryouts.

Garcia said after the trials, "I want to reiterate to the young people of Saltillo that these tryout programs will continue for the Saraperos club, since it is always important to be on the lookout for prospects born in this state in our search for professionalism. It is a career that demands a large dedication and discipline to play a high-performance sport."

The Saraperos finished the 2009 season with the fifth-best record in the Liga at 59-48 before embarking on a playoff run that resulted in series wins over Reynosa, Laguna and Quintana Roo for the pennant. Saltillo won 12 of 16 postseason games, including a nine-game winning streak between August 5 and 25.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Results (11-27-09 through 12-03-09)

FRIDAY, November 27
Hermosillo 4, Culiacan 3 (12)
HMO-Jose Luis Sandoval GWHR, Luis Alfonso Garcia HR, Chris Roberson HR; CUL-Luis Cruz 4-6, Mike Cervenak 2-4/R/RBI
Guasave 11, Obregon 2
GSV-Marshall McDougall 4-4/2B/R/2RBI, Mario Valenzuela 3RHR, Jim McGrane 6.2IP/2R, OBR-James Tomlin 2-5/R
Los Mochis 5, Navojoa 3
MOC-Ivan Terrazas 2-5/2RBI, Ramon Orantes 2-4/HR/2R, Sandy Madera HR; NAV-Christian Zazueta 3-4/2-2B/RBI
Mazatlan 9, Mexicali 3
MAZ-Roberto Saucedo 3-5/HR/2RBI, Jon Weber 2-5/2RHR, Pablo Ortega 8IP/1ER; MXI-Emmanuel Valdez 2-4/HR/2RBI

SATURDAY, November 28
Culiacan 6, Hermosillo 5
CUL-Refugio Cervantes 2-4/HR/3RBI, Mike Cervenak 2-4/HR/2R; HMO-Vinny Castilla 2RHR, Chris Roberson 3-4/R
Guasave 11, Obregon 5
GSV-Mario Valdez 2-4/3RHR/3R/4RBI, Yurendell de Caster 3-4/2-2B/2RBI; OBR-Said Gutierrez 2-2/HR/2RBI
Navojoa 5, Los Mochis 4
NAV-Alejandro Soto 4.2IP/0R/3H, Adan Munoz 2B/3RBI; MOC-Saul Soto 2-4/2B/2RBI, Carlos Orrantia 3-5
Mexicali 9, Mazatlan 1
MXI-Kameron Loe 5IP/0R/3H, Matt Camp 4-5/2B/2R, Emmanuel Valdez 2-5/2B/GSHR; MAZ-Hector Garanzuay 2-4/2B/R

SUNDAY, November 29
Culiacan 5, Hermosillo 1
CUL-Luis Cruz 2-3/R/2RBI, Alex Sanchez 3-5, Damian Moss 5IP/1R/3H/5K; HMO-Erick Rodriguez 2-3/RBI
Guasave 3, Obregon 2
GSV-Robert Coello 6IP/2R/5H, Yurendell de Caster 2-4, Jose Rodriguez 1-3/R/RBI; OBR-John Mayberry Jr. 1-3/2B/R
Navojoa 6, Los Mochis 5
NAV-Abel Martinez 3-4/2B/2R, Scott Thorman 2-5/HR/2RBI; MOC-Ramon Orantes 1-3/2RHR/2R, Alberto Castillo 4IP/0R/2H/6K
Mazatlan 9, Mexicali 7
MAZ-Heber Gomez 3B/HR/2RBI, John Lindsey 2RHR, Esteban Loaiza 5.1IP/0ER; MXI-Santiago Gonzalez 2-4/R/2RBI

TUESDAY, December 1
Navojoa 5, Guasave 2
NAV-Tim Gustafson 6IP/0R/8H, Scott Thorman 2-3/2B/R/RBI; GSV-Yurendell de Caster 3-4, Eduardo Arredondo 2-4/RBI
Los Mochis 6, Obregon 4
MOC-Saul Soto 2-4/HR/2R/2RBI, Luis Suarez 3-4/2R; OBR-Carlos Valencia 3-5/2B/R/RBI, Erubiel Durazo 2-3/R
Mexicali 4, Culiacan 1
MXI-Calvin Medlock 6.1IP/1R/2H/5K, Adam Rosales 2-2/3B/R/RBI, Adan Munoz HR; CUL-Mike McCoy 2B/RBI/SB
Hermosillo 6, Mazatlan 1
HMO-Edgar Gonzalez 7IP/1R, Vinny Castilla 2-5/2B/R/2RBI, Humberto Cota 2-4/2-2B/R/RBI; MAZ-Ruben Rivera 2-3/R

WEDNESDAY, December 2
Navojoa 7, Guasave 6
NAV-Scott Thorman 2-3/3RHR/2R/4RBI, Reid Gorecki 2-4/2B/R; GSV-Eduardo Aredondo 2-5/3RHR, Yurendell de Caster 2-4/R
Obregon 15, Los Mochis 8
OBR-Carlos Valencia 3-5/2B/3RHR/5RBI, Iker franco 3RHR; MOC-Ramon Orantes 2-4/2RHR, Saul Soto 2-3/2B/2R
Mexicali 4, Culiacan 1
MXI-Oscar Rivera 5.1IP/1R, Brad Snyder 2-3/2B/R, Adam Rosales 1-3/3B/2R/RBI; CUL-Ramiro Pena 2-4/3B/R
Mazatlan 4, Hermosillo 3
MAZ-Jon Weber 2-5/2B/GWRBI, John Lindsey 2RHR, Ruben Rivera 3-4/R; HMO-Luis Alfonso Garcia HR, Geronimo Gil 2-3/RBI

THURSDAY, December 3
Navojoa 8, Guasave 5
NAV-Matt Young 2-5/2B/3RBI, Adan Munoz 2-4/2-2B/R/RBI; GSV-Eduardo Arredondo 3-4/R/RBI, Yurendell de Caster 1-5/HR
Los Mochis 4, Obregon 3
MOC-Victor Santos 7IP/1R/2H/6K, Luis Suarez 3-5/HR/3RBI; OBR-Luis Garcia 1-3/HR, Chris Snelling 1-3/2B
Culiacan 9, Mexicali 6
CUL-Ramiro Pena 2-4/2B/R/3RBI, Mike McCoy 3-4/R/RBI, Luis Cruz 3-5/2-2B/R; MXI-Matt Camp 2-5/2B/R/RBI
Hermosillo 4, Mazatlan 1
HMO-Juan Deladillo 5IP/0ER, Vinny Castilla 2-4/RBI, Nelson Teilon 2RHR; MAZ-Robero Saucedo 3-4/2B, Pablo Ortega 7IP/2ER

UPCOMING MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE GAMES:
DEC. 4-6 Mazatlan @ Culiacan, Los Mochis @ Guasave, Navojoa @ Hermosillo, Mexicali @ Obregon
DEC. 8-10 Guasave @ Mazatlan, Obregon @ Culiacan, Los Mochis @ Hermosillo, Navojoa @ Mexicali
DEC. 11-13 Mazatlan @ Navojoa, Culiacan @ Los Mochis, Hermosillo @ Obregon, Mexicali @ Guasave

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #10): Torreon, Coahuila

The tenth leg of our 24-city Mexican Baseball Road Trip takes us from Chihuahua 264 miles south in a straight shot on Highways 45 and 49D to the cities of Torreon, Coahuila and Gomez Palacio, Durango, otherwise known as Laguna. Laguna consists of about 1.3 million residents, including a workforce of nearly 400,000 people mostly in industry and commerce. The two cities and states are separated geographically by the Rio Nazas. The climate is dry and warm, since Laguna is located on a basin within the Chihuahuan Desert. Ironically, the two lagoons the region was named after have both dried up.

Torreon, a city of 1.1 million people where the Vaqueros actually play their home games, was named after a large tower built by Don Leonardo Zuluoaga in 1850 to watch over the Rio Nazas. Across the river, the city of Gomez Palacio has about 300,000 residents. The Laguna region was devastated by the heavy fighting in the Revolution of the early 20th Century, but has since become a notable nationwide center for cotton, livestock, mining and the wine industry.
Culturally, there are 11 universities and technical colleges in the Laguna area, and the Absalom Music Center is a well-respected musical academy. Also, the Teatro Isauro Martinez is considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the country. There are a number of local landmarks, including the Cristo de las Noas, the third-tallest statue of Jesus Christ in Latin America (smaller only than similar statues in Brazil and Colombia). Two of the most popular events in Laguna are the September Cotton Fair, which features an assortment of cultural events including music and bullfighting, and the Laguna DrumFest, which brings some of the best drummers from Mexico and abroad together at the Teatro Nazas for two days of percussion in October.

Laguna has a long history of baseball in the Mexican League, with the Union Laguna team winning Liga pennants in 1942 (under Hall of Fame player-manager Martin Dihigo) and in 1950. The 2009 edition of the Vaqueros finished 55-51 in the regular season and shocked the defending champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Saltillo in the Northern Zone final.

For a while, the team played its home games at the former Colt Stadium, which served Houston’s National League team between 1962 and 1964 before the Astrodome was completed. Colt Stadium sat unused in the Astrodome parking lot before the grandstands were broken down and moved in sections to Gomez Palacio in 1970 after the Laguna team bought the remnants of the ballpark for $100,000. Colt Stadium reportedly still stands as part of a public playground. Presently, the Vaqueros play their home games in Torreon’s 12,000-seat Estadio Revolucion.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#11): Monclova, Coahuila