Monday, February 22, 2010

VERACRUZ TEAM TRAINING IN CUBA

The Veracruz Rojos del Aguila are spending a month’s worth of training camp in Cuba. Aguilas president Jose Antonio Mansur says he was pleased with negotiations that took place between Cuban officials and Veracruz state governor Fidel Herrera, who he said has always had good relations with leaders of the island nation.

The Aguilas began training in Cuba on February 22 and are scheduled to remain there until returning home next month to play a preseason game with the Yucatan Leones on March 9. Veracruz will play exhibition games against Cuban teams prior to returning to Mexico.

Veracruz will play their 2010 Mexican League schedule under manager Victor Mesa (pictured), himself a native of Cuba.

MEXICAN LEAGUE TEAMS HOLD MARKETING SEMINAR

One of the reasons baseball has fallen behind soccer in popularity in Mexico is that the baseball teams have fallen behind their soccer counterparts in selling their product to the public. Mexican League teams are hoping a recent workshop in Mexico City among their marketing directors will be a step toward closing the gap in public perception.

The workshop on February 18 was held by Javier Salinas, the marketing director of the Mexican Football League’s Morelia Monarcos and a professor of sports and entertainment marketing at various universities in Mexico. Among the items discussed were new technologies, sales methodology, fan appeal and the need for teams to work with each other on marketing strategies. The attendees spent time sharing their experiences in their respective markets, while brainstorming for new ideas that might bring more fans out to ballparks in Mexico.

PRESEASON BICENTENNIAL CUP GAMES SET FOR GUANAJUATO

The central Mexico state of Guanajuato will be the site of a number of exhibition games between Mexican League teams competing in the so-called Bicentennial Cup tournament. The Monclova Acereros, Laguna Vaqueros, Chihuahua Dorados and the defending Liga champion Saltillo Saraperos will play contests in seven cities between February 26 and March 7.

The tournament is being organized in part by the Acereros. Monclova general manager Victor Favela and new manager Mario Mendoza attended a press conference last week along with city and state officials from Guanajuato to unveil some of the Bicentennial Cup schedule and to stress the tourney will bring a high level of baseball to the Bajio region. Guanajuato is actually located closer to Mexico City to the south than to the four northern cities that will comprise the competition.

The first game is scheduled for February 26 in Silao when Monclova faces Chihuahua.

CANTU WORKS OUT WITH REYNOSA PRIOR TO MARLINS CAMP

Florida Marlins infielder Jorge Cantu spent some time in Reynosa last week training with the Mexican League Broncos prior to reporting to spring training in Jupiter, Florida later this month. A native of the city near the Texas border, Cantu took batting practice wearing shorts and a turned-around cap after individually greeting each Broncos player.

“It’s an honor to be sharing baseball experiences with the boys,” Cantu said. “The team looks very good and always smiling on the diamond…it’s a blessing to play this game,” he added.

Cantu hit .289 with 16 homers and 100 RBIs with the Marlins under manager Fredi Gonzalez in 2009. Cantu expects a solid year in Miami this season. “We are a team with a lot of spark,” he said. “We are going to fight and play hard. I think we have a chance to do something this season.”

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #21): Villahermosa, Tabasco



The state of Tabasco in the southeastern part of Mexico was largely ignored during the nation’s turbulent history over the centuries, but the development of oil drilling within the past century changed all that and has resulted in the growth of the state capital of Villahermosa (which means “beautiful town”).

Centuries ago, Tabasco was the center of the Olmec culture, which is considered by many archeologists as the mother culture of Mesoamerica. Hernando Cortes landed at the mouth of the Rio Grijalva in 1519 and easily conquered the native Mayans, but found raiding pirates more difficult to deal with and moved inland to what is now Villahermosa.

The Tabasco region was fairly untouched during the colonial period because the Spaniards found the steamy, insect-ridden jungle climate less than hospitable, and Tabasco was largely bypassed during former president Porfirio Diaz’ industrialization efforts in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Oil was discovered in the 1930’s, but wasn’t fully exploited until the 1970’s. The oil boom has led to tremendous growth in Tabasco and Villahermosa, which is now a metropolis of over 500,000 residents.

While one would be hard-pressed to call Villahermosa a “beautiful town” in a literal sense, it is not without its charms. The nearby Olmec site of La Venta was discovered by oil drillers years ago and is now a popular park with a zoo. In the city itself, the impressive CICOM complex includes a concert hall, theater, museum, research library and a restaurant. The Carlos Pellicer Regional & Anthropological Museum has four levels, and is very popular with visitors.

Villahermosa is home to the Tabasco Olmecas baseball club, named after the original inhabitants of the region. The Olmecas play their home games at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero, which seats 10,500 fans.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

VETS CASTILLA, SANDOVAL HOPE TO BE BACK WITH NARANJEROS NEXT WINTER

Veteran infielders Vinny Castilla and Jose Luis Sandoval both say they’d like to come back to play another season with the Mexican Pacific League champion Hermosillo Naranjeros.

The 42-year-old Castilla, who hit .292 with seven homers in 30 regular season games at third base for Hermosillo, says, “I’d love to return next season, but my body is going to say whether I can. Baseball is my passion and my life, and when I’m on the field, I’m happy.” Castilla retired from the big leagues after the 2006 season, and currently works in the Colorado Rockies front office.

Sandoval (pictured) has played shortstop for 19 winters in Hermosillo, batting .236 in 62 games this past season after hitting .298 for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos last summer. Sandoval says he wants to retire with the Naranjeros, and that if he avoids injury and plays well for the Diablos this year, he’ll hopefully be back wearing an orange jersey in October.
Both Castilla and Sandoval indicated they’d be interested in managing Hermosillo after their playing days are over.

TIGRES TAKEN OFF MARKET, TO STAY IN CANCUN

After spending the winter with a “For Sale” sign on them, the Mexican League’s Quintana Roo Tigres have reversed course and will remain in Cancun. Tigres chairman Cuauhtemoc Rodriguez says owner Carlos Peralta ordered that the team no longer be for sale, and that the “desire of all is to stay for many years in this paradise.”

The Tigres were originally put on the market following a 2009 season in which they won the Southern Zone title and played in the League Championship Series against Monterrey. However, after no takers were found, the decision was made to keep the team in the resort city, where training camp was set to open Tuesday, February 16.

At a press conference, Rodriguez said, “We now expect the support of the fans and the state government” to ensure the Tigres’ continued presence in Cancun. He added, “No professional team can survive without the support of governments, sponsors and especially the presence of fans at the ballparks.”

AMEZAGA SIGNS MINOR LEAGUE DEAL WITH DODGERS

Shortstop Alfredo Amezaga has signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers after an injury-plagued 2009 season with the Florida Marlins.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Amezaga’s Dodger deal calls for $650,000 if the Obregon native makes the big club plus another $150,000 in incentives. Amezaga is expected to be in a three-way battle with Nick Green and Angel Berroa for a slot in the Los Angeles infield this spring.

Amezaga, who turned 32 last month, attended high school in Miami, Florida before being picked by Anaheim on the 13th round of the 1999 draft. He has gone on to play in the majors with the Angels, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Florida, hitting .251 with 12 homers, 167 runs scored and 49 stolen bases in 544 career MLB games. Amezaga only batted .217 with 5 RBIs in 27 games for the Marlins before a knee injury sidelined him for the season.

MURILLO BACK WITH MONTERREY FOR 2010 SEASON

The Mexican Pacific League’s Most Valuable Player for 2008-09, Agustin Murillo, will be back with the Monterrey Sultanes this season after spending last summer with Reno of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

The Tijuana-born Murillo, who turns 28 in May, hit .275 in 76 games for the Aces in 2009 on the heels of his Hector Espino Trophy-winning winter with the Obregon Yaquis in which he led the LMP with 87 hits and finished third in the batting race with a .345 average along with 11 homers, 12 stolen bases and a Mex Pac record 30 doubles.

Murillo has played for Mexico in two Caribbean Series and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #20): Oaxaca, Oaxaca

While the city of Oaxaca is no stranger to visitors, it is anything but a tourist trap. Oaxaca has maintained a very colonial flavor while becoming known as a cultural arts center for the country because a number of local indigenous populations maintain their distinctive identities and languages. Oaxaca was named a “World Heritage Site” by the United Nations in 1987 along with the nearby Monte Alban ruins.


Oaxaca was discovered by Spanish conquistadores in 1533, and quickly became a favorite of Hernando Cortes and his family for its temperate climate and scenery provided by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range that rims the city of a quarter-million inhabitants. There are a number of beautiful churches in Oaxaca (including the breathtaking baroque styled Templo de Santo Domingo), plus several fine mansions, government buildings and plazas throughout the city. There are outdoor markets galore throughout the state of Oaxaca, and the Saturday mercado in the city is not to be missed. Oaxaca is also known for its many colorful fiestas, and history buffs almost always visit the ruins at Monte Alban and Mitla (both built centuries ago by the Zapotec tribe and also occupied by the Mayans and Aztecs).


While Oaxaca is reasonably consistent in temperatures in the 70’s throughout the year, the rainy season between May and September is also a familiar companion.


Oaxaca is home to the Mexican League Guerreros during the spring and summer. The Guerreros play at Eduardo Vasconcelos Stadium, a 7,200-seat facility built in 1950 in the northern part of the city. Field turf was installed on the playing surface in recent years, and a 2008 renovation to the ballpark brought a new video screen and improved seats in the stands.  Oaxaca finished 42-63 in 2009 and missed the playoffs.


While the Guerreros (or “Warriors”) have yet to win a Liga crown since entering the Mexican League in 1996, they play in front of enthusiastic and noisy crowds that include cheerleaders. Yes, cheerleaders. Baseball in Mexico is indeed different.


NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#21): Villahermosa, Tabasco

Sunday, February 7, 2010

HERMOSILLO STUNS CARIBBEAN SERIES HOST CARACAS TWICE

Although the Mexican Pacific League champion Hermosillo Naranjeros were mathematically eliminated from contention for the Caribbean Series title on February 6, the Orangemen did gain a measure of satisfaction by defeating the host Caracas Leones twice in four days at Isla Margarita, Venezuela.

The Naranjeros opened their CS schedule with a resounding 7-2 win over Caracas on February 2. Starter Pablo Ortega combined with three relievers to scatter two runs on seven hits, but it was a four-run fourth inning outburst that put the game in the hip pocket for the Mexicans. Consecutive doubles by Chris Roberson, Nelson Teilon and Vinny Castilla (pictured) helped put the score at 5-0 and the Naranjeros never looked back.

Hermosillo’s opening win was followed by two losses. The Naranjeros were clubbed by Dominican champion Escogido, 7-1, on February 3 as Leones starter Nelson Figueroa allowed just three hits, including a solo homer by Carlos Valencia in the eighth inning. Then Puerto Rico’s Mayaguez Indios scored three runs in the first inning en route to a 5-3 win over Hermosillo on February 4. Roberson had a single and double, but the Naranjeros just couldn’t put a comeback together. Roberson led Hermosillo batters with a .333 average.

The Orangemen then took a game from the Venezuelans once more on February 5, winning 3-2 in ten innings as Castilla singled home Heber Gomez with the deciding run in the bottom of the frame. Karim Garcia collected two hits, including a solo homer.

Hermosillo was officially knocked out of contention February 6 with a 7-2 loss to Escogido. Leones starter Heath Phillips, who has pitched in the Mex Pac, turned in seven strong innings and let in two runs on three hits with seven strikeouts. Luis Alfonso Garcia crashed a two-run homer in the first, but Phillips shut down the Naranjeros from that point on.

The Naranjeros dropped their final CS game on February 7, losing to Mayaguez, 8-2, as Jesus Feliciano and Angel Sanchez each went 3-for-4 and Armando Rios had two doubles with three RBIs for the Indios. Luis Cruz hit a two-run homer for Hermosillo.

ESCOGIDO WINS CS TITLE, INDIOS’ FELICIANO TOP BATTER

Escogido scored four runs in the first inning on February 7 and went on to beat Caracas by a 7-4 count to clinch the Caribbean Series title in the final game of the six-day tournament. It was the third CS title for the Leones, and the first in 20 winters. Escogido won five of their six games, only dropping a 7-3 decision to Mayaguez on February 5.

The Indios finished second with a 4-2 record despite a .307 team batting average that was 62 points higher than the .245 average Escogido put up. The Puerto Rican pitchers combined for a CS-best .187 ERA, too, but Escogido’s starters were consistently more effective over the Series. Hermosillo finished third at 2-4, while host Caracas brought up the rear with a 1-5 record.

Mayaguez’ Jesus Feliciano (pictured) easily won the Series batting title, going 13-for-27 at the plate for a .481 average. Escogido’s Kevin Barker and Fernando Martinez each hit two homers, while Feliciano and Dominican Juan Francisco both had five RBIs.

Among pitchers, Escogido’s Raul Valdes won both starts despite a 4.09 ERA, and led the CS with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. Mario Santiago of Mayaguez had the top ERA with a 0.75 mark over 12 innings, while Escogido’s Dario Veras led relievers with three saves.

SIX LMB TEAMS AWARDED RIGHTS TO RELEASED MiLB PLAYERS

The Mexican League Assembly drew lots last Monday for the rights to six Mexican-born players who have been released by Major League Baseball organizations. The first player chosen was left-handed pitcher Luis Martinez, a Mazatlan native who turned 19 on February 5. Martinez, whose rights were assigned to Puebla, pitched eight innings for Atlanta’s Dominican Summer League team last year and posted an ERA of 3.12 with no decisions.

Catcher Rogelio del Campo, who played one game for Buffalo of the International League in 2009, was taken second by Campeche. Pitcher Juan Pablo Menchaca, who did not play organized ball last summer, was selected third by Monterrey. The Torreon native was 5-4 with a 3.76 ERA for Eugene of the Northwest League in 2008. The fourth player taken was catcher Gerard Bustamante of Nogales, who last played in the Diamondbacks organization in 2008. Bustamante’s rights were assigned to Yucatan.


The final two players picked were listed as Ivan Villaescusa and Juan Pablo Oyervides. Villaescusa, a former catcher in the Angels system who spent last year playing independent ball with Coastal Bend of the United League, was assigned to Oaxaca. Oyervides’ name was drawn by Nuevo Laredo, but no information could be found on him (although there is a pitcher named Jose Pablo Oyervides who spent a number of seasons in the Padres’ organization).

SIX UNSIGNED PLAYERS DECLARED INELIGIBLE TO PLAY IN LIGA

The Mexican League Assembly has ruled that six players will not be able to play in the Liga this summer due to not having signed contracts. The two most notable names are former major league first baseman Erubiel Durazo (pictured), who hit .245 in 14 games for Monterrey last year, and longtime outfielder Luis Arredondo, the Mexican League’s all-time stolen bases leader who batted .338 and swiped 31 sacks in 2009 at the age of 38.

Others ruled ineligible to play in the Mexican League this season include pitchers Antonio Osuna, Emil Kamar and Alonso Beltran plus catcher Julio Cesar Parra. Osuna spent all or part of eleven seasons in the majors.

The Assembly also voted to begin the 2010 League Championship Series with two games at the Southern Zone champion’s ballpark, alternating annually with the Northern Zone.

CHIHUAHUA SIGNS MAC SUZUKI, EYING TWO CARIBBEAN SERIES PITCHERS

Now that their management situation appears to have been settled, the Chihuahua Dorados have taken a proactive approach to bringing players to training camp later this month.

According to Dorados general manager Iram Campos, Chihuahua had a list of 35 players heading into February, as well as options for five Monterrey Sultanes players (including major league veterans Benji Gil and Jose Silva). The Dorados have also brought another former big league pitcher, Mac Suzuki (pictured), on board for 2010, as well as ex-MLB outfielder Jacob Cruz.

And Campos isn’t done yet.

Campos was in Venezuela along with Dorados team president Mario Rodriguez for the Caribbean Series, where he had talks with Caracas pitchers Orber Moreno and Darwin Cubillan. Puro Beisbol quoted Campos as saying he was “very advanced” in talks with Moreno, and that Cubillan had contacted him during the tournament to discuss playing in Chihuahua.

Moreno, a 32-year-old submarine pitcher who has MLB experience with Kansas City and the New York Mets, was 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in 37 innings for Mexico City and Quintana Roo last summer. The 37-year-old Cubillan has pitched for four major league teams, and was 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA while splitting the 2009 Mexican League season between Oaxaca and Mexico City.

The Dorados would likely use Moreno in the closer’s role this year, while both Suzuki and Cubillan would alternate between middle relief and setup man.

2010 CARIBBEAN SERIES RESULTS

TUESDAY, February 2
Escogido (DR) 2, Mayaguez (PR) 1
Kevin Barker’s HR in the bottom of the 6th ended up as the game winner. P Mario Santiago let in 2 runs in 7 IP for Mayaguez.

HERMOSILLO (MX) 7, Caracas (VZ) 2
Vinny Castilla doubled, homered and scored 3 runs for Naranjeros as Caracas starter Guillermo Moscoso lasted just 3.2 innings.


WEDNESDAY, February 3
Escogido (DR) 7, HERMOSILLO (MX) 1
Willis Otanez’ 2-run 2B and Fernando Martinez’ solo HR keyed 4-run 1st for Dominicans. Carlos Valencia hit HR for Mexicans.

Caracas (VZ) 5, Mayaguez (PR) 2
Raul Padron crushed a 2-run HR and cracked an RBI single to lead the Leones. Mayaguez SS Angel Sanchez went 3-for-4.


THURSDAY, February 4
Mayaguez (PR) 5, HERMOSILLO (MX) 3
Michael Hernandez’ 2-run HR in 6th inning put game away for Indios. Hermosillo scored 2 runs on 3 Mayaguez errors in 4th.

Escogido (DR) 3, Caracas (VZ) 2
Freddy Guzman broke 2-2 tie by stealing home in 7th for Escogido. Oscar Salazar belted a 2-run HR for Caracas.


FRIDAY, February 5
Mayaguez (PR) 7, Escogido (DR) 3
Danny Valencia singled and doubled for the Indios, driving in 3 runs. Juan Francisco had 2 hits and 2 RBIs for Escogido.

HERMOSILLO (MX) 3, Caracas (VZ) 2 (10)
Vinny Castilla’s single in the 10th inning drove in Heber Gomez with the game-winner. Michael Ryan hit HR for Caracas.


SATURDAY, February 6
Escogido (DR) 7, HERMOSILLO (MX) 2
Juan Francisco, Kevin Barker and Fernando Martinez all homered for Leones. Luis Alfonso Garcia hit 2-run HR for Hermosillo.

Mayaguez (PR) 7, Caracas (VZ) 1
Jesus Feliciano cracks a 2-run HR in a 3-run 5th inning for Indios. Jackson Melian scores lone Caracas run on sacrifice fly in 5th.


SUNDAY, February 7
Mayaguez (PR) 8, HERMOSILLO (MX) 2
Jesus Feliciano and Angel Sanchez each had 3 hits and Armando Rios had 3 RBIs for Indios. Luis Cruz hit 2-run HR for Hermosillo.

Escogido (DR) 7, Caracas (VZ) 4
Raul Valdes combined with 4 relievers on 3-hitter for Escogido. Cesar Quintero hit 3-run HR for Caracas.


FINAL STANDINGS
Escogido (DR) 5-1, Mayaguez (PR) 4-2, HERMOSILLO (MX) 2-4, Caracas (VZ) 1-5

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #19): Minatitlán, Veracruz

Minatitlán is a city in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Veracruz, located on the railway and on Highway 121. It is a sister city of Minatitlan in the state of Colima (on the other side of the country), and is one of the smallest cities in Mexican League baseball.

In 2005, the metropolitian area had a population of 152,907. The Minatitlan municipality has an area of nearly 1,600 square miles and includes many small outlying communities.

Much of the city sits on reclaimed marshlands, and many new homes built on this reclaimed land have a tendency to sink as much as several feet before settling. Much of the surrounding undeveloped land is marshy, especially toward the northeast en route to Coatzacoalcos. There is a large Zapotec Indian population in Minatitlan. They are easily recognizable in their traditional Zapotec clothing. Most speak Spanish, but their traditional Zapotec language is still in common usage among them.

One of Mexico's six oil refining facilities is located in Minatitlan. The refining complex processes about 300,000 barrels a day and produces diesel, fuel oil, and gasoline. The local economy basically depends on the petroleum industry, but corn, fruits, sugar, and rice are also cultivated in the area.

Culturally, Minatitlán is home to a religious Candlemas festival in early February; a carnival running between the end of February and early May features folk music and dancing, cockfighting, horse racing and fireworks; a celebration of the so-called “Petroleum Expropriation” in late May centers on music, sports and fireworks; while similar events take place during the annual San Juan Bautista Festival on June 24.

The Minatitlán Petroleros (or “Oilers”) have an interesting history. The team spent several years in Cancun, where they were known as the Langosteros. The Lobstermen were one of the less successful Mexican League franchises, advancing to the Southern Zone Championship Series just once (in 1997). The damage Hurricane Wilma wreaked on the ballpark in Cancun after the 2005 season forced the team to move to Poza Rica, where the team was renamed the Petroleros. However, the team and city had a falling out on their ballpark lease, resulting in the team moving to Cordoba in the midst of the 2006 season and being renamed the Cafeteros. After finishing the schedule, the club once again re-settled in Minatitlán for the 2007 season and reclaiming the Petroleros nickname.

Last year’s edition finished a Liga-worst 34-73, winning just 13 of 54 games in the second half of the season.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#20): Oaxaca, Oaxaca