Monday, March 1, 2010

BORDER TEAMS FACE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH DRUG WARS

The ongoing battle between drug cartels and police in Mexico is well-documented, and the problem has already been a major factor in Tijuana losing its Mexican League baseball team despite being one of the country's most attractive markets. One knowledgeable Baseball Mexico subscriber says the LMB's two border franchises may be negatively affected this year.

Jim McCurdy, a lifelong Texan who played baseball in Mexico prior to spending several years as a college instructor in the border city of Harlingen, says both the Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes and Reynosa Broncos are caught up in a “war zone,” and that similar circumstances that helped drive the Potros out of Tijuana two years ago (with the franchise ironically shifting to Reynosa) “may very well play havoc with the league's schedule again this year.”

McCurdy explains that the past week has seen shootouts almost every day with several people being killed in both Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. “Cops, soldiers and drug thugs have all been killed or wounded,” he says, “and the American Consulate in Reynosa closed this week until further notice.”

McCurdy adds, “It's very bad down there right now and the government is losing more control everyday. Even with American help, the Mexican cops and soldiers are outgunned and outmanned. The ordinary citizens are scared to death and they're not going to risk going out at night to baseball games because the cartel hoodlums have no qualms about shooting up a crowd if they think thay can kill some opponents.”

According to Ballparks Digest, In 2009, Reynosa drew 334,369 fans to 51 home games, second in the Liga to Monclova, but Nuevo Laredo had just 112,984 attendees for 52 openings.

OAXACA OBTAINS VET BATSMAN CANIZALEZ

Longtime Mexican baseball veteran Juan Carlos “El Canelo” Canizalez has been acquired by the Oaxaca Guerreros in a trade sending right-handed pitcher Miguel Rubio to Monclova. The 39-year-old Canizalez hit .307 with 5 homers in 87 games for the Acereros last year, marking the seventh time in his 19-year Liga career that he's topped the .300 mark (including a career-best .358 average for Monterrey in 1995).

Canizalez is a career .299 batter over 1,608 LMB games, collecting 1,746 hits including 99 homers. He's also a career .288 hitter over 16 winters in the Mexican Pacific League, including a .270 average last season in 45 games in his first campaign for Culican after spending 12 seasons with Hermosillo. The switch-hitting first baseman won two LMP batting titles with the Naranjeros.

PERISHO SIGNS ON WITH MONCLOVA

Former major league pitcher Matt Perisho has signed with Monclova for the 2010 season. A left-hander, Perisho spent last summer with the Brother Elephants of Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League, going 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 79.1 innings pitched.

The 35-year-old Iowa native spent eight years in the majors with five teams after debuting for the Angels in 1999, turning in a career 11-17 record. This will be Perisho's second time around in Mexico after going 6-8 with a 3.93 ERA for Nuevo Laredo in 2008.

ROBERSON TO PLAY FOR MONTERREY IN 2010

Minor league veteran outielder Chris Roberson, who led Hermosillo with a .333 batting average in the Caribbean Series this winter, will play for the Monterrey Sultanes in 2010.

Roberson, a 6'2” switch-hitter who played 57 games for Philadelphia in 2006, batted .232 for the Naranjeros in the regular season before batting .348 in the LMP playoffs and going 9-of-27 in Venezuela to lead all Hermosillo batters in the CS.
He spent last summer with the Pacific Coast League's Reno Aces, hitting .261 in 127 games for the Diamondbacks' Class AAA affiliate.

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #22): Campeche, Campeche

While our next stop on the Road Trip, Merida, was marked by invasions of Mayan rebels from the south, Campeche was plagued by attacks from pirates such as Henry Morgan, Jean Lafitte and Francis Drake (who was considered a buccaneer by the Spanish) cruising the Gulf of Mexico. The city was founded in 1540 by Spaniards on the site of a former Mayan fishing village. It was the most important port on the Yucatan Peninsula during colonial days, a fact not unnoticed by English, French and British buccaneers who wreaked havoc on Campeche several times. After a particularly grisly massacre in 1663, thick walls were built to protect the city, including eight bastions (seven of which can still be visited). Things calmed down a bit after that, and Campeche flourished within the fortifications, although only the Spaniards lived within the walls while the natives were kept outside. The city was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1999.

As one might expect, Campeche is full of stately reminders of its prosperous past. Many pastel-colored centuries-old buildings can be enjoyed, as can a lovely botanical garden built around one of the bastions. Like Cancun and Merida, Campeche sits in a tropical climate. Unlike their Liga rivals to the east, however, the city of 212,000 has been relatively untouched by tourism and retains its genuine feel of an old colonial working town.

The Mexican League’s Campeche Piratas (or “Pirates”) play at 6,000-seat Parque Nelson Barrera, named after the beloved third base great and manager who tragically died a few years ago when he was struck by a powerline while cleaning debris from his home rooftop after a storm. The field measures 330 feet down both foul lines and 400 feet to straightaway center field.

Campeche reached the Mexican League playoffs last season with a 56-51 overall record, but fell to Quintana Roo in the Southern Zone semifinals, 4 games to 2. Former major leaguer Ruben Rivera had a standout year for the Piratas, hitting .344 and leading the Liga with 32 homers while driving in 90 runs. Among pitchers, both Alejandro Armenta and Francisco Campos turned in 11 wins. The veteran Campos, nicknamed “Pancho Ponches” for his ability to strike out batters, whiffed 89 hitters in 144 innings while registering a 2.31 ERA.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#23): Merida, Yucatan