Mexico’s “second” winter circuit, the Veracruz Winter League, played a short regular season that involved the LIV’s six teams playing 30-game schedules in December before embarking on January’s playoffs. The Paso de Ovejas Campesino won the season title with a 19-10-1 record, two games up on the Acayucan Tobis at 15-10-1. The Tobis went on to win the pennant by beating Xalapa in five games in the championship series, breaking the Los Tuxtlas Brujos’ string of four consecutive flags.
After winning their first title in ten LIV winters, Acayucan represented Mexico at the Latin American Series in Managua against champions from Panama, Colombia and host Nicaragua. The Tobis posted a strong 9-3 opening day win over Colombia’s Barranquilla Caimanes on January 26 before dropping their final two round-robin stages games and losing a 1-0 semifinal play-in game against Barranquilla despite tournament rules clearly stating than in the event of a tie, the nod would go to whoever had won their first-round matchup.
Veteran baseballist Cristhian Presichi, a longtime Mexican Leaguer, led the loop’s batters with a .407 average for Paso de Ovejas, Tuxtla Gutierrez’ Carlos Rodriguez was tops with 7 homers and 32 ribbies. Campesinos hurler Angel Araiza and the Tobis' Juan Grijalva topped the loop with 4 wins each, Los Tuxtlas' Joel Payamps turned in an 0.82 ERA and Raul Carrillo of Palenque posted 39 strikeouts.
There are two other winter pro leagues in Mexico. While the Mexican Pacific League may be considered AAA in quality and the Veracruz Winter League regarded a AA circuit, the Mexican Winter League is the country’s Class A vernal loop while the Mexican League-operated Academy League goes from being an A league in summer to a Rookie league for the winter.
The Mexican Winter League, or LIM, rose from the ashes of the now-defunct Northwest Baseball League, a Nayarit-based confederation that folded last year after eight seasons. The LIM, also overseen by the Liga (as is every play-for-pay league in Mexico outside the LMP), moved its six-team operation eastward toward Mexico CIty, mainly in the central Mexican states of Guanajuato and Aguascalientes.
The first winter of LIM competition saw the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (augmented by players contracted to the Oaxaca Guerreros) defeat the Salamanca Petroleros, 4 games to 3, in the playoff final. Former Diablos outfielder VIctor Bojorquez managed Mexico City to a 40-22 record and a first-place finish during the regular season before longtime Red Devils shortstop Jose Luis Sandoval piloted the squad through the playoffs, culminating in Mexico City’s 9-5 Game Seven win over the Petroleros on January 20 in front of 4,669 at Estadio Fray Nano in the nation’s capital.
Guanajuato’s Manuel Cruz led the LIM with a .414 and 12 homers while Mexico City’s Jose Martinez drove in 47 runs. Diablos hurlers Filiberto Baez and Jesus Anguamea tied for the league lead with 7 wins apiece, teammate Ariel Gracia was tops with 67 strikeouts and a 2.85 ERA.
Finally, there’s the Academy Rookie League, consisting of Mexican League prospects housed together at the LMB’s training facility near Monterrey. The Academy League runs a more ambitious “Class A” schedule from late March through July, but the LIA, which consists of four shared teams and one solely stocked with youngsters under contract with Saltillo, runs a shorter eight-week slate of doubleheaders between October and December, with teams playing about 27 games each. As in the LIM, a team shared by the Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca won the LIA crown by going 21-4-2.
Now that the dust has settled on a full plate of winter leagues and games, we can all allow ourselves a breath, but only a short one because spring training is getting underway and Mexico’s five summer pro leagues will be warming up before you know it. That’s one of the beauties of Mexican baseball: There is no such thing as an offseason.