Friday, February 12, 2016

Piratas open training camp, Campos back for 22nd season

One of the things that makes Mexican pro baseball unique is that there's no such thing as an offseason, a Heaven on Earth for hardcore fans.  The Mexican League's Campeche Piratas opening their 2016 training camp Wednesday, just three days after the Mexican Pacific League champion Mazatlan Venados clinched the Caribbean Series title.  Is there a better place in the world to be a baseball fan than Mexico?

Twenty-two players, including twelve pitchers, turned out for the first day of camp at Parque Nelson Barrera in Campeche.  Piratas coach Roque Sanchez will be overseeing the team until manager Lino Connell arrives later this month.  Team president Jorge Carlos Hurtado Montero was also on hand along with GM Gabriel Lozano and physiotherapist Nicolas Gongora.

Gongora is a kinesiologist who has experience working with high-performance athletes in the USA and was initially hired by the Piratas over the winter to spend time with ageless pitcher Francisco Campos, who was one of the 22 players on the field Wednesday.  Gongora apparently impressed team management enough to have a larger role given to him for the coming season.  "We must leave behind the concept that baseball players are not athletes," Hurtado said. "This spring we'll have some innovations and that's why we decided to start with Nicolas Gongora, who will work with you on an individual basis, through science applied to sport, improving your athletic performance."   Gongora then told the assembled players and coaches, "Today you win the Liga."

Time will tell with the Piratas, who finished fourth in the LMB South last summer with a 53-56 record before knocking out fifth-place Puebla in a Wildcard game and stretching Yucatan to seven games in the first round of playoffs.  The 43-year-old Campos suffered through a 6-10 season with a 5.64 ERA as the man known as Pancho Ponches (liberally translates to "Mister Strikeout") recorded just 54 K's over 95.2 innings.

However, his sixth-inning punchout of Oaxaca's Yancarlo Angulo last July 9 made the Sonora native just the fifth pitcher in the LMB's 91-year history to record 2,000 career strikeouts, trailing only Jesus "Chito" Rios (2,549), Ramon Arano (2,380), Angel Moreno (2,255) and Mercedes Esquer (2,053).  Campos, who enters 2016 with 184 career LMB wins and 2,014 strikeouts, was quoted afterward in Excelsior as saying, "It's an honor to be with other pitchers who were legends to me, who were role models and who were my idols.  Now I hope to reach fourth place in strikeouts and 200 wins."

Except for stints in the Brewers and White Sox organizations between 2002 and 2004, the converted catcher has spent his entire 21-year career with Campeche.  His future selection to the Salon de la Fama is assured...if Campos ever stops pitching.