Saturday, March 26, 2016

Astros, Padres square off in Mexico City this weekend

The Houston Astros and San Diego Padres are sending split squads to Mexico City for a two-game MLB exhibition series this weekend at Estadio Fray Nano, home of the Mexican League's Red Devils.  There will also be a Home Run Derby involving LMB players and a clinic for youth players overseen by former All-Star third baseman Vinny Castilla, a native Oaxacan.  The games will take place Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

The two teams have finalized their respective 28-man rosters for the trip to the D.F.  Houston has released their list of players, which will include All-Stat second baseman Jose Altuve (pictured), shortstop Carlos Correa (the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year) and outfielder Leo Heras, a veteran of both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific Leagues who is in the Astros' training camp in Florida.  San Diego's entourage will include six Mexican-born players in the Padres' Arizona camp, including 24-year-old right-hander Cesar Vargas of Puebla, who will take the mound to start Sunday's contest.  Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, a Cuban in his first year with San Diego after eight seasons with the White Sox, had both his agent and lawyer clear up any possible visa issues so he could make the trip.

The Home Run Derby was scheduled for Friday at Fray Nano, with Quintana Roo Tigres infielders Esteban Quiroz and former MLBer Jorge Cantu, Diablos Rojos' outfielder Ivan Terrazas and Tijuana second baseman Carlos Valencia (who played in Mexico City from 2006 through 2013) rounding out the four participants.

Castilla, who had more homers, runs batted in, runs scored and hits in his MLB career than any other Mexican-born player, is now a special assistant with the Colorado Rockies, for whom he had his best seasons in the 1990's.  He was to be joined at the clinics by former White Sox pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who won 21 games for the White Sox and led the American League with 203 strikeouts in 2003 (finishing second in Cy Young Award balloting that year) and ex-Dodgers hurler Ismael "Rocket" Valdez, who reached double figures in wins five times in his major league career, including four straight years in Los Angeles in the mid-Nineties.

Estadio Fray Nano is the smallest ballpark in the Mexican League with 5,200 seats, but has been expanded to fit 6,464 fans this weekend.   Saturday's game will be carried live on Univision Deportes in the USA and Telvisa Deportes in Mexico, with Astros Spanish broadcaster Francisco Romero calling the play-by-play.