While the Mexican League's newly-minted Durango Generales are still seeking a manager with less than a month to go until the regular season opens, their fellow debutante Leon Bravos were literally searching for their pilot when Francisco "Paquin" Estrada went missing earlier this week. Estrada eventually turned up unharmed at a motel and while both he and the Leon front office were tight-lipped about what he was doing there, it appears the 69-year-old Mexican baseball veteran was the victim of something called "virtual kidnapping," a not-uncommon occurance south of the border.
The way "virtual kidnappings" typically happen is that a person will receive a phone call from people threatening to harm a relative or loved one, with a demand for cash to call the threat off. In Estrada's case, it appears he answered such a call on Monday and was directed to check into a hotel, where he stayed for three nights. The former catcher said in a brief address to the media Thursday after he was found that although he had not been held captive by armed gunmen, he was kept in place by someone on the phone who Estrada says did not allow him to sleep and constantly quizzed him about what was on television to make sure he was still in the room.
The result was that Estrada missed a scheduled press conference on Wednesday morning and was reported missing Thursday morning before turning up at the hotel later that day. Details of his discovery are unavailable, although ESPN quotes a tweet from Guanajuato state's chief prosecutor Carlos Zamarripa stating that Estrada had been found by state authorities and was "unharmed."
A Navojoa native, Estrada made his pro debut as a 16-year-old with San Luis Potosi of the Mexican Center League in 1964. After going on to spend five seasons with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, Estrada was sold to the Mets organization prior to the 1971 season. He split that year between AA Memphis and AAA Tidewater, playing one game with New York and going 1-for-2 at the plate in the only MLB appearance of his career. Following that campaign, he was packaged with pitcher Nolan Ryan in a trade to the Angels in exchange for former All-Star shortstop Jim Fregosi in one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history. After toiling two years in the California system, Estrada returned to Mexico in 1974 and went on to play 20 more years in the Liga before retiring after the 1993 season. He holds the minor league record with 2,701 games caught over three decades behind the plate.
Estrada's managerial began while he was still active, leading the Campeche Piratas to the LMB pennant as a player-manager in 1983. He's gone on to win three Mexican League pennants as a manager and his 1,583 career wins ranks second only to Jose "Zacatillo" Guerrero in Liga annals. He's done even better in the Mexican Pacific League, where Estrada has led teams to seven pennants and two Caribbean Series titles. Even without the past week's events, it's been an eventful 12-month period for the Salon de la Fama member. He began the 2016 season as manager in Tabasco before getting fired just one month into the schedule. Estrada was then hired by Saltillo on July 1 and led the Saraperos for the rest of the season before being let go in favor of Orlando Sanchez.
After the Reynosa Broncos franchise moved to Leon last winter, Estrada was named the team's new manager. When promised renovations at 3,000-seat Estadio Domingo Santana stalled, it appeared the Bravos might've ended up in Monterrey as co-tenants at Estadio Monterrey with the Sultanes. The renovations have begun, however, although the Bravos will have to play on the road until Estadio Domingo Santana is considered ready. Wherever they end up playing, the Leon Bravos do have their manager back.
Which is more than they can say in Durango.