Monday, March 27, 2017

Mexico to host CS semi-annually, Panama to rejoin field

Two major changes in the Caribbean Series were approved this month by the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation.  The CBPC signed off on Mexico as hosts of the annual event every two years instead of the traditional four-year cycle with Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic while original CS member Panama will return in 2019 as a guest participant.

Radio station CMHW in Villa Clara, Cuba reports that the CBPC has determined that Mexico will host the Caribbean Series every odd year through 2028, starting in 2019.  Guadalajara, deemed a commercial success after hosting Pool D in this month's World Baseball Classic, will likely get the nod to host the CS in two years, placing another feather in the hat of Jalisco Charros owner Armando Navarro, whose high-octane activism to bring large-scale baseball events to Mexico's Second City appears to be going well.  Guadalajara has never hosted the Caribbean Series, but 13,000-seat Estadio Charros (pictured) has more than proven itself a worthy venue.

Things get a little cloudy after that.  Mazatlan's turn in Mexico's reconfigured CS rotation is due to come up in 2021, but the aging Estadio Teodoro Mariscal and the lack of progress on a new ballpark north of the Zona Dorado tourist area have combined to make the Pearl of the Pacific a questionable site in four years.  If a new ballpark isn't built or extensive Mariscal renovations completed by then, Mazatlan stands to miss their turn as CS host.  Mexicali would be next up in the Mexican cycle, followed by Hermosillo, Culiacan and now Guadalajara.

The scheduling format change came about after the CBPC determined that the other three nations in the host rotation lag well behind Mexico in terms of commercial viability for various reasons.  Cuba only returned to the CS in 2014 and has not hosted the event since then.  Radio Artemisa in Cuba reports that acting national baseball commissioner Yosvani Aragon says enough documentation and money are on hand to become full members of the CS (perhaps hosting as soon as 2021), but "everyone knows that behind all this is the U.S. government and the blockade" for Cuba's failure to host, a point of view echoed by CBPC president Juan Francisco Puello in Prensa Latina, the official state news agency of the island nation.

Also approved by the CBPC was the inclusion of Panama as guests in the Caribbean Series, starting in 2019.  Panama was one of the four original CS teams when the tournament began in 1949, winning the title one year later.  However, the CS went dark after Fidel Castro pulled Cuba out in 1960, and neither Cuba nor Panama returned when the event resumed in 1970.  Mexico and the Dominican Republic were admitted to fill out the four-nation field.  Puello says that Professional Baseball League of Panama (or "Probeis") officials will need documentation to indicate their house is in order if the former U.S. possession will be allowed to field a team at Guadalajara in 2019.

Probeis is a four-team circuit that began play in 2011.  Three of the four clubs share 27,000-seat Estadio Nacional Rod Carew in Panama City, a $25 million facility that opened in 1999.  Probeis sends its pennant-winning team to the Latin America Series, a de facto AA version of the Caribbean Series that also includes champions from Nicaragua, Colombia and Veracruz, Mexico (which has had its own winter league paralleling the Mexican Pacific League for years, but with a fraction of the LMP's support).  The Panama Metros represented the country at January's Serie Latinoamericana in Colombia, which was won by Nicaraguan titlists Chinandega.  Six Panama-born players appeared in MLB last season, including catcher Carlos Ruiz (now with Seattle) and infielder Ruben Tejada, currently in camp with the New York Yankees.

The next Caribbean Series is scheduled for Barquisimeto, Venezuela in February 2018.  Cuba will be back as a guest participant for a fifth time.  Puerto Rico was due to host the CS in 2019 (when Panama makes its return), but the CBPC's decision to move the tourney to Guadalajara that year pushes the Boricuans' turn back to 2020.