Wednesday, March 29, 2017

LMB Assembly votes unanimously to include Durango for 2017

In an offseason that has been noted primarily for the evenly-split acrimony between Old Guard and New Breed teams, the Mexican League's Assembly of Presidents somewhat surprisingly voted unanimously Monday to allow the newly-relocated Durango Generales to at least begin their 2017 schedule.  What happens from here is anyone's guess.

The Generales have been a winter-long question mark after owner Virgilio Ruiz moved the former Carmen Delfines north to Durango after five years in the southern Gulf Coast city.  The ongoing uncertainty over the Durango government's willingness or ability to subsidize the team by paying player salaries with taxpayer pesos, a fairly typical practice among Old Guard franchises, or perform needed upgrades to Estadio Francisco Villa, which has not hosted AAA baseball in nearly four decades, was a major contributing factor.  Waiting until last week to name Joe Alvarez as manager did nothing to imply a scintilla of stability in the Generales front office, nor did players showing up for training camp with no idea where it would be held or who would lead them.  Mexican League baseball often has a making-it-up-as-we-go-along feel to it, but the situation in Durango has stood out even within that milieu.

There has been much speculation that Ruiz would be told to shut down for this season and look toward 2018 while the LMB operated with 15 teams, creating a scheduling nightmare, but the Assembly decided a 16-team "maybe" was a better choice than a 15-team certainty.  The vote also brings the still-simmering schism between teams back to an even eight Old Guard franchises happy to continue with the status quo versus eight New Breed franchises wanting the Liga to be more businesslike in its approach.  Although Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor brought down the hammer at last month's league meeting in Houston in favor of the New Breed, the divisions are still as real as they were in January.

The following is a Google translation of a notice from the Generales' Facebook page (they have no website):

"The Assembly of Presidents of the Mexican Baseball League unanimously approved Monday the permanence and official arrival of the Durango Generales to the Mexican Baseball League, returning professional baseball after 38 years of absence.

"The ratification of the Generales was made possible thanks to the unconditional support of the State Governor, Dr. Jose Rosas Aispuro Torres, who since the presentation of the project to return professional baseball to Durango has been a vital part for the King of Sports to return to Estadio Francisco Villa in this city.

"To this sum of efforts to bring professional baseball to Durango have joined a good number of Durango entrepreneurs committed to baseball, who seeing in sports a platform for the development of the state and the standard of living of the inhabitants of Durango, have hesitated to join the project that is already tangible in this capital.

"The vital support of the State Sports Institute of Durango and its director, Mr. Alejandro Álvarez Manilla, has been unconditionally committed to the professional baseball project since the beginning, and hee has become an indispensable ally for making the Generales Of Durango a reality.

"The Generales have had an intense preseason under the hand of the Cuban manager Joe Alvarez and have already obtained their first achievement, the championship of the Sisters Cities Baseball Classic in Laredo, Texas. This Tuesday they return to the training camp to close ranks ahead of the visit to Estadio Alberto Romo Chávez in Aguascalientes to face the Rieleros next Friday, March 31."

The Generales finished 31-76 last season to finish last in the LMB South, 25.5 games out of the fourth and final playoff berth. The schedule has Durango playing five series on the road to start the current season before their scheduled April 18 home opener against Veracruz. The very real possibility that Estadio Francisco Villa won't be ready by then may mean moving home games to Monterrey, where Sultanes owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz (an Old Guard ally of Ruiz) has reportedly offered to allow the Generales to share Estadio Monterrey as a temporary home.

Two weeks ago, LMB president Plinio Escalante reportedly told Puro Beisbol columnist Hector Bencomo, "I don't think Durango can play this season." Ready or not, we're all about to find out together.