Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Liga Norte's 2017 season underway

While the Mexican League receives the lion's share of attention of baseball fans during the spring and summer as the nation's top professional loop, Mexico's "second circuit" has quietly gotten its 2017 season underway in the northwest corner of the country.

The Liga Norte de Mexico (or Northern Mexico League) serves as a de facto Class AA league for the LMB, with each of the LNM's six teams sharing affiliations with two Liga teams.  Although the league has only been around in its present form since 2012, it dates back to the 1940's under the name of Liga Norte de Sonora, from which current LNM teams broke away five years ago.  The San Quintin Freseros (Campeche, Quintana Roo) are the defending Liga Norte titlists after defeating the San Luis Algodoneros (Monclova, Puebla) in seven games in last year's championship series.  After the Tecate Toritos dropped out following the 2016 season, the LNM roster includes the following teams for the current campaign:

Caborca Rojos
LMB affiliates: Laguna, Yucatan
President: Jesus Leon Garcia
Manager: Leo Arauz
2016 record: 24-50 (no playoffs)
Pennants: 1966, 1975, 2004, 2011
Ballpark: Estadio Heroes de Caborca (5,000)

Ensenada Marineros
LMB Affiliates: Mexico City, Oaxaca
President: Juan Manuel Arellano
Manager: Victor Bojorquez
2016 record: 42-32 (lost to Tecate in first round)
Pennants: 2010, 2012
Ballpark: Estadio Deportivo Antonio Palacios (5,000)

Mexicali Centinelas
LMB Affiliates: Aguascalientes, Monterrey
President: Jose Luis Rodriguez
Manager: Ruben Estrada
2016 record: 42-32 (lost to San Quintin in semifinals)
Pennants: 2015
Ballpark: Estadio B'Air (17,000)
Website: none

Puerto Penasco Tiburones
LMB Affiliates: Saltillo, Tijuana
President: Alcalde Kiki Munro
Manager:  Alejandro Lizarraga
2016 record: 34-40 (lost to San Quintin in first round)
Pennants: 1974, 1978, 2013
Ballpark: Estadio Francisco Leon Garcia (3,500)

San Luis Algodoneros
LMB Affiliates: Monclova, Puebla
President: Francisco Ochoa
Manager: Tim Johnson
2016 record: 39-35 (lost to San Quintin in championship series)
Pennants: 1998, 2000, 22002, 2003
Ballpark: Estadio Andres Mena Montijo (2,500)

San Quintin Freseros
LMB Affiliates: Campeche, Quintana Roo
President: Vicente Garcia
Manager: Benito Camacho
2016 record: 42-32 (defeated San Luis for league championship)
Pennants: 2016
Ballpark: Estadio Dr. Miguel Valdez Salazar (2,200)

Undoubtedly the most-recognizable name on the above directory is San Luis manager Tim Johnson, a former major league shortstop who managed the Toronto Blue Jays to a third-place finish in the American League with an 88-74 record in 1998.  However, after Johnson admitted that stories he'd told Toronto players about his Vietnam War battle experience (when he'd really been a reservist who never left the country) led to his dismissal in the offseason.  He has since managed teams in the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues as well as a number of independent clubs in the States, the apparent victim of a blackball in organized baseball north of the border.

The Liga Norte's 84-game regular season opened April 4 and will conclude July 13, with an LNM All-Star Weekend slated for June 9-11 in Puerto Penasco.  Heading into the current midweek series, defending champs San Quintin sits atop the standings with a 15-9 record, one game ahead of 14-10 Ensenada and three up on 12-12 Ensenada and Puerto Penasco.  Jeremy Acey of Puerto Penasco leads the batting tables with a .393 average, San Quintin's Osniel Maderas has five homers while Juan Carlos Torres of San Luis
is tops with 21 RBIs.  Yeiper de Jesus Castillo of San Luis has the most wins among LNM pitchers with four victories, Castillo's Algondoneros staff mate Miguel Ruiz has a league-leading 34 strikeouts and Ensenada hurler Wanel Vazquez' 1.01 ERA is the lowest among starters.