Friday, June 16, 2017

85th LMB All-Star Game slated for this weekend in Campeche

The Mexican League's All-Star Weekend is on tap for this weekend in the port city of Campeche, home of the Piratas.  Things will begin Friday night with a gala dinner honoring the Liga's 2016 award winners.  On Saturday at 6PM EDT, eight players participate in the Home Run Derby at 8,000-seat Estadio Nelson Barrera Romellon.  The 85th All-Star Game is set for Sunday at 8PM EDT.  An unprecedented eleven television channels, including ESPN2 and Azteca, will carry the game.

Tijuana manager Pedro Mere, who led the Toros to last season's Serie del Rey against Puebla, will be running the North Division team while Yucatan skipper Willie Romero, whose Leones posted the best record in the Liga in 2016, will direct the LMB South squad.  Mere will bring his TJ coaching staff to Campeche for the contest while Romero's five coaches will come from three teams, including Piratas manager Lino Rivera and Quintana Roo skipper Roberto Vizcarra.

Here are the respective 32-man rosters, most of whom were voted in on a record 543,827 fan ballots (pitchers were selected by managers and selection committees from each division):

Pitchers (13) - Octavio Acosta (Mexico City), Angel Castro (Monterrey), Frankie de la Cruz (Saltillo), Yohan Flande (Aguascalientes), Chad Gaudin (Monclova), Arturo Lopez (Mexico City), Josh Lowey (Monclova), Wirfin Obispo (Monterrey), Jose Oyervides (Monclova), Danny Rodriguez (Saltillo), Tiago da Silva (Durango), Mark Serrano (Tijuana), Jason Urquidez (Tijuana).
Catchers (2) - Said Gutierrez (Monterrey), Carlos Rodriguez (Aguascalientes).
Infielders (9) - Ricky Alvarez (Union Laguna), Luis Borges (Saltillo), Jesse Castillo (Aguascalientes), Alex Liddi (Tijuana), Daniel Mayora (Durango), Ramon Rios (Monterrey), Saul Soto (Aguascalientes), Ramon Urias (Mexico City), Amadeo Zazueta (Saltillo).
Outfielders (8) - Zoilo Almonte (Monterrey), Corey Brown (Tijuana), Yadir Drake (Durango), Justin Greene (Saltillo), Cyle Hankerd (Tijuana), Luis Juarez (Monterrey), Chris Roberson (Monterrey), Iván Terrazas (Mexico City).

Pitchers (13) - Raul Barron (Quintana Roo), Ronald Belisario (Yucatan), Francisco Campos (Campeche), Irwin Delgado (Oaxaca), Manuel Flores (Veracruz), Deunte Heath (Puebla), Derrick Loop (Campeche), Nestor Molina (Veracruz), Yoanner Negrin (Yucatan), Fernando Nieve (Veracruz), Pablo Ortega (Quintana Roo), Josh Roenicke (Puebla), Jose Samayoa (Yucatan).
Catchers (2) - Erick Rodriguez (Oaxaca), Cesar Tapia (Puebla).
Infielders (9) - Jesus Arredondo (Puebla), Balbino Fuenmayor (Veracruz), Carlos Gastelum (Quintana Roo), Paul Leon (Campeche), Carlos Lopez (Veracruz), Sandy Madera (Tabasco), Esteban Quiroz (Yucatan), C.J. Retherford (Campeche), Issmael Salas (Puebla).
Outfielders (8) - Jose Juan Aguilar (Yucatan), Leandro Castro (Leon), Endy Chavez (Puebla), Frank Diaz (Campeche), Leo Heras (Yucatan), Ronnier Mustelier (Yucatan), Jesus Valdez (Yucatan).

Unlike previous All-Star Games in the LMB, this year's edition will not determine home-field advantage in September's Serie del Rey best-of-seven championship set.

Saturday's Home Run Derby, which has been named after former Nuevo Laredo star Alejandro Ortiz (who is third on the Liga's list behind Barrera and Hector Espino with 434 career roundtrippers), will feature four sluggers from each division:  Jesse Castillo of Aguascalientes, Durango's Yadir Drake and Tijuana teammates Alex Liddi and Corey Brown will represent the LMB North while the South will send out Veracruz' Balbino Fuenmayor, Leandro Castro of Leon, Issmael Salas of Puebla and Campeche's Frank Diaz.  All are playing in the All-Star Game one day later.  Liddi won last year's Home Run Derby at Mexico City in a unique setting in which a baseball diamond was laid out at the Zocalo Capitalino, a major plaza in the nation's capital.

The weekend will be important for Liga president Plinio Escalante, who has been concerned about extinguishing one fire after another for various reasons since the 2016 season and it likely won't be three days of relaxation for the outgoing leader.  Escalante is expected to convene a meeting of the LMB Assembly of Presidents in Campeche to discuss, among other things, the status of the Leon Bravos.  The Bravos reportedly yet to pay any franchise fees attached to the purchase of the former Reynosa Broncos last November by Potosinos courier serivce owner Arturo Blanco, leading Escalante to initiate disqualification of the franchise, possibly during the season.  That is expected to be the topic du jour with the Assembly, but it may not be the only pressing issue to be taken up.

The other involves the Tabasco Olmecas, who have long been an also-ran on and off the field.  Tabasco made its LMB debut in 1975, with a 1993 pennant to show for the past four decades and has only qualified for the playoffs once since 2007.  Of greater concern to Escalante and LMB team presidents is that attendance in Villahermosa, never strong in the best years, has plummeted this season.  The Olmecas have played at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero in front of fewer than 1,000 fans on a number of occasions in 2017, possibly setting a Liga record Wednesday night when only 135 warm bodies were in the stands of the 10,000-seat ballpark to see Tabasco split a doubleheader with division-leading Yucatan one night after a power failure interrupted the series opener in the top of the second inning, leading umpires to postpone the game after three hours of darkness.  Thursday's getaway game was mercifully called due to rain.  The Olmecas are now deep in last place in the LMB attendance derby with an average of 1,592 fans clicking the turnstiles at 33 home games.

The potential expulsion of Leon would cut the league roster to 15 teams, creating a scheduling nightmare for the final two months of the season, so a similar disqualification of Tabasco to stop the bleeding would maintain an even number of teams (although there would be a rescheduling scramble regardless).  In fairness, team owners Juan Luis and Juan Jose Dagdug have reportedly kept their league fees current, kept ticket prices among the lowest in the league to draw fans to their 53-year-old ballpark and otherwise tried to maintain a degree of relevancy with the Olmecas.  The Dagdugs do not necessarily deserve to lose their franchise.  On the other hand, the Mexican League can't afford to have only 135 people at their games.  Something has to give and if it doesn't happen this weekend, the matter will certainly be addressed after the season when incoming LMB president Javier Salinas succeeds the retiring Escalante.