|Mexico City infielder Emmanuel Avila|
After leading the Mexican League South Division for the first month of the season, the Oaxaca Guerreros have faltered a bit, giving both the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Puebla Pericos the opportunity to sneak past the Guerreros into first place in what is turning into a three-team race for LMB South supremacy five weeks into the campaign.
The Diablos have won seven of their last ten games to go to 20-13 (tied with Puebla for first, one game ahead of Oaxaca), including four of six road games last week in Aguascalientes and Durango. Despite losing Sunday's game to the Generales, 13-10, Mexico City scored 31 runs over three games at Estadio Francisco Villa. Red Devils third baseman Emmanuel Avila played the last two games of the weekend set after missing the previous four contests (including the entire Aguascalientes series) by going a combined 5-for-10 Saturday and Sunday with a homer in each game and five RBIs.
A former White Sox minor leaguer, Avila carried a relatively low profile into his tenth Liga year in 2019 despite playing in Mexico's capital and largest city, but the 30-year-old Los Mochis native has quietly crafted a .306 career batting average with All-Star Game appearances in 2013-2015 and 2018. Avila is hitting .394 with six homers over 27 games and may serve as an object lesson of sorts.
This season has seen the Mexican League switch from using a Rawlings ball to a Franklin variety, with pitchers thus far coming out on the short end of the exchange. Five teams batted above .300 in the LMB's 56-game Fall 2018 season while 14 clubs are above the .300 mark 33 tilts into the 2019 schedule. As well, while six teams averaged at least one homer per game last autumn, 14 of the Liga's 16 franchises are topping that figure this year. As with Major League Baseball to the north, there are not-so-quiet whispers that the Franklin ball used in the LMB has been juiced to raise offensive numbers for Mexico's senior circuit. The murmuring had to get louder after Sunday's game in Aguascalientes, where the Rieleros combined with visiting Oaxaca to hit 13 homers in the Railroaders' 22-6 win over the Guerreros.
In the LMB North, the Monclova Acereros are holding on to first place with a Liga-best 24-9 record, one game ahead of 23-10 Tijuana and four up on 20-13 Monterrey and Dos Laredos. The Steelers have won eight of their last ten outings, copping two of three games apiece in road series at Quintana Roo and Yucatan last week. The Tigres snapped Monclova's 10-game win streak last Thursday, 7-4, scoring all seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning (thanks in part to Brandon Villareal's three-run homer), but the Acereros have otherwise been literally batting opponents into submission with a .341 team average and 56 homers while scoring over eight runs per game.
Veteran pitcher Josh "The Mayor" Lowey has benefitted the most from the cushion his batting order has provided him with a perfect 6-0 record this season. Lowey had a rough outing during a no-decision start in Merida Sunday, allowing four earned runs on six hits and three walks over six innings in a 6-4 loss to the Leones, but he was sharp in last Tuesday's series opener at Cancun, allowing just one run and striking out five Tigres batsmen in a 6-3 Acereros win. Lowey's win over Quintana Roo edged him past Monterrey's 5-0 Edgar Gonzalez for the LMB lead in that category. He's now tied for second with Alex Delgado of Oaxaca with 42 strikeouts, trailing only Yasutomo Kubo's 53 whiffs for Leon.
After Kubo's great opening start for the Bravos against Aguascalientes on April 5, holding the potent Rieleros scoreless with ten K's in seven frames, the 38-year-old former Rookie of the Year in Japan's Pacific League has struggled to a 2-3 record and 5.72 ERA in seven starts. Unheralded Raul Carrillo of Saltillo has gone the opposite route, following a rugged first start at Monclova (4 innings, 3 runs) with a string of six good outings to lower his ERA to an LMB-low 1.79, well below the 2.40 mark of Tijuana's James Russell and Jose Samayoa of Yucatan. Monclova closer Carlos Bustamante is back home in Mexico after two years in the Diamondbacks system and the Navojoa product is leading the Liga with ten saves in ten opportunities. Bustamante has 21 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.
Among batters, Aguascalientes third sacker Jose Vargas was already one tough hombre for pitchers when the LMB was using a Rawlings ball, but the Ventura (CA) College alum has become a total beast since he started swinging at the Franklin. Vargas is second only to Tabasco's Ronnier Mustelier (.439) in the batting race while his 18 homers and 44 runs batted in both lead the loop. Chris Carter of Monclova is second with 17 roundtrippers while Vargas' Rieleros teammate Michael Wing is third at 16 (Wing's 42 ribbies are second to Vargas). Dos Laredos outfielder Johnny Davis stole three bases last week, two of them on May 9 in Yucatan, to bring his season total to 19 swipes. Quintana Roo's Alonzo Harris is second with 11 steals.
One major deal was enacted last Tuesday when the Quintana Roo Tigres loaned star second Manny Rodriguez to Saltillo. The 36-year-old Rodriguez spent his first ten Liga seasons with the Saraperos and earning three All-Star Game berths before being dealt to Puebla for third baseman Rolando Acosta after the 2015 season. He was a member of the 2016 pennant-winning Pericos before the former Puebla-Monclova shuttle operated by Gerardo Benavides (who owned both teams) landed Rodriguez with the Acereros for 2017. Frustrated with what he felt was bad team chemistry, Rodriguez left the Acereros two weeks into last year's Spring season and sat for another two weeks until his rights were assigned to the Tigres. He never really adjusted to playing in Cancun, however, leading to his loan back to the drier climes of Saltillo. Thus far, the move seems to agree with the Guasave product. After suffering to a .202 average with one homer in 25 games with the Tigres, Rodriguez is hitting .370 after six games with the Saraperos.
LMB ALL-STAR WEEKEND SET FOR MEXICO CITY, TIX ON SALE
|Javier Salinas, Alfredo Harp Helu, Othon Diaz|
The Mexican League has formally announced the schedule of events and ticket prices for their mid-June All-Star Weekend in Mexico City's Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu. LMB president Javier Salinas led a press conference last week with Diablos Rojos owner (and ballpark namesake) Harp and Diablos team president Dr. Othon Diaz also at the dais.
All-Star Weekend will convene Friday, June 14 with a Media Day featuring players from both the North and South teams available at Estadio AHH (venue for all All-Star events) from 5-7PM local time. Saturday, June 15 will include a celebrity softball game, the Double Play Derby and a formal presentation of awards from the 2018 seasons before the Home Run Derby closes festivities.
The All-Star Game itself will take place Sunday, June 16 at 6PM local time following an opening ceremony, presentation of All-Star rings to players and coaches and salutes to 27-year veteran pitcher Francisco Campos (fourth all-time in the LMB with 2,169 strikeouts and two victories away from his 200th career win) and umpire Humberto Saiz, who's in his 31st season as a Liga arbiter after working 16 All-Star Games, 25 Serie del Reys. and four Major League spring games in four different seasons.
Monterrey manager Roberto Kelly will head the North All-Stars as a reward for taking the Sultanes to their tenth pennant last September, capping his first year managing in Mexico. A two-time All-Star during his 14-year MLB career, Kelly was a coach for three World Series champions in San Francisco and managed several seasons in the Giants system before coming to Mexico in 2018.
Leading the South will be Oaxaca skipper Sergio Gastelum, who brought the Guerreros to their first Serie del Rey since 1998 (the only campaign to produce a Oaxaca title) last September. Gastelum, an LMB infielder for 23 years before his 2017 retirement, then was voted Manager of the Year in the Mexican Pacific League after coaxing Obregon to 34 wins in 57 outings and the Yaquis' first postseason in three winters.
Two-day tickets for Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th went on sale Monday, May 13. Prices range from 870 pesos (about US$46) for VIP seats to 160 pesos (US$8.42) for reserved outfield seats, while some grass berm space will be sold for 120 pesos (US$6.24). Tickets can be purchased at either Diablos Rojos team offices in Mexico City or via TicketMaster, with the latter's ubiquitous services fees undoubtedly added for your mandatory convenience.
Cuarto Bat WRITER'S TOP 6 MEXICAN BALLPARKS (PART 3)
A writer for Mexican baseball website Cuarto Bat, Yasser Trujillo, posted a column in April about his picks for the top six ballparks in the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues. Here is the third part of a series in which we bring you a translated version. Although it was reported last week in BBM that Cuarto Bat's site had since apparently been suspended, according to a Google search, we're glad to report that it is back online at CuartoBat.com and that you can download a free copy of their February magazine.
4. Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú, Mexico City
In a similar case to the Mazatlán Venados, this is a stadium that, once finished, will surely climb several rungs on this list. However, at the moment it still lacks those "small details" that would put it in a more privileged place.
Finally, after four years of waiting, the fans of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos have a property worthy of the size and importance of the most winning team in this country.
Located inside a huge park known as Ciudad Deportiva de la Magdalena Mixhuca, the newly-opened Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú in 2019 has already earned the status of the most modern, comfortable and functional stadium in all of Mexico City. It is a facility that has one of the most original exterior designs of Mexican baseball: a huge roof like a trinche resting on several pyramids that make reference to the great Tenochtitlan.
It has a huge internal corridor of 270 degrees. They do not allow you access to the outfield seats unless you have a ticket for that section. It has a spectacular store with two levels, elevators and ramps, a food area with a wide offer for all tastes, offers an impressive view from any point, and even an ATM exists inside.
It is a majestic scenario endorsed by the MLB and that in 2019 will host official games of Major League Baseball.
The museum of fame is still under construction and expected to be inaugurated in mid-2019. On the other hand, the installation of television sets in the corridors remains unknown. Walking through the lobby or standing in the long concessions lines without knowing what is going on in the field while listening to everyone chant is frustrating. It is said that there will also be a restaurant, and that over time maybe the internal rules will be more friendly.
At the moment, treatment of the visitor is very limiting and annoying, something that contrasts with the friendly rules that characterize most baseball parks. It is a very important test year for the Harp Helú Stadium. The ones in charge of this beautiful property must transcend and attract people once the inaugural fashion disappears, but these are the same directors with their vision of how to treat the fan. Only time will render a verdict.