by Bruce Baskin, Baseball Mexico, http://baseballmexico.blogspot.com/
IT’S OFFICIAL: MAZATLAN OKAYED FOR ’21 CARIBBEAN SERIES
Although Mazatlan was selected several months ago as host of the 2021 Caribbean Series, the ongoing controversy involving the Mexican Pacific League’s Venados and the City of Mazatlan over an alleged breach of contract by the team made the event an up-in-the-air proposition. Until last Wednesday.
During a four-way videoconference last Thursday featuring Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation president Juan Francisco Puello, Mex Pac president Omar Canizalez, Venados executive president Ismael Barros and Mazatlan Mayor Luis Guillermo Benitez, Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros reports that it was Mayor Benitez who made the official announcement that his city will indeed be the site of the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball next winter as the other three indicated their agreement.
There was doubt that the Serie del Caribe would be played in Mazatlan until last week’s announcement. Puello had given the LMP a June 30 deadline to confirm issues in the coastal city had been resolved or run the risk of the tournament being moved to another Mex Pac city or even out of Mexico. For their part, Canizales warned the Venados that the LMP would move the Caribbean Series elsewhere themselves if matters had not been settled by the time the videoconference was convened.
The simmering controversy between the City and the Venados erupted on the morning of Monday, April 6 when a contingent of people from the Mazatlan Legal Department led by city council secretary Jose de Jesus Flores entered publicly-owned Estadio Teodoro Mariscal and physically removed team employees from the ballpark with orders to retrieve their belongings by the end of that week, then padlocked the ballpark shut with security placed on the premises.
The move was the culmination of a dispute in which the City accused the Venados of breach of their lease of the 16,000-seat facility. Among the charges were that the team failed to deliver free game tickets to local seniors, withheld promised support to local basketball players and boxers and refused to allow the City to use the stadium to deliver Wuhan virus relief services to seniors.
Perhaps the most crippling blow to the Venados was the City’s removal of the ballpark’s concessions contract from team owner Jose Antonio Toledo, whose family has controlled that activity for four decades. Although details of any tentative agreement between the City and ballclub have been announced, it can be presumed that none of the issues have been resolved (including the concessions contract) and that pending lawsuits are expected to move ahead upon the conclusion of the Serie del Caribe.
Tensions between the City and Venados go back at least as far as November 2018, a month after the ballpark was officially reopened following an offseason renovation costing 416 million public pesos (US$18 million), when a clandestine drinking system was discovered and water to Estadio Teodoro Mariscal was shut off by by municipally-owned Jumapam, who also stated the team owed over a million pesos in unpaid water bills. That imbrogio was eventually resolved but relations have remained shaky ever since.
Differences have been set aside for the time being, however, and Puello predicts a successful Caribbean Series next February. “We are going to have a very good Serie del Caribe,” he said. “The Covid is there but, by the grace of God, we are going to overcome it.”
Mazatlan last hosted the Caribbean Series in 2005, when the hometown Venados won the championship, marking the only time that a Mexican host team has won the tournament.
LMP CONFIRMS PLAN TO PLAY IN 2020-21, 3 FOREIGNERS PER TEAM
During a virtual Assembly of Presidents meeting last Wednesday, the Mexican Pacific League reaffirmed plans to move forward with a full schedule for the upcoming 2020-21 winterball season despite concerns presented by the ongoing Wuhan virus panicdemic. LMP president Omar Canizales had made a similar statement in late June after the Mexican League officially announced the cancellation of their 95th season.
In a press release from the league office in Guadalajara, Canizales stated, “I thank the owners of the teams for the degree of commitment they show in this complex scenario. Their commitment to the players, staff, collaborators and the communities where they participate have inspired them to make extraordinary efforts to carry out our next season, even at the cost of having economic losses.” He added that strict health-related protocols will be put into place to ensure the safety of everyone in the stands and on the playing fields.
Canizales earned a marketing degree at Universidad Regiomontano in Monterrey and spent five years as a Cuauhtémoc brewery executive in the state of Chihuahua before becoming the Mex Pac president in 2009 following the death of Renato Vega. He has since overseen the circuit’s remarkable growth ever since but admitted in June that the LMP and its teams all expect to lose money over the coming season if they play behind closed doors, a likely scenario. A schedule will be released in the coming weeks.
A potentially contentious debate among the ten LMP owners was resolved with a compromise when it was announced during the videoconference that each team will be allowed up to three foreign players on their active roster next season. Last year, franchises were allowed to carry as many as 12 extraneros each but with the pending financial crunch and the relative expense at bringing in non-Mexican players, opinions were split down the middle as to whether teams should be allowed to suit up imports at all this winter.
That’s if there IS a winterball season in 2020-21, of course, although Canizales says his office and member teams will do everything they can to make it happen, with a targeted Opening Day of October 12: “We have reached the conclusion and with the importance that it represents for Mexican baseball, for families and for society, that we will play the 2020-2021 season of the Mexican Pacific League.”
“The owners have stuck out their chests to be responsible and despite the uncertainty that this pandemic represents, the commitment with players, the coaching staff and many people who work within baseball is confirmed, it has been decided to start in October with the season.”
SULTANES REPLACE ROJAS AS MANAGER WITH GERARDO ALVAREZ
After months of silence regarding the status of their Mexican Pacific League team manager, Homar Rojas, the Monterrey Sultanes have finally announced that Rojas is out and Pittsburgh Pirates minor league manager Gerardo Alvarez will be in charge for the team’s second winterball season in 2020-21. The Sultanes finished their inaugural LMP campaign with a 26-41 record and missed the eight-team postseason.
A native of Oceanside, California who played collegiately at Texas Tech, the 40-year-old Alvarez was Baltimore’s 16th round draft pick in 2002 and went on to play infield for six seasons in the Orioles system, batting .236 with 32 homers while getting as far as AAA Norfolk, for whom he played five games in 2007. Alvarez then hit .178 for Somerset of the independent Atlantic League in 2008, his final year as a player. Known more for his versatility than his bat, Alvarez played every position on the field but catcher.
Alvarez made his debut as a manager with the Oakland County Cruisers of the Frontier League in 2010, leading the Michigan-based indy team to a 53-43 record and third place in the East Division. He then managed Pittsburgh’s Dominican Summer League affiliate two years later as the Rookie-level Pirates went 44-26 in the regular season and went on to win the DSL pennant. Alvarez has remained in the Pittsburgh farm system since, managing Bradenton of the Class A Florida State League in 2017 and 2018 before taking the Pirates Gulf Coast League squad to an 18-26 mark last year.
During that time, he was also coaching during the winter in the LMP with both Mexicali and Mazatlan, with whom he was the third base coach for the 2016 Caribbean Series champion Venados. Alvarez’ hiring marked final confirmation of which ten managers would open the Mex Pac season in October.
Although he has a decent background on both sides of the foul lines, Alvarez’ hiring might have raised some eyebrows in Monterrey, where team co-owner Jose “Pepe” Maiz’ virulent opposition to Mexican-Americans led to a near-split of the Mexican League in recent seasons. It’s not unreasonable to believe that Alvarez’ managerial leash will be even shorter with the Sultanes than it would be would be elsewhere and that the team’s press release telling him “Together with you in search of victory, supporting you in every decision” can be taken with a grain of salt.