by Bruce Baskin, Baseball Mexico, http://baseballmexico.blogspot.com/
LMP TO OPEN PLAY THURSDAY AMID VIRUS CONCERNS
Despite ongoing worries about possible effects the ongoing Wuhan virus pandemic might have on both the playing field and in the stands, the Mexican Pacific League is preparing for the opener of its 76th season of winterball on Thursday night, when five games are slated to be played. While the LMP expects to become the first professional baseball league across the globe to start their season on time and (mostly) with people in the stands, things could be running a little smoother.
On the positive side, the Los Mochis Caneros have gotten the okay from local government to open Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada seating to 40 percent capacity for home games this winter. The leader of the Municipal Health Directorate in Ahome, Dr. Francisco Espinoza Valverde, and Civil Protection director Salvador Lamphar toured the ballpark with Caneros owner Joaquin Vega to verify that protocols are being followed and subsequently gave the green light for fans to witness games in person. Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada is located in Ahome, a community of over 10,000 within the municipality of the same name in which Los Mochis is the seat, thus local officials have jurisdiction for such decisions.
Since the stadium seats 12,000 under normal circumstances, the adjusted capacity to start the season will drop to 4,500 for the start of the season. There will be signage indicating which seats may or may not be used, with no more than three seats allowed to be purchased together. Tickets for Caneros home games are due to go on sale Monday. The decision brought the number of Mex Pac teams being allowed to host games with people in the seats to six: Culiacan, Guasave, Hermosillo, Los Mochis, Mazatlan and Mexicali.
On the other hand, Septima Entrada eports that Jalisco governor Enrique Alfaro has confirmed that due to conditions related to the pandemic, the public will not be allowed to attend sporting events in the state, including Jalisco Charros home games in Guadalajara. “This is an endurance race and it is not known how long it will last,” Alfaro said on Twitter. “We are all tired, with exhaustion from not being able to go out, of not being able to celebrate in the stadiums, of not celebrating our traditions, but it is not time to relax things.”
Alfaro noted that Jalisco is one of many states in the country designated with a virtual orange traffic light, which reflects the second-highest stage of alert in Mexico. “For now, there are no conditions to advance in the opening of new activities. We still cannot allow the return of people to the stadiums or the opening of clubs or any type of massive activity,” added the governor.
To complicate things even further, Sinaloa (where four of the five LMP teams planning to allow fans play) is one of seven states in which their virtual traffic lights have been downgraded from yellow to orange, which has the potential to force those teams to rescind their decisions and play behind closed doors. The state of Sonora, which has Mex Pac teams in Hermosillo, Navojoa and Obregon, is still under a yellow traffic light but ironically none of those three clubs had said they’d be playing in front of limited capacity crowds until the Naranjeros made a statement to that effect on Saturday. Monterrey, in the virus-ravaged state of Nuevo Leon, will also be playing before empty seats.
Last week, the LMP office in Guadalajara announced that 669 tests for the Wuhan virus had been carried out in two stages. “The first stage showed that 25% of the players had already contracted the virus prior to arrival at the training fields and that they already had antibodies,” the press release states. “7.7% of the players and coaches were positive at that time in the first stage. 6.2% of the players and coaches were positive in a second stage.”
The press release adds that both stages of the tests were applied to the same people, showing that the LMP protocol has “generated a downward result in infections” and that the number of positives has been lower than the average of each state where games are played. More to the point, the league says “the results to date to not represent a threat for the season to take place.” Teams will be allowed to use players from extended 70-man rosters to allow for more flexibility in case the virus hits any of them harder than anticipated.
Thursday’s schedule has Jalisco at Monterrey to take the cellophane off the season at 5:00PM EDT, followed by Guasave at Culiacan (9:00PM EDT), Mazatlan at Los Mochis (9:30EDT), Mexicali at Obregon (10:10 EDT) and Hermosillo at Navojoa (10:30 EDT).
TIGRES TO LEAVE CANCUN, HOPE TO LAND IN SONORAN CITY
One of the Mexican League’s flagship franchises will be moving for the third time in less than 20 years years after Quintana Roo Tigres owner Fernando Valenzuela notified the league office of his intention to shift the team out of Cancun after 14 years in the resort city. While nothing is firm yet, the former Cy Young Award winner and his wife Linda are planning to move the Tigres to the border city of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora.
Formed in 1955, the Mexico City Tigres (first under founder Alejo Peralta and then his son Carlos) formed an intense rivalry with the Diablos Rojos as the two teams shared the beloved Social Security Park for 45 years before it was razed and replaced by a shopping center. After playing the 2000 and 2001 seasons and winning pennants both years at Foro Sol (a larger facility but ill-suited for baseball), the younger Peralta moved the club to Puebla in 2002 and renamed them the Angelopolis Tigres. They shared Estadio Hermanos Serdan with the Pericos for five years and won the LMB pennant in 2005, but Carlos Peralta moved the team again, this time in 2007 to Cancun. Now known as the Quintana Roo Tigres, the team won three pennants between 2011 and 2015 but never really caught on with locals or tourists, who were more interested in spending time at the beach or in the bars.
Carlos Peralta was a competent owner by LMB standards, but his passion never came close to his father’s and he was ready to sell the Tigres after ten seasons in Cancun. Enter Fernando Valenzuela, who had pitched against the team in Mexico City when he was a teenager pitching for Yucatan in 1979. Valenzuela and his wife bought the Tigres franchise from Peralta in February 2017 and immediately began having problems.
After partners bailed out to leave the Valenzuelas as the sole owners, five Tigres prospects who’d been on a list of players they were given while negotiating for the team had been transferred to the Diablos Rojos before they assumed ownership. The Rookiegate scandal, which resulted in two of those prospects being sold to the Texas Rangers for over $2 million, soured the Valenzuelas (who could’ve used the money to counteract the meager crowds at Estadio Beto Avila) and they had to run the once-proud franchise on a frayed shoestring over the next three years. The canceled 2020 season likely sealed the Tigres’ fate in Cancun.
When Proceso writer Beatriz Pereyra tweeted less than a month ago that the Tigres would be moving, the team categorically denied her but Pereyra stood her ground and repeated what she’d heard. As it turns out, she was correct. Although many people have clamored for years to have the Tigres back in Mexico City and others in Veracruz have been trying to bring an LMP team back to the port city, Valenzuela is said to be planning to move the ballclub to San Luis Rio Colorado, a city of 200,000 sitting on the Mexico-Arizona border that has never had a team in either the Mexican League or Mexican Pacific League.
San Luis Rio Colorado (commonly known as simply “San Luis”) has been a member of the North Mexico League. The Algodoneros, who can trace their own beginnings to 1946, won their third LNM pennant in seven years in 2019 but the future for that club, classified as Class AA in the Mexican system, is in doubt. The city has refurbished Estadio Andres Mena Montijo from 2,500 seats into a new-look facility that can hold 7,000 spectators, and the Algodoneros were reportedly refused the opportunity to lease the updated ballpark this year before the Liga Norte shut down anyway due to the Wuhan virus.
Although San Luis would be one of the smallest markets in the Mexican League, it’s located in the baseball-crazy state of Sonora, a proven breeding ground for players and fans. San Luis has hosted games for past editions of the Mexican Baseball Fiesta with good turnouts, so crowds may be above the LMB average at worst. The city is located less than 300 miles from Valenzuela’s home base in Los Angeles, a much shorter commute than Cancun has been. The Tijuana Toros would have a natural travel partner, although one never knows how the Uribe family would react to a team that could draw fans from Mexicali or even Yuma who’ve been going to El Nido for ballgames. While San Luis can get scorching hot in the summer, so does Monclova and all the Acereros did was win the last MLB pennant. San Luis mayor Santos Gonzalez already has a good relationship with president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Both Fernando and his son, Tigres GM Fernando Junior, have visited San Luis and toured the ballpark. The stars seem to all be aligned.
In other words, barring fireworks at the next Assembly of Presidents meeting, we’ll be seeing the San Luis Tigres in 2021. Then again, what would a Mexican League Assembly of Presidents meeting be without fireworks?
TOROS SKIPPER VIZQUEL ACCUSED OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
A nasty divorce process just got nastier after Tijuana Toros manager (and Cooperstown candidate) Omar Vizquel’s soon-to-be ex-wife accused him of domestic violence during a session on Instagram Live.
“I am in a divorce process,” Blanca Vizquel said last week, according to Puro Beisbol. “It is a hard process where the man wants me to shut my mouth. That is his request: That I keep my mouth shut so as not to damage his career, so as not to damage his Hall of Fame chances, but he never thought of me nor my well-being. I was his trophy. It cut off all my hopes and dreams.”
Omar Vizquel’s first wife, Nicole, was a Seattle native the Venezuelan had met as a young player with the Mariners, leading to their 1992 marriage and two children before their.divorce a few years later. Blanca Garcia, a Colombian fitness trainer 20 years younger than the 53-year-old ex-shortstop, married the 11-time Gold Glove winner in 2014.
After retiring as a player in 2012 following a 24-year MLB career in which he played in three All-Star Games and collected 2,877 hits, Vizquel has gone into coaching. After spending time as a roving instructor for Angels minor leaguers and as Detroit’s infield coach for four years between 2014 and 2017, he moved to the Chicago White Sox system in 2018, leading Winston-Salem to an 84-54 record in the Class A Carolina League and then 64-74 with Class AA Birmingham for 2019 before the Chisox let him go. Vizquel also managed Venezuela to a 2-5 record in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Vizquel was hired to manage Tijuana in 2020 but saw the season end before it got started after the Mexican League canceled its schedule. Now his future with the Toros may be in doubt due to these allegations.
Blanca Vizquel also said on Instagram, “He demanded that I go everywhere with him so in order to not bother him and for not pay the consequences, I had to agree to smile, be well-dressed and well-groomed with makeup, when all I wanted was to cry…but it wasn’t an option for me.” In a story posted on the en24.com website in Venezuela, she claimed that Vizquel lost his job with the White Sox for this reason and that he only gave her “crumbs of money” because he did not stop financially supporting his ex-wife. She said she couldn’t elaborate on the case at the suggestion of her lawyers but details about her troubled relationship with Vizquel would soon be revealed. No details of actual physical violence have been given.