by Bruce Baskin, Baseball Mexico, http://baseballmexico.blogspot.com/
OVER 130,000 ATTEND NINE LMP WEEKEND HOME OPENERS
The Mexican Pacific League opened its 75th season with three games last Friday night, including the Mex Pac debut of Monterrey and the return of Guasave to the LMP.
Monterrey’s first game was on the road in front of a full house of 17,000 in Mexicali. The Sultanes took an early three-run lead in the top of the first inning on a leadoff homer from minor league veteran Wynton Bernard and a two-run shot by former Angels farmhand Eric Aguilera and went on to hold off the Aguilas, 4-3. Edgar Gonzalez, who also pitches for the Sultanes in the summer, got the win by tossing five innings of two-run ball while former LMP Pitcher of the Year Javier Solano (who allowed both first-inning homers) absorbed the loss for Mexicali.
Guasave’s re-entry into the Mex Pac began well enough, with Mexican president Miguel Andres Lopez Obrador on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon. However, the pregame ceremony may have been the evening’s highlight as visiting Los Mochis converted six innings of one-run pitching by starter Yoanys Quirala into an 8-1 win. Carlos Soto was plunked by a Jake Paulson pitch in the top of the second to push the Caneros’ first run across the plate and Jesus Arredondo scored on Andres Ayon’s 4-6-3 double-play grounder to provide the Caneros with what proved to be the winning run.
Culican’s season lidlifter went a little better as the home Tomateros topped rival Mazatlan, 9-4, as the hosts broke a 4-4 tie with five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, thanks in no small part to a bases-loaded triple by Tomateros shortstop Jose Guadalupe Chavez, the number nine hitter in the Culiacan batting order. The game was played in front of a packed house of 20,000 fanaticos at Estadio Tomateros, the largest crowd of the nine home openers played over the weekend (Sunday’s Jalisco at Obregon lidlifter was postponed due to rain). In all, over 130,000 patrons bought seats to inaugural games for the 2019-20 LMP season for an average of 15,000 per opening.
As is usually the case in Mexican baseball, there are a number of new managers in the Mex Pac this winter. While most are the same names who’ve been recycled so often they’d earn an award from the Environmental Protection Agency, one less than familiar name is Mexicali skipper Bobby Dickerson. Dickerson has, in fact, managed the Aguilas in the past (he took the Eagles to the playoffs in 2009-10 before losing to Obregon in the first round), but is better known as a former Baltimore Orioles third base coach who helped develop such players as Manny Machado after managing in the Cubs system for much of the 2000’s. Dickerson and Machado were reunited when the former was hired as Philadelphia’s infield coach this year.
More familiar managerial figures to longtime observers of Mexican baseball are Benji Gil (Culiacan), Juan Jose Pacho (Mazatlan) and Homar Rojas (Monterrey). Gil and Pacho have led their respective current LMP teams to pennants in the past while Rojas is perennially on short lists when teams are hiring. Vinny Castilla, arguably the most productive Mexican-born player in Major League history, has taken the reins in Hermosillo; Rigo Beltran, who bounced around the majors and Japan between 1997 and 2004, is the dugout boss in Guasave; and longtime catcher Adan Munoz, who took over for the Quintana Roo Tigres over the summer, has been picked to run the show in Navojoa. Back in the saddle are Roberto Vizcarra (defending champion Jalisco), Victor Bojorquez in Los Mochis and Oaxaca’s Sergio Gastelum.
The circuit was formed in 1945 as the Pacific Coast League (not to be confused with the 116-year-old American AAA league of the same name and underwent a pair of name changes over the subsequent 25 years before settling on its current moniker in 1970. While the LMP did not become part of the Caribbean Series until that year and experienced little success and won only three CS championships over its first 32 years as a participant, Culiacan’s 2002 title began a stretch in which the Mex Pac won six crowns in a 14-year stretch (the last coming in when Mazatlan swept their way to the 2016 championship in Santo Domingo). In addition, the LMP has undergone tremendous growth under league president Omar Canizales over the past decade and now has a higher attendance average than any other minor league, summer or winter, on the continent, with nearly 10,000 clicking the turnstiles per game. Fans have been attending games at new or modernized ballparks in every Mex Pac market except Navojoa, where there’s talk about renovating 49-year-old Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Echeverria.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
PRESIDENT: Omar Canizales
SPORTS MANAGER: Christian Veliz
ADMINISTRATOR: Remigio Valencia
DIRECTOR OF UMPIRES: Oscar Marin
CEO: Hector Ley
Sports Manager: Mario Valdez
Manager: Benji Gil
Ballpark: Estadio Tomateros (20,000)
President: Alfredo Aramburo
Sports Manager: Francisco Lizarraga
Manager: Rigo Beltran
Ballpark: Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon (10,000)
CEO: Arturo Leon Lerma
Sports Director: Derek Bryant
Manager: Vinny Castilla
Ballpark: Estadio Sonora (16,000)
President: Salvador Quirarte
Sports Manager: Ray Padilla
Manager: Roberto Vizcarra
Ballpark: Estadio de Beisbol Charros (13,000)
LOS MOCHIS CANEROS
President: Joaquin Vega
Sports Manager: Carlos Sosa
Manager: Victor Bojorquez
Ballpark: Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada (12,000)
President: Jose Antonio Toledo
Sports Manager: Jesus “Chino” Valdez
Manager: Juan Jose Pacho
Ballpark: Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (16,000)
President: Dio Alberto Murillo
Sports Manager: Luis Alfonso Garcia
Manager: Bobby Dickerson
Ballpark: La Nida (17,000)
President: Jose Maiz
Sports Manager: Miguel Flores
Manager: Homar Rojas
Ballpark: Estadio Monterrey (22,061)
President: Victor Cuevas
Sports Manager: Lauro Villalobos
Manager: Adan Munoz
Ballpark: Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Echeverria (11,500)
President: Rene Arturo Rodriguez
GM: Manuel Velez
Manager: Sergio Gastelum
Ballpark: Nuevo Estadio Yaquis (16,000)
SALINAS OUT, GABRIEL MEDINA PICKED AS INTERIM LMB PRESIDENT
To the surprise of nobody, Javier Salinas is no longer president of the Mexican League. After two often-rocky years, the former Liga MX professional soccer marketing executive from Michoacan has been replaced by LMB Director of Planning and Strategy Gabriel Medina on an interim basis.
Salinas was initially hired by the Liga on May 15, 2017 to replace the retiring Plinio Escalante after first serving as a de facto co-president with Escalante through the conclusion of the recently-begun season. He immediately inherited the Rookiegate scandal involving Quintana Roo Tigres prospects who found themselves on the Mexico City Diablos Rojos protected list after the February 2017 purchase of the Tigres by former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela and wife Linda Burgos. Salinas eventually ruled in favor of the Valenzuelas and ordered the Diablos to pay them money received from the Texas Rangers in exchange for two of the former Tigres prospects along with the return of the rights of the prospects (at last report, the Cancun team was still waiting for both their money and prospects).
Then there was the two-season format the Mexican League used in 2018. While attendance and revenue levels were little changed from 2017 during the LMB’s Spring season and playoffs, but interest plummeted during the Fall 2018 miniseason. The experiment was abandoned and replaced with this year’s two-half, 120-game regular season based on standings points (which, to Salinas’ credit, was largely successful). Another controversy ensued when the Rawlings ball that had been used in the Liga was replaced by one manufactured by Franklin that apparently had a rabbit at its core instead of cork, as home run totals skyrocketed in 2019 in a league already known as being hitter-friendly while causing unrest by pitchers.
The final nail in Salinas’ coffin was probably the agreement he brokered between the LMB and Major League Baseball after the latter had frozen the signing of Mexican prospects owned by Liga franchise in the wake of misdeeds involving those teams and MLB scouts. At first the deal was lauded for re-opening the path to the big leagues for young Mexican ballplayers, but it was subsequently discovered in the fine print that in order for MLB teams to collect a 35 percent commission from the sale of their players (who now receive signing bonuses directly instead of receiving a cut of what their LMB team was paid by Major League organizations, as was the case in the past), that player has to have been on the Mexican League roster for one year.
Since the vast majority of teenage Mexican ballplayers aren’t ready for AAA baseball, the Liga teams who own their rights have largely been able to sign prospects south of the border without an LMB team collecting a commission. Developing prospects to sell to MLB teams has developed into a cottage industry for some Mexican teams, and the loss of commissions under the new agreement has cost them tens of millions of pesos. Given that most of those teams had been Salinas supporters, including newly-crowned champion Monclova (whose owner, Gerardo Benavides, essentially handpicked Salinas), the loss of significant revenues from prospect sales meant lost backing for the beleaguered league president and it was a matter of time before a change was made.
In taking over for Salinas, Gabriel Medina has more baseball experience than his predecessor brought to the president’s office. Medina, who has also worked as a FOX Sports commentator, started with the Mexican League nine years ago in their communications and marketing department and eventually worked his way up to Director of Planning and Strategy. He has been actively involved in behind the scenes LMB affairs and a constant presence at Assembly of Presidents meetings, including one last month in Monterrey at which Salinas was not present (considered a bad omen for Salinas’ future).
Medina will fill the president’s position while a permanent leader is sought. Some Mexican baseball scribes have speculated that a new president will likely be announced at December’s baseball winter meetings in San Diego.
VERDES GRANDE PREMIER12 TEAM CHOSEN; CASTRO TO MANAGE
The Mexican National Baseball Team has released its 28-man roster for the upcoming World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier12 tournament, which will be held in November with opening round action at venues in Mexico, Taiwan and South Korea. Mexico will be in Group A with the United States, Dominican Republic and The Netherlands when the four teams congregate in Guadalajara between November 2nd through the 5th. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the Super Round in Japan for round-robin play, with the championship game slated for the Tokyo Dome on November 17. This marks the second Premier12 tournament, with teams vying for berths in next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Guadalajara will be the only city outside Asia to host games.
Mexico’s manager in the Premier12 tourney will be former MLB infielder Juan Castro, who was named in August to replace former catcher Dan Firova at the helm of the Verdes Grande, currently ranked sixth in the WBSC. A 47-year-old Los Mochis native who spent 17 years in the majors, Castro has managed in both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues while his eight coaches include veteran skippers Lorenzo Bundy, Mario Mendoza and Hector Estrada. Castro played for Mexico’s 2006 World Baseball Classic inaugural team and was a coach with the 2013 WBC entry.
While no current Major League Baseball players are on the Verdes Grande roster (including Sergio Romo, Oliver Perez, Alex Verdugo, Joakim Soria and Luis Urias), Mexico’s roster has a mix of Mexican League players, minor league veterans and three players in Asian leagues, several with past big league experience. Tijuana will send five players to Guadalajara next month, many of whom spent time under Castro during his Quixotic 2017 stay in the Gateway to Mexico, while newly-crowned champion Monclova also will be represented by five players. The most prominent members are second baseman Esteban Quiroz, first baseman Efren Navarro, Monclova closer Carlos Bustamante, Acereros outfielder (and Serie del Rey MVP) Noah Perio and a pair of third basemen, former MLBer Christian Villanueva of the NPB Yomiuri Giants and current Acereros cornerman Jose Vargas.
An X-factor on the roster is designated hitter Matt Clark, whose mother is Mexican, has shown light-tower power at times over four LMB seasons since 2017, hitting .316 with 27 homers and 87 RBIs in 79 games this summer for the Bravos. The 2008 NCAA home run champ as an LSU player was traded twice and loaned once en route to playing for four teams in 2018 before signing with Leon as a free agent in April. He suffered a fractured wrist after being struck by a Matt Gage pitch during a June 5 game in Mexico City, adding injury to insult as the Diablos Rojos went on to post a ridiculous 29-0 win over the Bravos. Clark came back on July 31 and hit .351 with six homers over his last ten games and has had plenty of rest since, so the 6’5″ 230-pounder could be a force in home run haven Guadalajara. However, he did struggle in 17 games for the hometown Jalisco Charros of the Mex Pac in 2017-18, batting .200 with two homers in 17 games. Before coming to Mexico, Clark was 5-for-27 (.185) in 16 games for Milwaukee in 2014, his lone MLB season and is one of just three players to belt three homers among five or fewer career big league hits (Keith McDonald and Ed Salicki are the other two, with McDonald dialing 9 on all three of his safeties).
MEXICAN NATIONAL TEAM PREMIER12 ROSTER
Pitchers (14): Manny Barreda (Tijuana LMB), Brendan Bernardino (Tijuana LMB), Carlos Bustamante (Monclova LMB), Humberto Castaneda (Houston A), Jesus Cruz (St. Louis AAA), Felipe Gonzalez (Monterrey LMB), Justin Kelly (Monclova LMB), Orlando Lara (Tijuana LMB), Adam Quintana (Monclova LMB), Horacio Ramirez (Tijuana LMB), Arturo Reyes (Rays AAA), Fernando Salas (Philadelphia AAA), Eduardo Vera (Nationals AAA), Ryan Verdugo (Uni-President CPBL).
Catchers (2): Armando Araiza (Mexico City LMB), Ali Solis (Monterrey LMB).
Infielders (7): Phillip Evans (Chicago Cubs AAA), Jorge Flores (Yucatan LMB), Efren Navarro (Hanshin NPB), Esteban Quiroz (San Diego AAA), Javier Salazar (Tijuana LMB), Jose Vargas (Monclova LMB), Christian Villanueva (Yomiuri NPB).
Outfielders (4): Jesus Fabela (Mexico City LMB), Jonathan Jones (Yucatan LMB), Juan Perez (Saltillo LMB), Noah Perio (Monclova (LMB).
Designated Hitter: Matt Clark (Leon LMB).
Manager: Juan Gabriel Castro.
Coaches (8): Martin Arzate (Monclova LMB), Lorenzo Bundy (Monclova LMB), Hector Estrada (Oaxaca LMB), Santos Hernandez, Mario Mendoza, Ruben Niebla (Cleveland), Humberto Sosa (Yucatan), Gil Velazquez (Arizona).