by Bruce Baskin, Baseball Mexico, http://baseballmexico.blogspot.com/
MEX PAC OPENS SEASON, FANS IGNORING PROTOCOLS
The Mexican Pacific League opened its 2020-21 season last Thursday with a full slate of five games, four with fans in the stands. Two more teams received approval to allow a limited amount of seats to be sold at home games to bring the number to eight of ten LMP franchises. The only two clubs being required to play behind closed doors are Monterrey and Jalisco, where governors of their respective states have ruled out audiences at sporting events.
In Monterrey, the Sultanes trounced the visiting Jalisco Charros, 14-4, with no paid onlookers at Estadio Monterrey behind the big bat of veteran Jose Amador. The 41-year-old Mexicali native crashed a pair of doubles and a two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning off Jalisco starter Elian Leyva en route to a seven RBIs for the night. Another veteran, ex-Diamondback pitcher Edgar Gonzalez, was far from sharp on the mound (10 hits and 4 runs over 5 innings) but he didn’t have to be as his Monterrey mates chased Leyva after three frames (9 hits, 3 walks and 8 runs) and cracked 19 safeties for the contest. Henry Urrutia had a good night in a losing cause for the Charros by collecting three hits, including a double and homer.
The largest crowd among the four games with people in the seats was in Obregon, where 7,982 fans witnessed a 7-5 Yaquis win over Mexicali. Carlos Sepulveda had three hits, including a two-run double, and drove in three counters for the winners, but it was Tirso Ornelas’ sixth-inning solo homer off Aguilas reliever Nicolas Heredia that broke a 5-5 tie in what proved the game-winning hit. Mike Choice belted a solo homer for the Eagles, who also two hits from Balbino Fuenmayor, including a double and two RBIs.
While the home team won both above games, visitors were victorious in the other three contests. One of those were the Mazatlan Venados, who came away with a 5-2 triumph in Los Mochis. A crowd of 4,251 looked on as Ramon Rios stroked a two-run single for the Deer while Issmael Salas singled twice and drew a walk. Francisco Rios posted a strong start for the winners, allowing two hits over five shutout innings for the win. Eddy Martinez was 2-for-4 at the plate for the Caneros but Los Mochis starter Daniel Duarte was touched for five runs in five entradas, allowing five hits and walking another four to absorb the loss.
Hermosillo took a 5-0 shutout win in Navojoa Thursday night, giving 3,107 (mostly) Mayos fans little to cheer about. Naranjeros starter Juan Pablo Oramas was sharp in the opener, sprinkling two hits and striking out eight batters over five innings for the win, sharing the whitewash with three relievers. Yadiel Hernandez socked a pair of solo homers for the Orangemen while Francisco Peguero and Luis Alfonso Cruz each went deep. Mayos opener Hector Velazquez took the defeat, but deserved a better fate. The former Red Sox hurler gave up Hernandez’ first homer with two out in the bottom of the first, the only hit he would allow in five frames. Jorge Flores singled and doubled for Navojoa in the loss.
Finally, Guasave pulled out a 6-4 road win over Culiacan in front of 7,349 spectators at Estadio Tomateros. Yadier Drake gave Algodoneros starter Thomas Dorminy offensive support with a grand slam while newcomer Erisbel Arruebarrena knocked out a roundtripper. Ramiro Pena led the Tomateros with three hits, including a two-run longball. Dorminy, a former Padres farmhand who went 7-1 for Chicago in the independent American Association this summer after stints in Australia and Taiwan, turned in five innings of two-hit scoreless ball for the Cottoneers to earn the win.
Fans in Culiacan were understandably happy to see their defending LMP champions back in action, albeit minus manager Benji Gil (who is out after testing positive for the Wuhan virus), but a few too many were willing to take being allowed to be in attendance for granted. Several were watching the games while not wearing masks and not maintaining safe distancing protocols, much of it caught on camera and later posted on social media.
One particularly overheated Tomateros fan chose to bathe himself in beer as fans in the above tier of seating poured their cups on him as well, then doused nearby fans with beer from the bottom of one of the cups he was holding. The scene brought team owner Hector Ley down from the boxes for a chat and it’s assumed that the fan is one of two who’ve been banned for the rest of the season after violating protocols so egregiously.
Estadio Tomateros was not the only LMP ballpark where people in the seats were shown on social media and live television not wearing masks and sitting closer than procedures permit. Aurelio Vargas of El Fildeo reports “stadiums violating the limit of allowed capacity, no respect for healthy distances, fans without masks, small children, crowds in the entrance lines and a couple of scandalous drunks were the balance of this experiment.”
The Mex Pac office in Guadalajara issued a press release on Friday denouncing the behavior in Culiacan and urging “all fans not to replicate this type of act and point out who is breaking protocols,” but opening night was not a good look for a circuit walking on eggshells in order to play games with live crowds during a pandemic.
MEXICAN LEAGUE TO SIGN A NEW WORKING AGREEMENT WITH MLB
As the clock ticks towards the expiration of a two-year working agreement between the Mexican League and Major League Baseball that likely cost former LMB president Javier Salinas his, job, the two sides are reportedly working on a similar document that will hopefully be on more equitable terms for the Mexican teams.
Luis Miguel Vasavilbaso of ESPN reports that Liga president Horacio de la Vega is heading negotiations with MLB on the new pact. Although ten Mexican players were on playoff team rosters when the playoffs began earlier this month, the country is lagging behind fellow Latin American nations Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic in overall representation in MLB despite placing higher than all of them in the latest World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings released in February.
Much of that has been due to a smaller talent pool due to baseball’s secondary status to soccer in Mexico, where the latter has become the more popular sport in comparison to the other countries mentioned. MLB teams in the past have found it more expensive to sign prospects south of the border because they’ve had to negotiate with Mexican League teams who developed top young players (and whose rights they owned), paying the LMB team directly with a portion of the agreed-upon amount going to the player as a sort of bonus.
According to Vasavilbaso, part of the new MLB/LMB working agreement is that all major league franchises will be able to sign Mexican players directly without restrictions. The LMB team who owns the player’s rights in Mexico will be paid a percentage of the contract, essentially a reversal of the old policy. What likely led to Salinas’ ouster as LMB president was subsequently found in the fine print of the expiring agreement, especially one stipulation requiring a player to have been on the Mexican League team’s roster for two years before the team could receive a portion of the contract the player signs with an MLB team. That policy will reportedly be dropped in the new arrangement.
Vasavilbaso adds that decreased tensions between the two bodies as a result of the new agreement could lead to more MLB exhibition and regular season games played in Mexico. While Monterrey has received the lion’s share of such contests in the past, Mexico City’s Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu was set to host a two-game regular series between Arizona and San Diego in April before the Wuhan Virus ended professional baseball across the Western Hemisphere. It’s likely that MLB will make another effort to play in the capital city, while the Jalisco Charros owners have made no secret of their desire to land games in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city.
Big league clubs might even consider holding part of their training camps at sites in places like Sonora, a baseball hotbed state bordering Arizona to the north. Mexican League teams have often trained in the Phoenix and Tucson areas in the past (including this past spring), so the concept of crossing borders for spring training is hardly new.
Vasavilbaso said the new contract between MLB and the LMB was expected to be signed this month, but no specific date was given. The Mexican Pacific League is not part of the negotiations.
AMLO ANNOUNCES TWO BASEBALL ACADEMIES IN SINALOA
Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has formally announced that two of the country’s proposed federally-funded baseball academies will be in the state of Sonora. El Fildeo’s Alejandra Gonzalez writes that the academies are “part of ProBeis’ initiative of positioning baseball as one of the recreational and professional options for young Mexicans.”
One of the two academies in Sonora will be located at Estadio Hector Espino in Hermosillo while the other will be in Obregon at Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan. Both are former longtime Mexican Pacific League ballparks that were replaced in the 2010’s. The other three ProBeis facilities are slated to be in Campeche, Veracruz and Texcoco (a municipality of 259,000 located 16 miles northeast of Mexico City.
In a statement, Lopez Obrador said, “The selection of young players will be made and in addition to receiving accommodations and food, they will be granted scholarships.” While there are a number of baseball academies in Mexico operated by teams or the Mexican League itself in such places as Monterrey, Oaxaca, Mazatlan, Monclova and Tijuana, the ProBeis academies would mark the most concerted effort by the federal government to develop young players aged 10-18.
The plan got off to a rocky start since the March 2019 formation of ProBeis (formally titled the Office of the Presidency for the Promotion and Development of Baseball in Mexico) because of funding issues. Executive director Edgar Gonzalez experienced the labyrinthian process of how money winds its way through the corridors of government and, according to Proceso, even paid one million pesos of his own money to fund his own office until 350 million pesos via the Ministry of Public Education finally arrived months after ProBeis was formed. This year, the allotment of 280 million pesos (a pandemic-induced 20 percent reduction) made its way through the Civil Ministry’s Physical Education Excellence program.
A good chunk of that money has gone towards the purchase of the old Mex Pac ballparks. The Hermosillo facility, which housed the Naranjeros from 1972 through 2012, is costing the government 511.7 million pesos while the Obregon ballpark (used by the Yaquis between 1971 and 2016) comes with a 548.7 million peso pricetag. “What I hope is that before the government is finished, the first generation will come out and if we now have many good players in the major leagues, we are going to have many more so we made the decision to buy the two stadiums,” said Lopez Obrador about the project.