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DIABLOS TO OPEN NEW BALLPARK VS. PADRES
After a number of unexpected delays, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos are finally going to be able to inaugurate their brand new ballpark this coming weekend when they take on a team of San Diego Padres prospect at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in a two-game exhibition series. Both contests have already been been sold out for several days.
The new facility, which was funded entirely by Diablos team owner Alfredo Harp Helu, cost in the neighborhood of three billion pesos (or about US$161 million) and will have a capacity of 20,233, making it the second-largest ballpark in Mexico behind only Estadio Monterrey, which now seats 22,061 following its 2018 renovation. The original capacity of Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu was going to be closer to 13,000 permanent seats with a grass berm above the outfield providing room for a few thousand more spectators. However, it was subsequently determined that permanent seating would occupy all available areas within the ballpark, with the only grass located in the bullpens beyond the left and right field fences.
The Diablos have spent the past four summers playing home games at 5,000-seat Estadio Fray Nano after leaving Foro Sol following the 2014 season. Foro Sol had replaced Social Security Park, a 25,000-seater that opened in 1955, in 2000 and served the Diablos for 15 years. While it was certainly large enough (25,000 capacity), Foro Sol was designed as a concert venue and never a good fit for watching baseball, although the playing surface was considered good. The return of Grand Prix auto racing to Mexico City meant a remodeling of the facility that would not work for baseball.
This meant a move to Estadio Fray Nano, which is more baseball-friendly but was the smallest ballpark in the Mexican League. Fray Nano was expected to only be used for one or two seasons while the new ballpark (originally announced in 2010) was constructed but natural disasters and soil issues combined with the usual delays for such a project to require the Red Devils to remain at Fray Nano for four years.
The future is finally now for baseball in the nation's capital, however, and president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be on hand for Saturday's opener. Managed by former star outfielder Victor Bojorquez, the Diablos have moved to the LMB South for 2019 and are expected to contend with the Yucatan Leones for divisional supremacy with such veterans as Japhet Amador, Ivan Terrazas, Carlos Figueroa, Cyle Hankerd, Luis Mendoza and Octavio Acosta dotting the roster. Hopes are that the Padres and manager Andy Green will bring some of their best Mexican minor leaguers, including infielders Luis Urias and Esteban Quiroz and outfielder Tirso Ornelas, to Mexico City. Quiroz spent an injury-shortened 2018 in the Boston Red Sox system before being traded to San Diego for pitcher Colten Brewer in the offseason.
WBSC'S TOP UMP WORKS WITH LMB ARBITERS AT ACADEMY
The World Baseball Softball Confederation has signed a working agreement with the Mexican League in which both organizations will exchange umpires in an attempt to bring more Mexican arbiters into the fold for future WBSC tournaments and other competitions. As part of the arrangement, the WBSC's Director of Umpires, Gustavo Rodriguez, was recently a visitor at the LMB's High Performance Academy near Monterrey, where he observed Liga umpires in training while consulting with his LMB counterpart, Luis Alberto Ramirez.
"I'm here partly as an observer," Rodriguez said, "and talking to the umpires about some rules like obstruction and balks." From what he'd seen, Rodriguez said he was satisfied with what he saw from the 52 umpires who'll be working in both the LMB and its Class AA Academy League this summer. "Mexican umpires are among the best performers in Latin America," he observed. "I've found some here that I already know but in general, they all do a good job."
With joint work between the WBSC and LMB, Rodriguez said, he plans for more and more Mexican umpires to participate in international tournaments. One of those umpires he watched at the Academy, veteran Jair Fernandez, was in Osaka earlier this month as one of the crew for the WBSC-sanctioned Samurai Series between national teams from Japan and Mexico.
Along with the training and rules analyses with Rodriguez, the Mexican umpires also worked with a multidisciplinary team including nutritionist Adriana Aguila, psychologist Gabriela Rodriguez, physical trainer Josue Galvan and sports doctor Angel Lugo. No word on whether an opthamologist was also on hand, as some fans might suggest.
PUERTO PENASCO OUT, LIGA NORTE DOWN TO FIVE TEAMS IN 2019
The Class AA North Mexico League has already had a tough offseason, with the withdrawal from their formal league-wide affiliation agreement by the AAA Mexican League offsetting the addition of the new La Paz Delfines. La Paz became the first Baja California Sur franchise in LNM history when the loop expanded to the city after the Tecate Indios requested and received a year off to regroup financially, creating a need for a new sixth team for scheduling purposes. After all that, the Liga Norte is back down to five clubs after the Puerto Penasco Tiburones bowed out for the 2019 season in late February, also due to financial reasons. As with Tecate, Puerto Penasco owners have have stated a desire to return in 2020.
The Tiburones entered the Liga Norte in 2015 and had yet to win their first LMN pennant, but baseball is no stranger to Puerto Penasco, a resort city of 62,000 on the Gulf of California in northeastern Sonora 62 miles south of the Arizona border featuring the closest beaches to Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma. Prior to joining the Liga Norte, the Tiburones won four titles in the old Northern Sonora League (1974, 1978, 1979 and 2013), but the sport dates to at least 1960 locally. The Sharks turned in a winning record last year by going 50-45 over two halves but missed the fourth and final playoff berth by one point. Even worse, turnout for home games was sparse at Estadio Francisco Leon Garcia, an 1,850-seat facility remodeled in 2017 for 35 million pesos and one of Mexico's relatively few ballparks sporting artificial turf. The low turnout and uncertain LMB affiliation situation ultimately proved too much for Tiburones ownership to handle.
The result of the Puerto Penasco's pullout has been a scramble to create a schedule for a five-team league in which one team will always be taking a night off. The Liga Norte has yet to release its full docket of regular season games for 2019 but it has announced where and when home openers for each of the remaining teams will take place. The LNM season will open Tuesday, April 11 in Ensenada when the defending champion Marineros host Caborca. One night later, La Paz will make its pro baseball debut when the Delfines welcome San Luis to Estadio Arturo C. Nahl and April 13 will see the Caborca Rojos at home in Estadio Heroes de Caborca against Ensenada. After that, La Paz will be in San Luis Rio Colorado's Estadio Andres Mena Montijo to face the Algodoneros on April 16 while the final home opener is played April 19 in San Quintin, where the Freseros take on Caborca in Estadio Dr. Miguel Valdez.
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