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MEXICAN LEAGUE RELEASES REVISED 2020 SCHEDULE
The Mexican League has released its 2020 schedule and, as promised, teams will play 18 fewer regular season games than they did in last year's 120-game calendar. The shorter regular season ensures the playoffs will end sooner than in 2019, when the deciding game of the Serie del Rey was played on October 2, just nine days before the Mexican Pacific League's regular season opened with three games. This season's LMB championship series will conclude no later than September 9 if a seventh game is needed.
The Liga's 96th season will begin with a single game on Monday, April 6, when the defending champion Monclova Acereros will host longtime rivals Monterrey at Estadio Monclova. All 16 LMB teams will be in action on Saturday, April 7 to open a first half slate of games that will wrap up on Thursday, June 4. The original 2020 schedule was modified when the final two series of the season, originally slated to be played between July 31 through August 6, were rescheduled to instead open the second half from June 5-11. The shift meant delaying the All-Star Game a week from June 7 to June 14 in Monclova to cap three days of festivities. The second half schedule will conclude with eight games in Thursday, August 6. This year, teams will play home-and-away series against all eight opponents from the other division but the schedule will be otherwise unbalanced, as each team apportions their remaining 18 series among seven divisional rivals. All series will be three-game sets.
If needed, tiebreaker games would be played on Friday, August 7 while Wild Card games with fifth-place teams from each division in overall points visiting the fourth-place clubs will take place on Sunday, August 9 (if there is a won-lost record difference of three games or less between the two teams). First round division series are scheduled to begin Tuesday, August 11 and division championship series are slated to open Saturday, August 22, while Game One of the Serie del Rey will take place Tuesday, September 1. All series are best-of-7 affairs using a standard 2-3-2 venue format.
Postseason seeding will be similar to 2019, with points awarded each half corresponding to a team's finish in the standings and teams ranked on their overall point totals.
Last year's LMB schedule was the circuit's longest since 2001, when Liga teams played 120 games apiece. Since then, the norm had been 110 contest per year up to 2018, when the calendar was split into two 56-game regular seasons with playoffs, an experiment that ultimately failed miserably. The loop's teams typically played 140+ game schedules in the 1960's and early 1970's but has had the shortest regular season in Class AAA baseball ever since.
LMP DROPS MEGACABLE, SIGNS 4-YEAR DEAL WITH SKY SPORTS
In a move that has been rumored since early in the year, the Mexican Pacific League has ended a ten-year affiliation with Megacable and will now have its games televised live on cable and internet by UK-based SKY Sports, with whom the LMP last week officially announced a four-year contract expected to bring millions of dollars to league coffers. According to Puro Beisbol's Fernando Ballesteros, the deal was formally signed last week in Mexico City by Mex Pac president Omar Canizales.
If there was any genuine surprise, it was that the Mex Pac severed ties with a cable/phone/internet conglomerate based in Guadalajara, where the LMP league offices are located, in favor of a similar company headquartered several time zones away across the Atlantic Ocean. Now in its 38th year of operation, Megacable provides services to over 250 cities in 25 states in Mexico. Megacable has been carrying LMP games since the 2010-11 season, which was Canizales' second year at the helm of the winterball circuit. The nationwide exposure helped build the league's audience and marketability outside western Mexico.
Problems developed last winter after the Mex Pac expanded from eight to ten teams. In nine previous seasons, Megacable had made all games (usually four per night during the regular season) available to viewers across the country. However, the Al Bat website reports, Megacable scheduled only two or three regular broadcasts per night and charged an extra 50 pesos per month for subscribers to access all five game, a move that angered viewers to the point where they were contacting websites like Al Bat to complain while Canizales likely did a not-so-slow burn at the LMP office. The end result is that while the relatively longstanding relationship brought increased exposure and revenue to the Mex Pac, it was adios to Megacable and hola to SKY Sports after the 2019-20 season concluded.
SKY Sports will now carry LMP regular season and playoff games between the 2020-21 and 2023-24 seasons, including all Caribbean Series contests whenever the tournament is hosted in Mexico (including next year in Mazatlan). Ballesteros reports that in addition to carrying all Mex Pac games throughout the next four seasons, SKY Sports is hoping to accompany the full coverage with a studio show originating from Mexico City using in-house announcers, although the LMP has reportedly countered by suggesting Hermosillo's Oscar Soria and Juan Angel Avila of Culiacan to fill those roles. SKY Sports is said to be placing a premium on production while likely forging alliances with Mexico's Grupo Multimedios, TV Pacifico and Telemax.
SKY Sports is the dominant subscription TV sports brand in England, Scotland and Ireland, with twelve channels professional soccer, cricket, rugby, motorsports, golf, basketball and four NFL football games per week during the season. The Mex Pac represents their first foray into baseball, with games also being made available in the United States.
UMPIRE MARQUEZ BECOMES FIRST MEXICAN MLB CREW CHIEF
Alfonso Marquez had already made history in 1999 when he became the first Mexican-born umpire to work a Major League Baseball game, calling balls and strikes in the second game of an August 13 doubleheader between the Montreal Expos and Colorado Rockies that year. Now the 47-year-old native of Zacatecas is in the history books again after MLB named him a crew chief for the upcoming season, making him the first arbiter of Mexican descent to hold that position. Marquez was one of four umpires to ascend to the crew chief position after the offseason retirements of Dana DeMuth, Gary Cederstrom, Jeff Kellogg and Mike Everitt. Kellogg and Everitt will be umpire supervisors.
It's been a long way to the top for Marquez, who moved north of the border with his family as a youngster and graduated from a Fullerton, California high school in 1990. Shortly after, he began his umpiring career by working games in both the Arizona Instructional League and Arizona Fall League in the early Nineties before taking his first non-complex assignment in the Short-Season Class A Northwest League for the 1993 season.
That was followed by steps up the MiLB ladder in the Low Class A Midwest League (1994), High Class A California League (1995), Class AA Southern League (1996-97) and AAA Pacific Coast League (1998-99) before his call-up to the Show in 1999 just weeks before Major League Umpires Association Richie Phillips convinced a number of umpires to resign en masse September 2 as a negotiating ploy for the union, which was seeking a new contract. The strategy backfired, however, as MLB accepted all the resignations and allowed younger umpires like Marquez to take their places while picking and choosing which arbiters they would rehire.
Marquez survived the shakeout as a member of the consolidated staff and has called big league games ever since. He's worked nine Division Series, five League Championship Series and World Series games in 2006, 2011 and 2015. He's also handled the 2006 and 2018 All-Star Games and the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In 21 MLB seasons, Marquez has umpired 2,481 regular season games, 622 of them behind the plate. During that span, he's ejected 63 players, coaches and managers. His busiest game was during a Yankees-Red Sox tilt on September 2, 2012 in Boston, when he tossed Bosox rightfielder Cody Ross for arguing a third strike call, then thumbing coach Jerry Royster and manager Bobby Valentine for picking up Ross' lost cause.
Another memorable night for Marquez came a year earlier when he was working the plate in Toronto and called Philadelphia's Chase Utley safe at home on a Shane Victorino single in a close game. The call enraged Blue Jays pitcher Jon Rauch, a 6'11" righty who came off the mound breathing fire while manager John Farrell joined the debate from the dugout. Both were ejected, with Rauch reacting so violently that he dislocated his own manager's jaw during the imbroglio. Marquez was the second base umpire in a 2004 game that marked Hall of Famer Greg Maddux' 300th win in a presumably quieter contest.