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LIGA MAY OPEN IN AUGUST, MEX PAC SETS OPENER
The Mexican League is reportedly considering starting its season in August, with teams playing 51-game schedules (or half the original 102-game total heading into April's canceled openers. However, nothing has been etched in stone as the Wuhan virus panic continues while three LMB teams were even facing the choice of either playing their seasons on the road or canceling altogether, including the defending Liga champion Monclova Acereros.
The LMB Assembly of Presidents held a videoconference early last week to go over their latest options. Saltillo Saraperos president Cesar Cantu told the El Zocalo newspaper that the 16 team owners and league president Horacio de la Vega conferred with Mexican health authorities, who offered advice regarding parameters for when and how the circuit would operate in 2020. According to Cantu, each state with an LMB franchise may make a decision on what kind of events with large gatherings would be allowed (more on that in a paragraph).
Cantu said the Liga is now eyeing an August start, four months after the loop's five-month regular had been slated to begin. Baseball writers south of the border have speculated that the LMB would play a 51-game season, but it would be hard to do that and play a full eight-team, three-stage postseason without stretching well into the winter Mexican Pacific League season, which is tentatively set to open on October 12.
For a short time, there was a question of how many LMB teams might take the field. Coahuila governor Miguel Angel Riquelme last week announced that there would be no more "massive" events in his state through at least September 15 and possibly the end of a year as a preventive response to the Wuhan virus. "We are going to spend many months taking care of sanitary measures," Riquelme was quoted as saying in Puro Beisbol.
Such a measure would affect the champion Acereros, Saltillo Saraperos and Union Laguna Algodoneros. Although there may be options of playing home games in empty ballparks or all games away from their respective homes, Mexican League teams rely on ticket, concessions and ballpark advertising revenue to survive financially and the potential of the three teams simply closing down until 2021 to minimize losses was not off the table. Riquelme backtracked on his statement one day later.
The LMB office had not issued a public comment to that point, perhaps because president de la Vega was trying to dislodge his heart from his throat, but the threat served to heighten the vulnerability of many cash-strapped Liga franchises who lack funds to field a team without recouping the expenses with ballpark income. The bottom line is that the longer it takes for the Mexican League to put its product on the field, the harder it's going to be for the 95-year-old loop to schedule any kind of season in 2020, however abbreviated. As we'll see later, one prominent baseball columnist is calling for the Liga to not play until next year. He won't be the last.
Meanwhile out west, Mexican Pacific League owners held a videoconference of their own and have confirmed that all ten teams are expected to participate in the upcoming 2020-21 season, which is expected to start on October 12 regardless of what happens with the Mexican League. Although a manpower shortage at the outset of the first half may happen if the two schedules overlap, LMP owners are said to be confident they'll be able to fill their rosters and operate in a state of flux as players complete their LMB obligations.
There has been some debate over the use of imports in both leagues, particularly in the Mexican League, where budget shortfalls make bringing in more-expensive players from the United States a fiscal risk to many teams. Such concerns are not as acute in the Mex Pac, where nearly 10,000 people attended each game last winter (a higher average than any minor league in the hemisphere), but some players who've crossed the border to play winterball in the past may be hesitant to do so if high Wuhan virus concerns in Mexico continue.
LIGA NORTE CONSIDERS WINTER MOVE; NEW BAJA LOOP COMING?
With their 2020 regular season and playoffs all but scuttled by the Wuhan virus, the Northern Mexico League is now contemplating a move to a winter schedule. However, a group of investors in Baja California Sur is also looking at starting their own league at the same time of year.
During a recent interview posted on the La Paz Delfines Facebook page, LNM president Jorge Rivera said he has not ruled out converting the Liga Norte into a winterball circuit. While stating that his own preference would be to remain a summer league, he noted that economic conditions created by the pandemic might make a move to later in the year more prudent, if not outright necessary. Although Rivera said he would prefer to return to the LNM's traditional April-July schedule in 2021, the changing landscape of baseball in the northwest corner of the country might make a permanent move to a winter schedule more attractive to him and Liga Norte owners.
The LNM, which is considered Class AA within the Mexican baseball system, was dealt a severe blow following their 2018 season when the Mexican League withdrew its official support, along with the player affiliations and 40,000 pesos per team subsidies that came with it. While Liga Norte teams were able to cobble together affiliations with LMB teams last summer, the loss of both their official designation as an LMB "developmental" league and extra cash flow hurt. The LNM fought their way through the 2019 campaign with five teams and had announced expansion to Otay (a suburb of Tijuana), where the Industralies were expected to play in 2020.
Then, after the first of the year, the Liga Norte was dealt a couple of body blows that will be difficult to recover from. The first was the Wuhan virus itself, of course, which has caused baseball across Mexico to shut down and created uncertainty as to when it will be allowed to resume. The second blow, the resurrection of the Sonora Professional Baseball League (or Liga Sonora), may have more longterm implications for the LNM, which itself broke away from the original Northern Sonora League in 2012. The LNS survived two summers before shutting down in 2014 while the LNM carried on, but the revived Liga Sonora appears to be coming back with a vengeance. Leaders were in talks with LMB president Horacio de la Vega earlier this year about affiliation agreements and two of their proposed eight franchises appear to be current LNM teams, the 2019 Liga Norte champion San Luis Algodoneros and Caborca Reds.
If the Mexican League does indeed make the Liga Sonora their Class AA farm league in 2021, the Liga Norte's best chance for long-term survival may be to make a permanent move to winterball and serve a similar role as a feeder circuit for the Mexican Pacific League. The Mex Pac used to be able to call up players from both the Liga Noroeste (in the state of Nayarit) and the Veracruz Winter League, but the LNB shut down as a professional circuit in 2015 and the LIV went dark last winter with prospects no brighter for 2020-21, as sisters Regina and Fabiola Vazquez (who underwrote the LIV in 2018-19) now appear to be pursuing the return of the Mexican League to Veracruz instead. LMP sports managers had difficulties finding in-shape players last winter to fill roster spots when their own players were injured, released or left the team, so there's reason to believe an agreement could be worked out between the Mex Pac and LNM.
The Liga Norte may face a potential challenger in winter baseball. Editor Fernando Ballesteros of Puro Beisbol reports that businessmen representing the proposed Southern California League (or Liga Sudcaliforniana) approached the Mexican Pacific League earlier this year inquiring about an affiliation agreement of their own. The director of municipal sports in La Paz, Guillermo Ortalejo, reportedly already has that city's Estadio Arturo C. Nahl (home of the LNM Delfines) in mind for games this winter, but Ballesteros writes that while the LMP certainly could use a new in-season source of replacement players, leaders there were not prioritizing the new league. One potential outcome is a merger of sorts between the Liga Norte and the upstarts, who may need each other more than either might be willing to admit.
BENCOMO: "MEXICAN LEAGUE CONDEMNED TO STOP IN 2020"
One of Mexico's most-respected baseball writers, Hitazo.com editor Hector Bencomo, wrote a May 18 column urging the Mexican League to shut down for the current year in order to avoid steep financial losses while regrouping to come back stronger in 2021. Here is a Google Translate version of that column, with minimal translation from Googlese for grammatical clarity:
Every year, most teams in the Mexican Baseball League announce that they lost money by operating their ball clubs.
Perhaps the Sultanes, Tijuana and maybe Diablos could boast of having "won" a little in the last two seasons, but they are profits that are reinvested to continue giving baseball to their loyal fans.
Mexican teams depend on three main factors to stay afloat: advertising, box office and concessions (sale of beer, food, souvenirs).
On some occasions they have depended on the great fortunes of their owners, for whom spending on their team was like taking a cat's hair. But those times seem to be over.
With the Covid 19 pandemic, the national (and world) economy has plummeted and many companies have closed, many people have lost their jobs, and business sales have fallen, so advertising has started to drop out of the screens, radio, newspapers, etc.
Without advertising and with the only option to start a mini season with empty stadiums, what is the point of playing the 2020 season of the LMB?
For the record, I am not being insensitive, but realistic.
I am sure that all the LMB exon May 18ecutives want to carry out the campaign and I applaud them. But given the country's conditions, which businessman wants to go and throw millions of pesos in the trash right now?
Closing the offices and thinking of returning stronger in 2021 would be the healthiest thing for Mexican summer baseball. It is true, the big losers are baseball players, stadium workers, chroniclers and all the businesses that depend on baseball activity, such as vendors of bats, balls, uniforms, etc.
Journalist David Medrano published last May 8 in the newspaper Récord that Mexican soccer would lose 2.5 billion pesos (US$108.7 million) if its 2020 season does not end. But it will lose 800 million (US$34.8 million) when playing without people in the seats. Can you imagine how much money a packed house generates at Estadio Universitario to watch the Liga MX Tigres play?
Soccer is a much better business than baseball in Mexico, so that's why it's in their best interest to lose money now to try to get it back in the next tournaments.
In Mexican baseball the figures are not so abundant but in the same way, it will hurt the owners to lose up to 20 million pesos (US$869,000) in an adventure that they do not even know how it will end because if a new outbreak comes or the players catch it, things are going to get worse when they are all back on the field and have to stop again.
And not to think that the government will provide money to save the season...it would be foolish now that attention should focus on the health sector, where there are still deficiencies.
And that is the panorama that we see from here to August or September. In Nuevo León, they expect the peak of infected for mid-June. Massive events in many states will be banned for months, leaving little room for the LMB to even aspire to start its season.
If you rush me a little, the Mexican Pacific League will have to take out the calculator because perhaps in October there will also be no permits for the public to attend massive events.
They will also be subject to the parity of the dollar against the peso, which would make them think of a season with fewer foreigners or to outright play with pure Mexican talent, something that would put Guasave and Monterrey on the ropes, teams that just arrived in the league who have not solidified their national base.
This being the case, the LMB may do better to follow the wise advice to "stay home" and return to 2021 with more force than ever. Remember that I am telling you this first of all, much to my regret.
What do you think?