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WING OFF TO FLYING START FOR AGUASCALIENTES
Former Los Angeles Angels minor leaguer Michael Wing was not one of the most publicized of Mexican League players during his first two seasons south of the border, but the California-bred third baseman has certainly caught the attention of Liga pitchers during that stretch. If Wing is hoping to remain in relative anonymity toiling for the Aguascalientes Rieleros this season, he'll have to do less than bat .500 with 7 homers and 21 RBIs over his first eight games with the Railroaders in 2019, leading the LMB in both longballs and ribbies through the first three series of the campaign.
Wing posted a trio of two-homer games for Aguascalientes last week, including a pair of longballs (one a grand slam) in a 7-RBI night during a 10-6 home win over defending champion Monterrey on Friday. A 26th round draft pick from Upland (CA) High School in 2007, the 6'1" right-handed batter spent five seasons in the Angels systems and one more in the Padres organization before embarking on a three-year independent ball sojourn in the Frontier League and American Association before it appeared his professional career was over at age 26 following the 2015 season. He missed the 2016 campaign before receiving a phone call from the Rieleros the next year.
After debuting with Aguascalientes on June 4, 2017, Wing hit a sizzling .432 with five homers in 26 games for the Rieleros the rest of the season. He returned to play both 2018 seasons, hitting .341 in the Spring and .403 in the Fall with a combined 18 homers and 76 RBIs in 83 contests. Now 30, Wing has come out the gate smoking for Aguascalientes this year and while there's no way he'll be able to maintain his torrid pace for a full season, the team is hoping he can stay healthy for the whole season and head a Rieleros offense that includes veterans Saul Soto, Carlos Rodriguez, Jose Vargas and ex-Cub Tony Campana to augment a pitching staff that includes 2017 Mexican League Pitcher of the Year Nestor Molina and three-time MLB All-Star Jose Valverde.
New manager Joe Alvarez, who has had past success (however abbreviated) in both the Liga and Mexican Pacific League, is known as an old-school disciplinarian and while his pitching staff in Aguascalientes may struggle, the Rieleros will be expected to fight towards what they hope will be a return to the playoffs this season after missing the postseason last fall. The Rieleros are presently tied with Saltillo for fifth place in the LMB North at 4-5 apiece, trailing co-leaders Monterrey and Dos Laredos at 7-2 and two games behind Monclova and Tijuana, both at 6-3. Durango (3-6) and Union Laguna (2-7) round out the division standings.
In the LMB South, manager Sergio Gastelum's Oaxaca Guerreros are trying to prove last Fall's appearance in the Serie del Rey was not a fluke. So far, so good as the Warriors top the standings with a 7-2 record following an 8-5 triumph at Yucatan Sunday night as catcher Orlando Pina singled and doubled, scoring two runs and driving in two more. Jose Medina took a shutout into the fourth inning en route to a five-inning outing in which he gave up three runs to the Leones, who fell to the cellar at 2-7. Mexico City and Puebla won their weekend closeouts over Quintana Roo and Campeche, respectively to go into Monday's travel day tied for second at 6-3. Leon has a 4-5 mark for fourth place, leading 3-6 Campeche, Tabasco and Quintana Roo by a game.
HEIMLICH AT 0-1, 6.75 AFTER TWO STARTS FOR DOS LAREDOS
After an agonizing 10-month wait to start his first professional baseball game, 2018 NCAA Pitcher of the Year Luke Heimlich finally made his debut last Tuesday night in Torreon. The former Oregon State ace tossed five innings for the Dos Laredos Tecolotes in a 5-4 loss to the hometown Union Laguna Algodoneros as 7,527 fans looked on at Estadio Revolucion.
Heimlich had a creditable outing for the Tecos, giving up two runs on five hits (including solo homers in the second by Michael Crouse and Luis Perez) with five strikeouts and two walks while facing 21 Laguna batters. The game ended in the bottom of the tenth when Crouse grounded a bases-loaded walkoff single to Domonic Brown in right to bring in Francisco Ferreiro with the winning tally.
Heimlich had a rougher outing Sunday night in Saltillo, allowing six runs (five earned) on six hits and two walks before being relieved by Antonio Guzman with one out in the fifth as the Saraperos went on to win in a 15-6 rout of the Owls. Dos Laredos spotted Heimlich a 1-0 lead with Balbino Fuenmayor's leadoff homer against Saltillo starter Jonathan Sanchez, but the Saraperos came back with three runs in the bottom of the third on Juan Perez' third homer of the season, scored again in the fourth after Josuan Rodriguez scored from third when Tecos catcher Luis Flores' throw to nail Alvaro Gonzalez on an attempted steal sailed into center field instead. Heimlich was pulled by manager Felix Fermin after giving up a leadoff single to Christian Zazueta and a one-out walk to Perez and tagged with the loss to drop to 0-1 for the season while raising his ERA to 6.75. He did strike out another five batsmen but it was not an epic follow-up performance.
However, Heimlich might be forgiven for being a little rusty after not tossing a pitch in anger since last June's College World Series in Omaha. He finished 15-1 for the Beavers with a 2.42 ERA while earning both national and Pac-12 POY awards (his second consecutive conference honor). Even so, a 2017 revelation of a sexual charge involving a six-year-old niece when he was 15 made him radioactive when it came time for last year's MLB draft, slipping through the entire event without being picked. Subsequent attempts at free agent contracts with the Kansas City Royals and a team in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League were unsuccessful and Heimlich saw no further action in 2018.
He remained luckless this year until reaching an agreement with Dos Laredos last month. Mexican League president Javier Salinas convened an internal investigation shortly after the signing but subsequently okayed the contract on April 6, three days before his first start for the Tecos. Heimlich's next start is slated for Friday night in Nuevo Laredo against the struggling Yucatan Leones. The Tecos moved their Mexican home games to the aging Parque La Junta after the club failed to draw fans to the more modern but remote Estadio Nuevo Laredo.
MEX PAC DRAWS 3.1 MILLION FANS FOR 2018-19 SEASON
The Mexican Pacific League set a season attendance record for their 2018-19 schedule by drawing 3,157,535 fans to both regular season and playoff games for the eight-team circuit. The Mex Pac averaged 9.925 spectators during the season, including a boost of turnstile clicks to 12,912 per opening for the January postseason.
Culiacan led the LMP with a total of 507,002 admissions for the season for an average of 14,912 per game. Both Hermosillo and Mexicali topped the 400 thousand mark, with the Naranjeros having the higher overall attendance (408,513 to 400,988) but the Aguilas showing the higher average (12,151 to 12,015 per game). Mazatlan benefitted from a renovation of Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, pulling in 344,872 aficionados at 10,143 per game, an increase of 48.8 percent over the 2017-18 campaign, to finish third in the box office standings.
Jalisco had a strong year at the gate, bringing in 9,794 to Guadalajara's Estadio Charros for a total of 333,005 while Obregon was sixth in attendance at 271,227, an average of 8,219 per outing. Like Mazatlan, Los Mochis benefitted from a ballpark renovation and saw a 22.3 percent hike to 242,368 fans for the season (averaging 7,128) while Navojoa brought up the rear with an average of 5,053 and a total of 171,815. The addition of both Monterrey and returning Guasave next winter all but assures a new attendance record with the LMP becoming a ten-team loop.
According to a league press release, the Mexican Pacific League had the fourth-highest attendance in professional baseball leagues around the world over the past year, trailing only Major League Baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization. The MexPac also easily outdistanced their competitors in the Mexican League and all minor leagues (affiliated and independent) at the gate.
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