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FERMIN NAMED AGUILAS' THIRD SKIPPER IN A MONTH
The Mexicali Aguilas are on their third manager in a month's time as the Mexican Pacific League fired Juan Castro and replaced him with veteran skipper Felix Fermin. The move was announced last Friday, just hours before the Aguilas played a game with no fans occupying the stands in Mazatlan (more on that in three paragraphs).
The Aguilas opened the season with former Yankees infielder Luis Sojo as their new manager after Pedro Mere was fired following last season, but Sojo only lasted 16 games before he was canned November 1 with a 7-9 first-half record and replaced by Castro. The former Dodgers coach, who himself has survived a 2018 for the books if the book was written by Robert Ripley (or maybe Lewis Carroll), lasted exactly four weeks before feeling the axe. After guiding Mexicali to a 10-7 record the rest of the first half to finish with a fifth-place tie and 4.5 playoff points, Castro was let go when the Aguilas won just two of their first six games of the second stanza to end his term in Mexicali with a 12-12 overall mark.
The former MLB shortstop has a more extensive Mexican League managerial record (with stops in Monterrey, Carmen and Dos Laredos) than the MexPac, but his winterball work in his native Dominican Republic has been impressive. Fermin has led the Cibaenas Agilas to five Liga Dominica championships and won Caribbean Series titles in 2001, 2003 and 2007.
Jose Angel Chavez managed the Aguilas on an interim basis during their weekend in Mazatlan as Fermin planned to meet his new team in the border city Monday, a day before opening a home series with Obregon. Mexicali's (and Chavez') first game against the Venados on Friday night was played without anyone in the stands. The City of Mazatlan ordered the ballpark closed to the public because of the renovated facility's lack of water and drainage. Both were shut off early last week because of a reported 3 million peso debt owed by the Venados to state-owned Jumapam, which provides water service to the 16,000-seat venue.
Thus, on a night in which the other three LMP games each drew over 10,000 spectators, a few warm bodies were in the Teodoro Mariscal grandstand as the Venados lost a 7-5 tilt to Mexicali as Francisco Cordoba socked a homer for the visitors. The impasse between team and city was resolved over the next day and the ballpark was opened back up with restored water service in time for Saturday's game, when 7,764 fans watched their Venados top Mexicali, 10-3, with Mitch Lively getting the win to go to 3-1 and Walter Silva relieving (!) the last three innings to earn the save, the three-time All-Star's first since 2003 when he was pitching for Reynosa in the Mexican League (and the first of his 13 seasons of winterball).
Mazatlan won Sunday's game as well to bring their second-half record to 4-5, two games behind defending champion Culiacan, Hermosillo and Obregon, who are all tied for first at 6-3. Jalisco is fourth with a 5-4 mark while Mexicali, Navojoa and Los Mochis are tied for sixth with 3-6 ledgers. Obregon had held sole possession of first until dropping a 9-2 home decision to Navojoa Sunday as the Mayos' Jovan Rosa went 4-for-4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs and starter Ruddy Acosta carried a shutout into the ninth inning. Pablo Ortega, who announced his retirement after 23 years as a pro after the LMB Fall season and took a pitching coach job with the Yaquis under manager Oscar Robles, pitched three scoreless innings of relief for Obregon after starter Nate Reed was knocked out of the box by giving up six runs in three frames. Culiacan and Hermosillo won their games Sunday to pull into the three-way logjam at the top of the standings.
LMP STANDINGS (Second Half): Culiacan 6-3, Hermosillo 6-3, Obregon 6-3, Jalisco 5-4, Mazatlan 4-5, Mexicali 3-6, Los Mochis 3-6, Navojoa 3-6.
LMP BATTING LEADERS
Batting: Jasson Atondo, Hermosillo (.375), Homers: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (10), Runs Batted In: Manny Rodriguez, Jalisco (38), Stolen Bases: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (20).
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
Wins: Konner Wade, Mazatlan (5-1), Earned-Run Average: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (1.99), Strikeouts: Javier Solano, Mexicali (44), Saves: Casey Coleman, Culiacan (17).
MICHOACAN GOVERNOR WANTS LMB TEAM IN MORELIA
During last month’s Mexican League's Assembly of Presidents meeting held in Morelia, Michoacan governor Silvano Aureoles said he would like to see a Mexican League team in his state's capital and largest city.
At first blush, Morelia might seem like a place with decent potential as an LMB market. A city of 784,776 with deep colonial roots, Morelia has a temperate climate with average daily high temperatures ranging from the upper 70's to mid 80's during baseball season. The Monarcas Liga MX soccer team is very popular locally, with attendance averaging just under 30,000 per match in last spring's Clausura tournament to rank seventh in the 18-team circuit. And the governor promised a renovated ballpark for a Mexican League to play in when the time came. All to the good.
On the other hand, Morelia experiences a rainy season between June and September that brings 5 to 8 inches of the wet stuff monthly. Unlike soccer, baseball has never been a prominent sport in Michoacan, with 1966 Class A Mexican Central League Tigres representing the city's lone run in organized ball; the 59-79 Tigres drew fewer than 24,000 fans to 69 home game and slunk into oblivion. Then there's Estadio Francisco Villa, a ballpark built in 1964 with seating for 3,000 in concrete stands that have never been renovated. Governor Aureoles claimed between 12 and 15 million pesos (approximately 6-8 million US dollars) would be allocated by the state towards stadium upgrades, but that amount may pale in comparison to what will actually be needed to bring a relic to respectability.
While one Puro Beisbol columnist described the Assembly as being "embarrassed" while the subject of Liga baseball in Morelia was being broached, LMB president Javier Salinas seemed enthused by the notion, albeit on a more practical level. Salinas said that if their ballpark was fixed up, Morelia could see the development of a baseball academy, exhibition games involving Liga clubs or the Mexican National Team and a franchise in the Mexican Winter League, but "we need entrepreneurs to invest." According to Salinas, the LIM is taking this winter off for restructuring. "It was a league that was working, but not as we wanted, nor with the standards that Major League Baseball demands, so this year we decided to interrupt it to reorganize and give it more continuity next year."
For his part, Aureoles said he had been in discussions with Assembly chair Gerardo Benavides (owner of both the Monclova Acereros and the now-dormant Puebla Pericos) about purchasing an existing LMB team to bring to Morelia, perhaps the Pericos themselves. Benavides has put the Puebla franchise up for sale the past several months, asking 50 to 55 million pesos ($2.6-2.9 million in US dollars) but finding no takers. According to Proceso's Beatriz Pereyra, Aureoles called purchasing the 2016 champion Pericos "an option. I would be delighted if Gerardo thought of selling the team to Michoacan," adding that entrepreneurs would be needed to "guarantee" the franchise would last in Morelia. Benavides did not deny the two sides had been in talks. Referring to his own difficulties in owning teams in both Puebla and his hometown of Monclova, Benavides said, "The only thing I ask is for people to be from here so they have room to maneuver and be successful."
"There is one thing we all need to understand: Owners must live in that city."
VILLANUEVA SIGNS WITH JAPANESE TEAM, LEAVES YAQUIS
After cracking 20 homers as a rookie for San Diego in 2018, Mexico-born third baseman Christian Villanueva will be playing in Japan next year. After designating him for assignment, the Padres sold Villanueva's contract to Toyko's Yomiuri Giants, who then signed the 27-year-old Guadalajara native for one year at a reported $2 million (including a signing bonus). Winners of 36 Central League pennants and 22 Japan Series since their 1936 inception, the Giants finished third in NPB's Central League this year with a 67-71 record. Former Brewers infielder Casey McGehee and onetime Dodgers outfielder Alex Guerrero were the team's two foreign position players last summer.
Villanueva played in both the Cubs and Rangers systems before signing with the Padres as a free agent prior to the 2017 season. Playing for El Paso in the AAA Pacific Coast League, he hit .296 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs in 109 games before being called up to San Diego. After going 0-for-3 his first two games, Villanueva cracked four homers over his next seven contests and finished his September call-up with a .344 average and seven RBIs over 12 games.
Villanueva followed up his late-season debut with a strong start to the 2018 season for the Padres, hitting .321 with eight homers in April alone, but cooled off considerably over the next three months before a strong August brought his numbers up until a fractured finger in an August 21 game against the Rockies ended his season. He hit .236 over 110 games for the Friars (including a sizzling .336 against lefties), with 15 doubles, 20 homers and 46 RBIs, striking out 104 times in 384 plate appearances. The 5'11", 210-pounder was sometimes shaky in the hot corner, committing 12 errors at third over 96 contests to finish with a .948 fielding percentage.
After playing five winters in Obregon (including a breakout 2015-16 campaign during which he hit .322 with 9 homers for the Yaquis in 64 games), Villanueva sat out last season but returned to the Cajeme club this winter to rehab his finger while his status was being worked out. He was batting .227 with three homers in eleven games when the Japan deal was made, doubling and walking against Navojoa last Friday in his last home game for the Yaquis.
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