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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

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            Although nearly all the attention in the Mexican League's Mexico City office has been focused on when (or if) their 2020 season will get underway due to the indefinite delay because of the Wuhan virus, a group of businessmen in Veracruz are looking ahead to 2021 as their target for bringing the port city back into the LMB fold.


            The El Fildeo website reports that Liga president Horacio de la Vega says that investors have approached him about the possibility of Veracruz returning to the circuit for the first time since the 2017 season, after which Rojos del Aguila owner Jose Antonio Mansur moved the franchise to the border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Laredo, Texas, renaming them the Dos Laredos Tecolotes. The Tecos are the only team in professional baseball shared between two countries.


            “Veracruz is a large city,” de la Vega told El Fildeo. “We have had contact with businessmen there. The Aguilas have a great baseball tradition, not only in the city of Veracruz but from many other parts of the state.” He also said the effort comes from “businessmen and possibly the government who want to reactivate a team with the tradition that Veracruz has had.”


            Media reports indicate that the person most interested in bringing the Mexican League back to Veracruz is Regina Vazquez, who (along with sister Fabiola) owns the Acayucan Tobis of the Veracruz Winter League, which the two sisters led in 2018-19 before it went silent last season due to lack of funds for meeting payroll, among other expenses. The Vazquez sisters reportedly asked Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for federal pesos last winter so they could operate the LIV, but the request was not granted.  They are daughters of a prominent Veracruz politician and have both been active in local and state politics as well.


            However, de la Vega insists his main concern is determining the future of the current Mexican League season.  “The first thing is to play the 2020 season. Within this transitional time in many things, we can explore different possibilities for Veracruz, but it's not something the Liga will provoke.”


            Veracruz has been represented by several teams over the 95-year history of the Mexican League, winning a total of six pennants between them. Baseball strongman Jorge Paquel owned his hometown Veracruz Azules prior to becoming the LMB president in 1946, by which time he had integrated modern pro baseball by signing various Negro League stars.  Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Willie Wells and Martin Dihigo all suited up for the Azules at one time or other. Gibson, Irvin, Campanella, Dandridge and Dihigo are also members of the Salon de la Fama in Monterrey. The Azules won three championships between 1940 and 1944. The city's most recent LMB pennant came in 2012 under manager Pedro Mere, now the dugout boss in Tabasco.


            Although baseball has a long history in Veracruz, which is also considered the best state in the country for producing players outside the western states of Sinaloa and Sonora, support in the stands has been tepid even in the best of times as Veracruz reflects Florida as a player-rich, fan-poor state. A revived Rojos del Aguila team would be the sixth club to use that name since the early 1950's.  Veracruz' last LMB team finished 13th in the attendance derby with 2,661 turnstile clicks per game over 57 home opening for a total of 151,671. Mexican League teams have played at the 7,762-seat Estadio Universitario Beto Avila since 1992.


            Where a new Veracruz team would come from would be a topic of conjecture, as several LMB teams have struggled financially in their present homes for years. Although the Campeche Piratas drew only 1,762 per home game in 2019, their ownership appears committed to remaining in the Walled City in the foreseeable future. A more likely target for a purchase and franchise shift may be the Aguascalientes Rieleros, for whom 2,001 fans per game turned out to watch the perpetually-underfunded Railroaders perform at Parque Alberto Romo Chavez in 2019.




            Although the imbroglio with the City of Mazatlan regarding their eviction from Estadio Teodoro Mariscal has not been settled, the Mazatlan Venados have not stopped working to build their roster for the upcoming 2020-21 Mexican Pacific League season.  The team swung a pair of trades last week that netted them a highly-touted infielder and a veteran catcher.

            The Venados first traded veteran relief pitcher Adrian C. Ramirez to Monterrey for catcher Humberto Sosa.  Although he'll only turn 32 this month, Ramirez will be entering his 15th season of professional baseball this summer when the Mexican League season gets underway. The Veracruz native was a starter early in his career before converting to middle relief in 2010. He's had some good seasons in both circuits but only pitched in eight games for Mazatlan last winter, with no record and a 9.00 ERA to show for seven innings.


            Like Ramirez, Sosa saw little work for the Sultanes last winter, batting .042 with one RBI in 12 games. The 34-year-old Veracruzano spent four years in the Reds' system before making his LMB debut with Minatitlan in 2010. Although he was a three-year starter for Veracruz between 2012 and 2014 and a member of the city's last LMB championship team in 2012, Sosa has primarily been a backup catcher most of his career in both leagues. In five LMP seasons, he's batted .212 with five homers in 112 games.


            With Sosa giving them an extra catcher on their roster, Mazatlan then shipped backstop Sebastian Valle to Obregon for the rights to infielder Isaac Paredes in a swap of higher-profile players. A 29-year-old Los Mochis product, Valle spent eight years in the Phillies system and showed some promise but had injury problems along the way. He also bounced between Pirates, Yankees and Mariners farm teams before making his Mexican League debut with Yucatan in 2017. He's no stranger to the LMP, however, having spent 12 winters in the loop and batting .236 with 62 homers and is considered a solid defender.


            Paredes, a 21-year-old from Hermosillo, is currently on Detroit's 40-man roster after hitting .282 with 13 homers in the Eastern League for the Tigers AA Erie affiliate. He was hitless in six plate appearance for the big club during during training and expected to open the season with Detroit's longtime AAA affiliate Toledo of the International League. Primarily a shortstop but also a capable third baseman, Paredes has spent the past three winters with the Yaquis, batting .283 with seven homers in 105 games. He'll likely play second base for the Venados for manager Juan Jose Pacho.


            The Venados staff was escorted out of Estadio Teodoro Mariscal in early April after the City claimed breach of contract by the team, specifically that the Venados denied the City ballpark access for Carnival or politically-related events while neither adequately supporting local basketball or boxing, maintaining the playing field nor delivering ballgame tickets to the elderly. According to Isac Chavez of El Sol de Mazatlan, the team filed an injunction against the City to allow them a return to the ballpark, but the injunction was denied. The City is also seeking the return of the facility's concessions business, the domain of Venados owner Jose Antonio Toledo and his family for 40 years.





            Veteran major league pitcher Oliver Perez recently purchased 500 meals for people in the most marginalized neighborhoods of his hometown, Culiacan, Sinaloa.  The Cleveland Indians reliever then literally went one step further by delivering the meals himself. Perez also  sent several boxes of pizzas to medical personnel working the so-called “front lines” in response to the spread of the Wuhan virus in the city of 785,800 residents.


            According to Puro Beisbol editor Francisco Ballesteros, Perez first bought the packaged meals and then traveled by car to various neighborhoods in Culiacan to personally deliver each of them to people who came up and requested one.  He also made other contributions to the Iglesia del Carmen church in town. Ballesteros says this is not the first time the 38-year-old left-hander has made similar efforts.  Other current or former MLB players from Mexico like Joakim Soria, Jose Urquidy, Jorge Cantu and Jaime Garcia have shown support for people affected by the Wuhan virus, which had been contracted by over 22,000 Mexicans as of last weekend, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths.


            Perez is preparing for his 22nd season of professional baseball in a career that began after signing a free agent contract with the San Diego Padres in 1999.  Then 17, Perez broke in that summer with the Padres' Arizona League team and posted a 1-2 record with three saves and a 5.08 ERA as a closer for the Rookie level team. He remained in San Diego's system (plus a short stint with Yucatan in the Mexican League in 2000) until he made his MLB debut at age 20 on June 16, 2002 when he made a home start against Seattle in an interleague contest. He had his rocky moments, allowing four hit and four walks in five innings, throwing a wild pitch and dishing up a two-run homer to Dan Wilson, but Perez also struck out seven Mariners and allowed just two runs to earn the 5-3 victory. He remained in San Diego for the rest of the season.


            The 6'3” 225-pounder has certainly been well-traveled ever since, wearing the uniform of no fewer than eight teams over that time.  He's had success as a starter, going 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA for Pittsburgh in 2004 and winning 25 games over two seasons (2007-08) for the New York Mets, leading the National League with 34 starts in the latter campaign.  He signed a three-year, $36 million contact with the Mets after the 2008 campaign.


            From that point, things went south for Perez, who was placed on the disabled list twice with tendinitis in his right leg in 2009 and refused minor league rehab assignments two times. When he did pitch for the Mets in 2009 and 2010, he only won three of 21 starts and allowed 85 earned runs in 110.1 innings. He was released following the 2010 season even though he had one year and $12 million remaining in his contract.


            After spending the 2011 season with the Nationals' AA Harrisburg affiliate and going 3-5 with a 3.09 ERA in 15 starts, Perez returned to MLB with Seattle as a reliever in June 2012 after spending two months with AAA Tacoma. He spent two with the Mariners and did well as a setup man, posting a 3.16 ERA with four wins and two saves out of the bullpen in 93 trips from the bullpen. Perez moved to Arizona for the 2014 season and has also pitched for Houston, Washington and Cleveland. Last year he made 67 appearances for the Indians, going 2-4 and earning a save while posting a 3.98 ERA for manager Terry Francona, striking out 48 batsmen and walking 12 in 40.2 innings.


            Following the shutdown of major league training camps and the delay of the regular season, Perez returned home to train with an eye on becoming the first Mexican to perform in 18 MLB seasons. He'll go into the 2020 campaign with a 72-91 career record and 4.38 ERA in 670 outings (including197 starts). Perez has also pitched in six winterball seasons with the Culiacan Tomateros, with an overall 7-8 record and 3.54 ERA in 74 appearances, and took part in the 2014 and 2017 Caribbean Series (winning one game in each).


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