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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
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            At the halfway point of the Mexican Pacific League's first half schedule, two teams share the lead in the LMP standings with identical 11-6 records. The Obregon Yaquis and Navojoa Mayos find themselves in the driver's seat with three weeks remaining in the opening stanza of the 2021-22 season.


Reynaldo Rodriguez            Obregon did their part in breaking a three-way deadlock at the top Sunday by clobbering Mexicali, 8-2, in the border city. Jonathan Aranda broke a 1-1 tie with a solo homer off Aguilas starter Javier Solano in the top of the second inning, but it was a Reynaldo Rodriguez grand slam off Solano in the third that for all intent and purposes put the game away for the Yaquis. Obregon starter Hector Velazquez got the win with six solid innings, allowing one run on two hits with five strikeouts. Solano was tagged with the loss after giving up eight runs on five hits and four walks over four innings.


            Navojoa did Sunday's heavy lifting by topping Jalisco, 4-2, at home in Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Echeverria after both teams entered the game with 10-6 records. The contest was knotted up at two runs apiece until Mayos third baseman Samar Leyva launched a solo homer over the left-center field wall off Charros starter Alex Delgado in the bottom of the fourth. Navojoa added an insurance run when Omar Renteria led off the seventh with a doubled up the middle off reliever Fernando Cruz, moved to third on an Omar Meza sacrifice bunt down the third base line and scored on Jorge Flores' single to right. Navojoa starter Raul Carrillo allowed two runs in 5.2 innings and five relievers surrendered one hit the rest of the way as the Mayos completed a three-game weekend sweep.


            At the other end of the spectrum, the Los Mochis Caneros have won just four of their first 16 games to bring up the rear after a disastrous 2020-21 campaign in which they went an aggregate 19-39 over two halves, worst in the LMP under manager Victor Bojorquez. Robinson Cancel is the Los Mochis helmsman this winter but thus far nothing much has changed, although the Caneros did salvage a series in Monterrey Sunday with a 2-1 win over the Sultanes behind a solo homer by Josuan Hernandez and 6.2 innings of one-run pitching by starter Carlos Viera.


            Heading into Sunday's games, Jalisco's Christian Villanueva was batting an even .400 to lead all LMP batters. Tirso Ornelas of Navojoa is second at .390 while Hermosillo's Nick Torres' .386 is good enough for third. Torres also tops the tables with five homers, one more than the four roundtrippers of Danny Ortiz (Monterrey), Missael Rivera (Jalisco) and Maikel Serrano (Navojoa). Serrano is first in RBIs with 17, ahead of Ortiz' 14 and the 13 of Torrez. Culiacan has three of the top five base stealers in the Mex Pac: Dairon Blanco leads the list with six swipes, one more than the five of teammate Sebastian Elizalde and Mazatlan's Ramon Rios and two more than Tomateros infielder Ramiro Pena and Venados outfielder Randy Romero.


            Among pitchers, Navojoa's Carlos De Leon has been a major reason for the Mayos' strong burst out the gate by winning his first three starts, making him the only LMP pitcher with a trio of wins at this stage of the season. Thirteen other pitchers have two wins, with two starters (Jalisco's Orlando Lara and Elian Leyva of Hermosillo) tied for the lead with 0.00 ERAs to augment their respective 2-0 records. Obregon's Luis Escobar has 24 strikeouts in 22.1 innings to lead the loop while Hermosillo veteran Juan Pablo Oramas is second with 20 whiffs over 23 frames. Jake Sanchez of Mexicali has four saves (plus a win) in seven outings for the most in that category, with Jalisco's Roberto Osuna and Carlos Bustamante of Navojoa tied for second with three salvados apiece. Sanchez has 14 strikeouts in seven innings with a 1.29 ERA.


            Off the LMP playing field, the expected sale of the Jalisco Charros has been finalized. The team, which has been marred by internecine front office squabbling for at least the past year, was sold by prime combatants Salvador Quirarte and Armando Navarro (who brought the team to Guadalajara from Guasave in 2014) to a group led by Jose Luis Gonzalez, his son Inigo and brother Juan Carlos, who also own the Mexican League Guadalajara Mariachis. Navarro was present at the press conference announcing the sale and said, “I wish the new owners every success and I thank all the fans.” The State of Jalisco is allowing the Charros to make fifty percent of Estadio Panamericano's 16,500 seats available for home games.



MEX PAC ROAD TRIP: Obregon, Sonora


            We’ll continue our virtual journey to all ten Mexican Pacific League franchise sites by driving south from Hermosillo on Highway 15 for three-and-a-half hours (155 miles) through former LMP city Guaymas to Ciudad Obregon, Sonora’s second largest city behind Hermosillo with a metropolitan population of 375,000 and home of the seven-time league champion Yaquis.


            While the city itself is less than 100 years old, the area it sits in had long been settled by the Yaqui Indian nation, after whom the baseball team was named. Originally known as Cajeme when it was given municipal status in 1927, the city was renamed in 1937 after Revolution hero General Alvaro Obregon, a Navojoa native who later became president of Mexico and initiated modern agricultural techniques to the Yaqui Valley that made the region one of the most prosperous in the country. In fact, the area is called “Mexico’s Grain Provider” thanks to wheat growing standards partly established by American Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Norman Bourlaug.


            Present-day Obregon is the agribusiness center of a region whose countryside is liberally dotted with grain elevators, storage silos and cotton mills. While it is a working city and not tourism-oriented, there are some points of interest for visitors to take in. Laguna Nainari just west of town is a popular lagoon with restaurants, picnic areas and boats for water-skiing, while the nearby San Jose Beach features a spa. South of Laguna Nainari is the Parque Ostimuri, a tree-lined park geared towards young people (and the young at heart) with an amusement park, several refreshment stands and a zoo with animals ranging from deer and boars to turtles and gila monsters.


            The Museo del Yaquis celebrates the history of the valley and is doing its part to keep the culture of the Yaqui people alive. Moreover, the Mexican government designated the Yaquis as the first recognized tribe in the country, allowing them to continue their traditions overseen by a tribal government. There are four institutes of higher education in Obregon while the local airport receives flight from 13 Mexican and four U.S. cities.


            Professional baseball in Obregon debuted in 1947 as a member of the old Pacific Coast League. The Yaquis have won seven MexPac pennants (including three in a row under manager Eddie Diaz between 2010-11 and 2012-13) since 1965-66, winning Caribbean Series championships in 2011 and 2013. Past Obregon players whose numbers have been retired include Vinny Castilla, Roberto Vizcarra, Carlos Valencia and brothers Vicente and Enrique Romo.


Estadio Yaquis            The Yaquis play their home games in the state of the art Estadio Yaquis, a 16,500-seat facility on the outskirts of town that opened in time for the 2016-17 season. Estadio Yaquis co-hosted games for the WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup last month. Considered one of Mexico's finest ballparks, it's had a cool reception among local fans due to high ticket prices and a less-centralized location than Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan, which served the team for 36 years and (like Hermosillo's Estadio Hector Espino) has been purchased by the federal government to serve as a baseball academy.



MAESTROS OF MEXICO: Nelson Barrera, 3B/1B/DH


One of the most beloved and admired figures in Mexican baseball history, Nelson Barrera Romellon was a mainstay at third base in the LMB for 26 seasons.  Nicknamed El Almirante (“The Admiral”) by fans, Barrera was born October 17, 1957 in Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche and grew up to be a six foot,180-pounder. Surprisingly, given his career power totals, Barrera was not considered a home run hitter for the first few years of his Liga career.  In fact, he hit just 48 roundtrippers over his first seven campaigns between 1977 and 1983. 


Barrera posted his first big season as a 26-year-old in 1984 with Mexico City, cracking 23 homers while hitting .354 and driving in 101 runs. That led to an invitation to spring training by the Chicago White Sox in 1985.  After batting just .176 with two homers for Class AAA Buffalo, Barrera was sent back to the Diablos Rojos and never played outside Mexico again.


            He went on a three-year tear between 1986 and 1988 for Mexico City, belting 110 homers and driving in 383 runs while posting batting averages of .350, .349 and .372. Although he never approached those kinds of numbers the rest of his career, The Admiral remained one of the most respected and feared batters in Mexico through the rest of the 20th century. 


            Barrera retired with 455 career homers, two more than all-time great Hector Espino’s 453.  His 1,928 career RBIs is also the Liga’s all-time best, as are his 972 extra-base hits and six 100-plus RBI seasons. He finished with 2,938 career hits (second behind Jesus Sommers) and a lifetime batting average of .298.  Along with Sommers, he had 19 seasons of 100 or more hits. Barrera hit three homers in a seven-inning game, and once had a streak of seven bombs over a five-game stretch. 


He was a fairly marginal batter in the winter Pacific League, hitting .254 over 15 seasons with Culiacan and Mexicali although he was the LMP’s MVP for the Tomateros in 1984-85 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs.  Barrera made his hits count in the winter, however, and stands sixth in career homers with 131 and 9th in RBIs with 479.  His eight career grand slam homers are a MexPac record.  He played in five Caribbean Series between 1983 and 1988, winning a title with Mexicali in 1986 in Venezuela.    


            Barrera was respected as a manager, too, leading the Oaxaca Guerreros to the LMB crown in 1998 while turning in 15/110/.321 numbers as a player. He was managing the Campeche Piratas in his home state when he died tragically in 2002 after he was electrocuted by a live hanging wire while doing repairs on the roof of his home following a severe windstorm. The ballpark in Campeche was renamed in his honor.


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