by Bruce Baskin
April 4, 2017 - Mexican League (ML)
After a fitful and acrimonious winter, the Mexican League was able to finally get down to some baseball over the weekend as the 2017 regualr season was opened. The Tijuana Toros and Yucatan Leones each swept their home series to give themselves very early leads in the Northern and Southern divisions, respectively.
The Toros took three from the Union Laguna Vaqueros, including a 16-5 opening night win Friday in front of 17,988 fans at a packed Estadio Gasmart. Ex-big leaguers Alex Liddi and Jorge Cantu each belted early two-run homers off Vaqueros starter Dustin Crenshaw, who was bombed for six runs and eight hits in three innings as Tijuana was ahead 15-2 after four frames. Alex Sanabia allowed one earned run and struck out eight over five innings for the win. Another former MLBer, Horacio Ramirez, tossed six innings of two-hit ball in the Toros' 5-0 shutout over Laguna on Saturday while Liddi homered for the third night in a row to augment Miguel Pena's five scoreless frames in Sunday's 6-1 win over the Vaqueros to complete the sweep.
Likewise, Yucatan met with little resistance in their broom job over Quintana Roo, outscoring the Tigres by a 29-6 margin in their weekend set at Merida's Parque Kukulcan. The Leones put an exclamation point on both the sweep and their intention to fulfill lofty preseason predictions among many observers by stomping the Tigres, 13-1, Sunday as 10,392 fans braved the 102-degree heat to attend the game. Jordany Valdespin knocked in four runs with a triple and single while Leo Heras and Diego Madero combined for six hits and five runs scored for Yucatan, who chased Quintana Roo starter Julian Arballo in the fourth inning. Juan Delgadillo, a 34-year-old righty who missed the 2016 season, got the win after pitching five entradas of three-hit, one-run ball. The Leones player and coaches were joined by owners Erick and Jose Juan Arellano last Wednesday in an official mass officiated by Father Lorenzo Mex Jimenez, a not-unusual occurrence in a country that is over 90 percent Catholic.
One Opening Night surprise came from the Durango Generales, whose participation this season was in doubt up until last week, when the LMB Assembly of Presidents drew a collective breath and approved the troubled franchise for 2017 despite a number of problems well-chronicled here. The Generales, who will spend at least the first two weeks of the season on the road, began their schedule with a 2-1 win at Aguascalientes on Friday as Yadir Drake drove in the first run and scored the second tally in the fourth inning to give Durango starter Mario Gonzalez and six relievers all the support they needed. Brazilian Tiago da Silva capped the five-hitter by tossing ten pitches for a scoreless ninth to earn the save, striking out pinch-hitter Jose Vargas swinging to end the contest. The Generales dropped the final two games of the series, but that first win for manager Joe Alvarez' hastily-assembled troops was a huge one for them.
A total of 202,283 people attended 18 games over the weekend for an average audience of 11,238 per opening. Monterrey saw the largest crowd on opening night, with 29,734 overflowing the stands at Estadio Monterrey Friday. However, while Monterrey, Tijuana and Yucatan averaged more than 15,000 per game among them, the news wasn't as rosy elsewhere. Mexico City, Oaxaca, Campeche and Aguascalientes each drew fewer than 5,000 per game over the inaugural weekend. Defending champion Puebla, whose roster was gutted when owner Gerardo Benavides transferred most of the team's star players to his other team in Monclova, saw 5,132 turnstile clicks per opening in their series with LMB debutantes Leon. While it's far too early for definitive statements, it looks like another year of Haves and Have Nots at the gate in the LMB in 2017.
LATER THIS WEEK IN BBM: Salon de la Fama member Ruben Amaro dies at 81; Mexico City ballpark expected to be completed this summer, but Diablos will wait until 2018 to open it.