by Bruce Baskin
July 9, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
FERNANDO'S NUMBER 34 RETIRED BY MEXICAN LEAGUE
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela's jersey number was retired by all 16 Mexican League franchises on Sunday. Valenzuela's 34 becomes the second number retired on a leaguewide basis by the LMB, joining legendary slugger Hector Espino's 21 as digits that will never again be worn on a Liga diamond. Currently owner of the Quintana Roo Tigres along with wife Linda Burgos, Valenzuela was feted in a pregame ceremony Sunday in Cancun's Estadio Beto Avila, with league president Javier Salinas on hand while similar festivities took place in seven other LMB ballparks.
Prior to bursting on the big league scene with the Dodgers, Valenzuela signed a contract at age 16 with his hometown Navojoa Mayos of the Mexican Pacific League in 1977. He eventually reached the Mexican League with Yucatan in 1979, going 10-12 with a 2.79 ERA in 26 starts for the Leones, good numbers for a 19-year-old in a AAA circuit notorious as a hitter's league. LA scout Mike Brito attended a Leones game that summer to scout an opposing shortstop but after Fernando whiffed the shortstop on three straight pitches after falling behind 3-0 in the count, Brito's focus shifted and the Dodgers bought Valenzuela's contract from Yucatan for $125,000. He finished the year with Class A Lodi of the California League, going 1-2 with a 1.12 ERA. During training camp the following spring, Dodgers pitcher Bobby Castillo taught Valenzuela how to throw a screwball.
After looking good in a late-season call-up that year, Valenzuela's meteoric rise to stardom in 1981 begat an All-Star game start, an MLB strikeout title, Rookie of the Year honors, a Silver Slugger award, the NL Cy Young Award and a World Series title. Attending all this was Fernandomania, during which he captivated baseball fans much as Mark Fidrych of Detroit had five years earlier. Unlike the tragic Fidrych (whose arm went bad his second year and lost his pitching mojo), Valenzuela went on to pitch in five more All-Star Games and toss a no-hitter in 1990 during a 17-year big league career in which he went 173-153 with a 3.54 ERA and 2,074 strikeouts. While those numbers won't get him into Cooperstown (he was inducted in Mexicos Salon de la Fama this spring), they also don't reflect what a cultural phenomenon he became, especially among millions of Mexicans on both sides of the border.
Valenzuela had two more one-year stints in the Mexican League in the 1990's, both with the Jalisco Charros. He went 10-9 with a 3.86 ERA over 22 starts in 1992; after spending time in Baltimore the following year, El Toro was back in Guadalajara in 1994, going 10-3 and 2.67 in 17 starts for the Charros. He retired from baseball three years later, although Valenzuela would continue to work sporadically in the Mexican Pacific League before tossing his final pitch for Mexicali on December 20, 2006 at the age of 46.
After his playing days ended, Valenzuela coached at several levels, serving the Mexican National Team in four World Baseball Classics, before buying the Tigres with wife Linda in early 2017 and installing son Fernando Jr. as general manager. El Toro's time in the front office has not been accompanied by the same glory that surrounded him on the mound. The Tigres have found the sledding tough since the Valenzuelas bought them, both on the field (141-149 overall record through Sunday, no division titles) and at the gate (an average attendance of 3,266) while being at the center of the Rookiegate scandal, in which five Tigres prospects were transferred to Mexico City while the couple was buying the franchise from former owner Carlos Peralta. Fernando was said to be mad enough about Rookiegate at one time to think about selling the team.
Although everyone made nice over the weekend, it's not known whether the Diablos ever gave the Tigres the more than two million dollars the former received for subsequently selling two of the prospects to the Texas Rangers, money the Valenzuelas could use to cover the Tigres' operating expenses. Having your number retired on a leaguewide basis is a wonderful gesture but it doesn't help you meet payroll.
BALLPARK CONTRACTOR SUES HELU, DIABLOS ROJOS
Raul Ochoa at Proceso.com reports that a contractor involved with building the Mexico City Diabos Rojos' new ballpark has filed a lawsuit against the franchise. Dünn Arquitectura Ligera is suing the Alfredo Harp Helu Sports Center organization for breach of contract in connection to costs of construction and installation of the futuristic roof above the main grandstand at 20-564-seat Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, which sits within Mexico City's Magdalena Mixuca Sports City complex.
The facility was financed by team owner Harp, who had originally expected to spend 800 million pesos (or about US$42 million) for the stadium. Instead, project delays and cost overruns more than quadrupled the cost of Mexico's newest ballpark to 3.5 billion pesos (US$184 million). Harp and the Diablos have since balked at paying for many of the cost overruns, causing the architectural firm to seek payment in court.
Dünn lawyer Luis Villasenor told Proceso that the cost went up because Harp's company was making modifications that affected where and how the ballpark's columns and roof were installed, and that the resultant price increase was caused by Harp and associates, whose property administrator countered that the prices were raised by Dünn. In January, Alfredo Harp Helu Sports Center prevented Dünn from continuing their ongoing work readying the ballpark for its late March opening, arguing the costs had risen well above the agreed amount. In response, Dünn filed a complaint before a Mexico City civil court demanding to be allowed to complete the work and payment of related wages.
Harp's company claimed that Dünn had abandoned the project three years after signing the contract. A document provided by Dünn to Proceso countered that the entire project was ill-defined by the team from the outset, the numerous design changes submitted by Harp's group kept altering design calculations and that there is now concern about the roof's stability. The civil court judge awarded Harp and the team a so-called counter guarantee, which was then earmarked to a new contractor for taking over the project from Dünn and completing the work (which Dünn says was 95 to 97 percent complete) in less than three weeks prior to the venue's March 23 opener.
The Dünn suit is, among other things, calling for expert appraisals to be carried out to determine whether the structural design calculations "are correct and, where appropriate, establish the measures that must be adopted to guarantee the security operation of the same before the well-founded fear that this structure collapses."
Writer Ochoa describes a tour of the ballpark involving a number of Diablos officials, including executive president Othon Diaz, found cracks to the finish of the main hall of the stadium, an auxiliary power system that had been operating the facility for over a month because official approval for standard electricity had not yet been approved by the Secretary of Energy, a lack of direct drinking water for patrons and an inadequate water pump system in the basement of the Sports City. In addition, workers were spotted a week after the ballpark's inauguration doing some welding on lower and upper parts of columns.
Another issue brought up has been the quality of soil the structure was built on. When asked about whether there were concerns about building atop a clay-laden surface in which a true "bottom" was never found on which to set a foundation, stadium operations director Alicia Andonegui replied, "Never. If you hire experts who know about the subject, you can build whatever you want in the area you consider it."
Stadium administrator Jose Jose Ortiz defended the quality of the work. "There is no problem, we assure you," Ortiz said. "The property is operating perfectly and in excellent condition." However, Mexico City Head of Government (similar to a mayor) Claudia Scheinbaum, who took office in December and accompanied president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu's March 23 opener, now says it was a "mistake" to build it in the Sports City.
CABORCA SEEKS TO CLINCH LIGA NORTE SECOND HALF TITLE
With less than a week remaining in the regular season, the Caborca Rojos are hoping to hang to their two-game lead over the San Luis Algodoneros in their battle for the Mexican Northern League second half crown and the eight playoff points that accompany first place in each half. Caborca finished the first half with a 13-17 record and fourth place in the five-team circuit, but they went in to last weekend's series in San Quintin with a 17-8 mark. The Freseros entered the set with a 12-13 record, five games behind the Reds and three games behind 16-11 San Luis.
The Rojos have represented Caborca in Mexican Class AA baseball since 1948, winning Northern Sonora League pennants in 1966, 1975 and 2004 and a Liga Norte flag in 2011, playing their home games in 5,000-seat Estadio Heroes de Caborca. While there have been other strong Red nines over the years, Caborca has not been one of the traditional powers in the regional loops of northwest Mexican states (and baseball hotbeds) of Sonora, Sinaloa and now Baja California Sur.
Caborca's current season was chugging along as usual in the middle of the short-circuit pack until two things conspired to happen simultaneously: The Rojos got hot in the second half while first half winners (and defending champion) Ensenada stumbled out the game and have yet to recover. The Marineros took the crown with an 18-12 record to edge San Luis by a game in the first half but stand fourth at 11-16 under first-year manager Ramon Esquer while expansion team La Paz, who surprised many with a third-place finish in the opening half at 15-15, are in fifth and last with an 8-16 mark.
The Rojos, who receive players from working agreements with Yucatan and Union Laguna of the Mexican League, have led the Liga Norte in batting under manager Gilberto Sotomayor with a .295 average while their pitching staff's ERA of 4.14 also tops the LNM. Caborca has four batsmen among the league's top seven hitters: Juan Manuel Kirk is third with a .366 average, Brayan Quintero is fourth at .351, Yadil Mujica ranks fifth with a .340 mark and Adan Velazquez (.333) is seventh. Osniel Madera of San Quintin leads with a .381 average. The versatile Velazquez, who can play either second or third base as well as the outfield, topss the LNM with 50 RBIs and is tied with La Paz' Maikel Serrano for fourth in homers with seven, four behind Serrano's Delfines teammate Rene Reyes' 11. Caborca pitcher Misael Silverio Meza leads the Liga Norte with eight wins and is third in ERA at 2.83, trailing San Quintin moundmates Porfirio Lopez (2.20) and Alejandro Arteaga (2.75). Lopez leads Meza in the strikeouts race, 90 to 87.
The LNM was formed in 2008 and has served as the Mexican League's top feeder loop, but it's been a turbulent year for the Liga Norte. First, the Tecate Indios requested (and received) a year off after a poor financial showing in 2018. They were replaced by the new La Paz Delfines, marking the debut of professional baseball in Baja California Sur after interests in the peninsular city had first explored entry in the winter Mexican Pacific League. La Paz' entry kept the LNM at six teams until the Puerto Penasco Tiburones followed Tecate's suit and dropped out shortly before the April 2019 opener over money issues. The league has since muddled its way with a five-team lineup, ensuring at least one idle team every night of the campaign.
Another blow was dealt in the offseason when the Mexican League withdrew its formal support and the pesos that came with it after LMB president Javier Salinas cited financial irregularities, although he declined to elabortate. The move meant a cutoff of needed cash from the AAA Liga, with LNM president Francisco Ochoa talking with Mexico's national baseball coordinator, Edgar Gonzalez, to seek restoration of funding via pro-baseball president Andres Manuel Lopez (who took a very hands-on approach to his favorite sport shortly after assuming office in December, but has quieted down somewhat since).
Salinas did say that while the LMB was withdrawing structural and financial support, individual Liga teams were free to cobble together their own affiliation agreements with Liga Norte clubs and now all five teams in the latter have at least two Liga affiliates (San Quintin has set ties with Tijuana and Campeche but the Freseros roster also contains many Saltillo AA players).
The LNM regular season will conclude when Caborca visits Ensenada in a series of top teams from each half and La Paz hosts San Quentin in a three-game midweek set. San Luis will be the bye team. The four-team playoffs will open next weekend.
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