by Bruce Baskin
April 27, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)
LMB LOOKS AT JULY START; LMP OPENER IN NOVEMBER?
One of Mexico's most well-connected baseball writers is saying that the Mexican League is eyeing a July start to a 2020 regular season that would run into September, followed by a postseason that might push the winterball Mexican Pacific League's season opener into November.
Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros, who has well-placed sources in both of Mexico's top leagues, wrote last week that reports from three LMB clubs indicate the country's senior circuit is hoping to get their Wuhan virus-delayed campaign underway in July, assuming the pandemic is under control by then. The federal government's extension of their "safe distance" edict to May 30 effectively scuttled the Liga's hoped-for May 11 starting date after their initial April 6 debut in Monclova was postponed.
The tentatively-planned Mexican League schedule would end in September, with a full right-team playoff calendar potentially ending with an October 31 Game Seven of the Serie del Rey championship matchup. According to another Ballesteros source in the Mexican Pacific League, "The LMP would be starting on November 1; that's the most current scenario that comes to us today and it would be very feasible to approve it." Ballesteros notes that the only previous time winter baseball on the west coast started in November was in 1958-59, when the former Liga Sonora began their 36-game regular season on November 14.
In his Zona Contacto column, Ballesteros advises LMB owners to not "fall into despair" and make "irreparable mistakes," like the appointment of the "worst president in the history of the Liga," Javier Salinas. He said one potential format being discussed would involve three groups of five or six teams each playing regular season games behind closed doors in Mexico City, Monterrey and Merida, a scenario Ballesteros says would result in "absolutely pure losses" for the league, which does not have the television revenue that would allow leagues in Taiwan and South Korea to use a similar setup.
In an interview with Septima Entrada, LMB president Horacio de la Vega told writer Irving Furlong, "For the moment, we are not contemplating being able to do the season behind closed doors. We depend on the attendance of people and need the potential of making internal sales at our stadiums. In other words, it's a requirement for us." De la Vega did allow that everything depends on health contingencies in Mexico due to the Wuhan virus: "We'll have to explore it. It can be a temporary solution, too, that we start like this and then migrate to another situation. At the moment it's not one of the situations we're considering but, well, we're going to see how things develop."
Ballesteros added that the LMB is seeking to sanction anyone who leaks information to the media, which he said was nothing new: "They have tried this for years and the more they pressure their associates, the faster it flows and from new fronts."
According the the Puro Beisbol editor, several LMB club owners wanted their season to open on the planned April 6 date a month-and-a-half ago, although Northern Division teams were opposed, while Mex Pac owners and president Omar Canizales watched "comfortably" from the sidelines. Now, however, the LMP calendar is in danger for two reasons: There is no exact date for controlling the Wuhan virus and the Mexican League is now sending signals that their season may extend as far as November. The closest the two leagues came to colliding schedules was in 2018, when that Fall's Serie del Rey ended on October 9, three days before the Mex Pac regular season opened. This year, the LMP season could potentially begin one day after a Game Seven in the LMB's championship series.
As a result, the Mex Pac may have to expand the limit of foreigners to eight per club while opening up the often-contentious issue of defining players with dual nationality to ensure each of their ten teams have enough players to start the season with.
EL TITAN NOT RULING OUT PLAYING IN MEXICAN LEAGUE THIS YEAR
El Fildeo reports that former major league All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is reportedly willing to consider playing in the Mexican League this year once the season gets underway.
In an interview with Marca Clara reporter Guillermo Garcia, Gonzalez said he was "looking at the possibility of going to play in the Mexican League this year to see how I felt in order to possibly play in the first Olympic Games for Mexico." The Mexican National team qualified for the country's first appearance in baseball competition at the Olympics last winter in the WBSC Premier12 tournament. However, the Summer Games in Tokyo were postponed until next year due to ongoing concerns over the Wuhan virus.
El Titan has not played professionally since June 10, 2018 as a member of the New York Mets, going hitless in a 2-0 win against the crosstown rival Yankees before being released the following day. By then, he had collected 2,050 hits, 317 homers and 1,202 RBIs to augment a .287 batting average over a 15-year ML career that began with the Texas Rangers in 2004. Gonzalez appeared in five All-Star Games, took part in four postseasons, won four Gold Gloves for fielding at the initial hassock and was given two Silver Slugger awards as the best-hitting first baseman in MLB. He finished in the Top 20 among MVP vote-getters eight times, coming in fourth in 2010 (when he hit .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs for San Diego that season).
Although he was born in San Diego and attended high school in nearby Chula Vista, the 37-year-old Gonzalez spent many years being raised across the border in Tijuana by parents David and Alba and is qualified by his heritage (David grew up playing baseball in Obregon, Sonora) to play for Mexican national teams. Brother Edgar, who grew up with him in Tijuana, played second base in MLB with the San Diego Padres and in NPB with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and managed in the Mexican Pacific League before being named by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to head Probeis, an AMLO-created federal agency charged with revitalizing baseball across the country from the grass-roots level up. Adrian now lives in La Jolla, another San Diego suburb, with wife Betsy and two daughters.
Gonzalez has represented Mexico in World Baseball Classics in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2017. Although it's been nearly two years since his last competitive game, he told Marca Clara that he's always hoped to return to the diamond someday and wanted to play Olympic baseball for Mexico. "It's something that I've had in mind," he said, "and it's one of the reasons why I haven't retired." Gonzalez acknowledges that he'll have to earn his place on the roster next summer in Tokyo. "It's not something where I say, 'They have to put me on the team.' Not at all. I have to go to the Mexican League to show that I deserve to be on that team. And if I don't deserve it, I don't want to be on that team."
If Gonzalez does indeed play in the Mexican League this summer, it would mark the first time he's appeared in the LMB but he is no stranger to playing baseball south of the border. He and brother Edgar played side-by-side for several winters with the Mazatlan Venados of the Mexican Pacific League.
TESTS: MEXICAN OLYMPIC BASEBALL CANDIDATES OUT OF SHAPE
The Monclova Acereros' offseason signing of Bartolo Colon points to something I'd read in a book years ago that drew my attention and sympathies to Mexican baseball: As long as you can get the job done there, it doesn't matter how old you are or what shape you're in. Colon stands as both Exhibits A and B for that axiom. While his age and body-type were what exemplified him to many fans during the latter part of his Major League Baseball pitching career, he will not stand out in either regard in the Mexican League.
However, while age is indeed becoming a relative thing ("40 is the new 30" and all that), a recent essay by Proceso writer Beatriz Pereyra shares the concerns of a highly-respected advisor to Probeis director Edgar Gonzalez about both the lack of muscle mass and the high percentage of fat among 35 baseball players listed on the Mexican National Team's pre-selection roster for the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, postponed until 2021 due to Wuhan virus concerns in Japan.
"I did not expect good results," says advisor Miguel Valdes, a longtime top figure in Cuban baseball, "but I did not expect them to be so bad."
Of the 80 players currently on the Olympic pre-selection roster, 17 Mexican nationals and 18 Mexican-Americans showed up for physical testing in 23 different categories held in late February at the National Center for Talent Development and High Performance. Areas covered included physical, anthropometric, body composition and psychological variables, with Pereyra depicting the overall results as "deplorable" and "devastating."
According to the report obtained by Proceso, 20 of the 35 players showed a high percentage of fat and poor muscle development, thus creating a negative imbalance between fat and muscle ("characteristic of sedentary people, or endomorphs"). Twenty-one players had body fat that far exceeds what's considered optimal in baseball while 22 exhibited poor muscle development. Player diets were considered "inadequate" in all 35 players tested.
The report suggests that pitchers should have 14 percent body fat, corner players (catchers, first and third basemen, left and rightfielders) should be between 11 and 12 percent and middle fielders (shortstops, second basemen and centerfielders) will optimally show up to 10 percent body fat.
"It doesn't surprise me so much that it shows there are overweight pre-selected players," Valdes told Pereyra. "I AM troubled by the fact that in baseball, the percentages of fat are high compared to other sports and that in Mexicans, the average is above 20 percent. There are some who exceed 30 percent, which is equivalent to having about 15 kilos (33 pounds) of pure fat." He then asked rhetorically, "How can they play with all that weight? There is no efficiency for high performance. High-performance teams compete with between 11 and 14 percent of collective fat."
Valdes spent 35 years managing the Cuban National Team before defecting in 2002 along with his 14-year-old son and star pitcher Jose Contreras, who went on to appear in a World Series and All-Star Game as a member of the Chicago White Sox. He signed on last September with Probeis (aka Office of the Presidency for the Promotion and Development of Baseball), a creation of Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador headed by former MLB and NPB infielder Gonzalez.
"I won 151 games in a row with the Cuban team," Valdes notes. "Olympic Games, Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Cups...everything that is possible to win. I give credit in a large percentage to what we achieved with functional capacity. They are the sciences applied to sport, in addition to the team's talent."
According to Valdes, if Mexico wins an Olympic medal, it will not be by luck or chance: "We can compete at the highest level if we do things right. We have to get to the Olympics better prepared than the other teams, with superior parameters, and that is not easy."
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