by Bruce Baskin
May 11, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)
IS HE OR ISN'T HE? CASTILLA OUT IN HERMOSILLO
After a period of time during which the general public was unsure of his job status in Hermosillo, Vinny Castilla was formally fired last week as manager of the Mexican Pacific League Naranjeros. The former Colorado Rockies All-Star third baseman was officially shown the door despite leading the Orangmen to a 38-27 overall record, second-best in the LMP, before being bounced in six games by Mazatlan in the first round of the playoffs. It was Castilla's first season at the helm in Hermosillo, where he'd played parts of four winters between 2006-07 and 2010-11.
Last Wednesday's announcement by the Naranjeros front office ended speculation as to whether or not Castilla was still employed by the club. The questions arose after Hermosillo sports manager Juan Aguirre told Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros that Castilla was expected to manage the team in the 2020-21 season. This brought a response from his namesake nephew, Vinicio Castilla, who said, "How strange. My uncle was fired a month ago." A Naranjeros fan named David Orantes added to the confusion by saying, "I saw a live interview on TUDN (a Hermosillo TV station) when he said he'd been fired a month ago. I don't understand what's happening with the directors."
The Naranjeros responded a day later by finally issuing a formal (if somewhat convoluted) statement that Castilla had indeed been let go, opening with this: "Yesterday afternoon, a social media and some sports portals circulated news mentioning firstly that Vinicio Castilla was still our manager, and later it was also denied by other sports portals and social media accounts associated with sports journalism."
After blaming the Fourth Estate for conflicting information about their own managerial position, the press release went on to say that Castilla had been cut loose. "The decision to do without his services as Manager was not at all easy, mainly due to not having reached the objectives set and having been again eliminated in the first series of playoffs," it reads. "The decision was made at the end of March, during the same dates that the health contingency situation arrived in our country and travel restrictions prevented the knowledge of Vinicio made this decision personally, as he himself stated last night. On April 14, the decision was communicated to him by telephone so that he would know it directly from the club."
Ballesteros listed the Hermosillo skippers fired under Naranjeros owner Enrique Mazon since Matias Carrillo was canned in November 2014, nine months after leading the team to their last Mex Pac pennant and a Caribbean Series title: Lino Rivera, Jose Luis Sandoval, Delino DeShields Senior, Lorenzo Bundy, Bronswell Patrick and now Castilla. For those scoring at home, that's six pilots in less than six years.
Now the search is on for a new hot seat occupant in Hermosillo, where the club stated, "the situation has been complex at the moment but once this is achieved, we will give news to our fans directly and in all certainty. Unfortunately our intention to respect the fans, Vinicio and our next manager did not materialize due to the publication of said news" regarding Castilla's termination. Ballesteros speculates the new Naranjeros helmsman will be former MLB catcher Geronimo Gil, who served as Castilla's bench coach and has managed Ensenada to a Liga Norte championship.
No press release announcement of a managerial firing in Mexico would be complete without gratitude being expressed to the newly-unemployed, and the Orangemen did not disappoint: "We take this opportunity to thank Vinicio for his dedication, his passion for baseball and his love for both the Naranjeros and the Hermosillo fans." Selah.
MAZATLAN DISPUTE CONCERNS LMP AHEAD OF CARIBBEAN SERIES
Playing dates for the 2021 Caribbean Series in Mazatlan have been tentatively set and Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales may be breathing a sigh of relief that it will not begin earlier during what may be a shortened season due to the Wuhan virus. However, the LMP leader is concerned that the ongoing dispute between the City of Mazatlan and the Mazatlan Venados (slated to host the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball) may compel the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation, who oversees the Serie del Caribe, to move the event elsewhere.
Canizales recently announced that the Caribbean Series has been scheduled to run between Sunday, January 31 and Saturday, February 6 next winter. "Right now, we're fortunate that the Super Bowl is scheduled for Sunday, February 7," Canizales told Septima Entrada. "That means we won't have any conflicts since that's a week where there are no NFL games because it's the Media Week there." The NFL's championship game will be held in Tampa, Florida.
During last February's Caribbean Series in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Mex Pac's presentation to COPABE did not include specific dates because there has been talk of moving the tournament back to the last week in January, allowing players some extra rest time before Major League Baseball training camps begin opening a week into February while creating more space between the CS and the Super Bowl, which consumes the lion's share of attention among sports media outlets.
However, Canizales expressed worries about the present imbroglio between Mazatlan's political leaders and the city's LMP baseball club, which led to the Venados' office staff being evicted from Estadio Teodoro Mariscal a month ago. The many-layered dispute between city and team has not been resolved, an impasse Canizales frets may cause COPABE to step in and relocate the Serie del Caribe to another LMP city or out of Mexico altogether because the Venados would not have control over the venue.
"I confess that I'm a little concerned that COPABE has the authority to decide to change countries or if it requires some other things from us, "Canizales explained to Septima Entrada. "I am concerned about Mazatlan but, hey, let's wait. Rather than speculate, we will wait."
The Caribbean Series was awarded last winter to Mazatlan, where the LMP and Venados were planning to showcase the Pacific coast city's renovated 16,000-seat ballpark, which was reopened October 13, 2018 after over 400 million pesos (US$18 million) in renovations increased its seating capacity by 2,000 while adding modern amenities throughout the facility.
Instead, the City has seized control of the stadium, Venados owner Jose Antonio Toledo has apparently lost the concessions contract his family has held since 1980 (years before they bought the team in the 1990's) and an injunction the franchise sought to regain control of the ballpark was rejected by a local judge. While there are expectations that the City and Venados will resolve their dispute in time for the upcoming season, it's not a sure thing.
Canizales concluded, "I want to clarify the situation as soon as possible to give certainty to COPABE and not run the risk that they'll want to make a change in relation to the venue or the country." While the former may be a possibility, the latter is highly unlikely given how Mexican cities are now drawing the highest attendance of all the Caribbean Series' host nations.
DORMANT LEAGUE HOPES TO RESTART, BECOME LMB AFFILIATE
Leaders of a longtime Class AA league based in one of Mexico's baseball hotbed states but dormant for the past six seasons are hoping to fire the circuit back up in the summer of 2021, with its member teams serving as Mexican League farm clubs.
Puro Beisbol reports that in January, LMB president Horacio de la Vega met with representatives of the eight-team Sonora Professional Baseball League (LBPS), who had planned to begin play on April 12 this year before the Wuhan virus led to the cessation of all professional baseball south of the border and elsewhere, save for Taiwan and South Korea. Now the Liga Sonora is looking at playing a 2021 schedule.
The LBPS hopes to create an affiliation agreement with the Liga, who had a similar arrangement with the Northern Mexico League in which each LNM team received a 40,000 peso stipend and had players supplied by LMB teams before the latter severed the agreement after the 2018 campaign. The Liga Norte struggled through a 2019 season in which its five teams cobbled together informal agreements with LMB teams as the San Luis Algodoneros won the pennant.
The eight clubs who'd planned on suiting up this year were the Agua Prieta Vaqueros, Caborca Rojos, Cananea Mineros, Magdalena Membrilleros, Nogales Internacionales, San Luis de Rio Colorado Datileros, Sonoyta Misioneros and Puerto Penasco Tiburones.
Caborca and San Luis fielded teams in the Liga Norte last summer, leading to questions whether both have officially withdrawn from the LNM, which had planned to expand this year before their own season was halted by the Wuhan virus. A story on their website from last November states that the Rojos and Algodoneros had both confirmed their participation in 2020. Now, however, LNM president Jorge Rivera Marquez is saying that his league may play a winter schedule instead while seeking affiliation agreements with Mexican Pacific League teams. More on that next week.
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