by Bruce Baskin
November 9, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)
LMP SHUTS DOWN FOR 11 DAYS TO BATTLE VIRUS SURGE
Following an uptick of Wuhan virus cases that led to series delays and postponements or cancellations of games (including two entire series), the Mexican Pacific League held an emergency Assembly of Presidents meeting late last week, where it was decided to close the season down for eleven days, beginning Friday, November 6. Games are slated to resume on Tuesday, November 17.
Things began to unravel Tuesday, October 27, when a scheduled series opener in Hermosillo between the Naranjeros and visiting Culiacan was delayed one day "in order to maintain the logistical protocols," according to a press release from the LMP office. The series instead started Wednesday, October 28 with two seven-inning games, the adjusted format for doubleheaders this winter.
It was determined Monday of last week that two Los Mochis players, pitcher Santiago Gutierrez and outfielder Leandro Castro, were shown to have the virus in a second round of testing after general tests had indicated six "suspicious" results among Caneros players and coaches. Sports manager Carlos Soto said both Gutierrez and Castro had been sequestered in Mexicali hotel rooms and were to be transferred back to Los Mochis while the team awaited further results. A third Caneros player, infielder Isaac Rodriguez, also initially tested positive and was being quarantined in his hotel room until secondary test results on the defending Mex Pac batting champion were received. Rodriguez was eventually cleared and back in the lineup Wednesday night as the Caneros continued playing.
The pandemic trickle then became a river, with the league office cancelling a midweek series between Hermosillo and Monterrey. The floodgates opened with the cancellation last Thursday of a weekend series between the Sultanes and Venados in Mazatlan while the LMP also postponed the third game of a midweek set that night between Mazatlan and Guasave until mid-November with the entire weekend triad of games between Hermosillo and Guasave called off.
At that point, Mex Pac president Omar Canizales convened the emergency Assembly meeting on Friday, which led to the cessation of all games for eleven days, starting that evening. A press release from the LMP office in Guadalajara states the stoppage, the first in the loop's 76-year history, will be used to intensify testing of all players, coaching staffs and "collaborators" who have contact with them. All team members will need to present negative virus tests before they'll be allowed on the field when play resumes November 17. Lost games will not be made up while the first half will be extended until Thursday, November 26, four days after its original conclusion on Sunday, November 22. The adjusted schedule will mean a reduction of nine games, with a first half of 29 games followed by a second half with a 30-game calendar.
YAQUIS STILL ON TOP, SWING 4-FOR-1 TRADE WITH MAYOS
Amid an ongoing flurry of player movement, the Obregon Yaquis continued their red-hot play into the unscheduled work stoppage, maintaining first place in the Mexican Pacific League standings when the league office halted games for eleven days. Culiacan thwarted the Yaquis' attempt to complete a road sweep by topping Obregon, 14-4, Thursday night as Sebastian Elizalde's seventh inning grand slam capped a six-RBI night for the Tomateros rightfielder, but the loss only dropped the Yaquis' record to 17-3 for the season, good enough for a three-and-a-half-game lead over second-place Hermosillo (12-5). The win lifted fourth-place Culiacan to 11-9, a game-and-a-half behind idle Monterrey (11-6).
Earlier in the week, Obregon completed a blockbuster trade with last-place Navojoa (6-14) by trading four players to the Mayos for first baseman Victor Mendoza, who was in his fifth winterball seasons in Navojoa but was also a two-time playoff reinforcement for the Yaquis. A hometown boy who turns 30 later this month, the Yaquis had sought to get Mendoza from Navojoa for some time, but the price they paid for the 6'2" 205-pounder raised eyebrows among observers throughout the Mex Pac.
To acquire Mendoza, who was batting .209 with no homers and eight RBIs in 13 games, Obregon gave the Mayos starting pitcher Octavio Acosta (3-0 with a league-leading 2.12 ERA), outfielder Tirso Ornelas (a highly-regarded 20-year-old San Diego Padres prospect batting .267 in part-time duty), infielder Moises Gutierrez (a .250 hitter in his fourth LMP season) and veteran pitcher Francisco Moreno, who had yet to pitch for Obregon after being acquired from Mazatlan in yet another trade. The lefty-batting Mendoza had not suited up for the Yaquis before play was halted but manager Sergio Gastelum will count on him to augment his 19 career homers in 226 games over seven winters when he returns while sports manager Manuel Velez may have even more riding on Mendoza's success.
Navojoa also helped themselves last week by adding a former Major league Baseball first-round draft pick to their roster. D.J. Peterson was selected out of the Unversity of New Mexico by Seattle with the 12th pick of the 2013 draft and went on to play in the Mariners system until the White Sox picked him up on waivers in 2017. He also spent time in the Cincinnati organization before playing the last two summers with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in the Houston area. Able to play third and first base, Peterson hit .264 with 108 homers in 673 games over seven minor league campaigns before batting .293 with 12 homers over 63 games the past two years. He hit .236 with two roundtrippers for Mexicali last winter and was due to play for Quintana Roo this year before the Mexican League canceled its season, returning to Sugar Land instead.
Speaking of Mexicali, the Aguilas removed the "interim" part of Bronswell Patrick's title as manager of the team. Patrick replaced Pedro Mere on October 23 after the Eagles started the season by losing their first eight games. Since then Patrick led Mexicali to six wins in his first ten games at the helm, including a 4-0 triumph over Los Mochis last Wednesday in which starter David Reyes, a Los Mochis native, tossed both his first complete game and shutout in nine Mex Pac seasons. The Aguilas told Patrick the dugout boss job was his after that game and Mexicali topped the Caneros, 5-4, the next night before the season was halted. It's worth remembering that while the interim status was taken away from Patrick, this is Mexican baseball, where all managers work on an interim basis, one way or another.
CHRIS ROBERSON STEPS DOWN AFTER 16 YEARS OF WINTERBALL
One of the most popular ballplayers south of the border and a fixture in the Mexican Pacific League for years may be calling it good after 16 years of winterball. Outfielder Chris Roberson, who broke into the Mex Pac with Hermosillo in 2005-06 and also performed with Mexicali for nine years before being loaned by the Aguilas to Mazatlan last season, parted company with the Venados last Friday. After 15 games, the Californian was batting .170 with one double and eight RBIs and had expressed his desire to leave the club for personal reasons. The LMP's pandemic-driven work stoppage created an opening and Roberson was granted a release last Friday and went home.
Born in Oakland in 1979, Roberson was picked from Feather River College north of Sacramento on the ninth round of the 2001 draft by Philadelphia. He spent seven years in the Phillies system, earning AA Eastern League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 on the heels of a .311 season at the plate with 15 homers and 34 steals for Reading. After making his LMP debut with Hermosillo later that year, Roberson played his first MLB game on May 12, 2006 during an 8-4 Philadelphia win in Cincinnati. He went on to appear in 85 big league games, mostly as a defensive replacement, and hit .232 in 72 plate appearances. The Phils sold Roberson to the Orioles in 2008 and he spend that season with Norfolk of the AAA International League before signing as a free agent with the Diamondbacks and playing for Reno in the AAA Pacific Coast League in 2009.
Roberson spent his fifth winter in Hermosillo in 2009-10 and appeared in his first Caribbean Series, then made his move to Mexico permanent by signing with Monterrey of the Mexican League for the 2010 campaign. He's patrolled the Sultanes outfield ever since, batting .333 (topping .300 nine of ten seasons) with 112 homers and 160 steals while scoring 657 runs from his customary leadoff spot in the batting order while performing in six All-Star Games and playing for the Fall 2018 champions.
While his .285 average with 68 homers, 168 steals and 548 runs in 16 seasons of winterball mostly don't match his Mexican League marks, Roberson has been a distinctive Mex Pac performer over the years. He played in seven Caribbean Series between 2011 and 2018 and was named MVP of the 2014 Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball after leading Hermosillo to the title while leading all batters with ten hits (including the event's lone triple), six runs, two steals and 19 stolen bases over six games.
Whether Roberson, who turned 41 in August, has retired is partly his choice. While he's now a free agent in the LMP, he's still on Monterrey's Mexican League roster and the Sultanes fan favorite did hit .338 with eight homers and five steals in 72 games for manager Roberto Kelly in 2019. If he decides he's done with Mexican baseball, he's certainly not done with Mexico. Married to Monterrey native Yaneth and father to two daughters, Roberson became a Mexican citizen in 2016 and played for Mexico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic under skipper Edgar Gonzalez.
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