by Bruce Baskin
May 3, 2021 - Mexican League (ML)
LMB PRESEASON CAMPS, GAMES UNDERWAY
With the Mexican League's delayed season openers set for later this month, all 18 teams have opened their training camps in recent weeks and several preseason games have been played, including a pair of contests north of the border in San Antonio, Texas.
The defending champion Monclova Acereros closed out a two-game series with a 10-0 shutout of the Dos Laredos Tecolotes at Nelson Wolff Stadium last Friday. Former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon got the start for the Acereros, tossing four innings of one-hit ball with three strikeouts. A year after having to work his family's taco stand in California to make ends meet, Henry Omana was one of a number of relievers to come in from the Tecos' bullpen after starter Richelson Pena (a Rangers farmhand for nine summers) allowed three runs over two innings.
Monclova won the first game in San Antonio last Thursday, 4-3, but had to work a lot harder to do it. Dos Laredos took a opening 2-0 lead in the top of the third on a two-run single by Balbino Fuenmayor, but the Steelers pulled to within a run in the bottom of the sixth via back-to-back doubles by Francisco Espinosa and Danny Espinosa. After the Tecos tacked on a run in the top of the seventh to take a 3-1 advantage, the champions knotted the score thanks to two-baggers from Nah Perio and Jacob Barfield. The final run of the night came in the bottom on the eighth when Monclova's Niko Pacheco scored from third on a Jorge Gonzalez wild pitch.
In related news, a joint press conference between the Tecolotes and City of Laredo officials was held last month in which both parties expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming season with games being played at both Laredo Ballpark and Parque La Junta in neighboring Nuevo Laredo. There had been speculation that the Tecos would play some home games in other border cities after tense negotiations with the City of Laredo centered on control of concessions, which team owner Jose Antonio Mansur wanted year-round instead of only during baseball season, but an agreement has obviously been arrived upon.
While Colon took the mound for Monclova last weekend, a number of other former big leaguers are rounding into shape for the 2021 schedule. In Guadalajara, Adrian Gonzalez has been working out with fellow members of the expansion Mariachis and belted a couple of homers during a batting practice session last week. Eyes are on Gonzalez' back, where pains greatly contributed to his exit from Major League Baseball after a stint with the Mets in 2018. El Titan appeared to be swinging pain-free during training camp and at this point, Mariachis manager Benji Gil still plans to alternate Gonzalez and Jesse Castillo between first base and designated hitter following the apparent retirement of a third veteran, Saul Soto.
Meanwhile, to the east, ex-Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has been training with the LMB's other first-year club, the Veracruz Aguilas. According the the Septima Entrada website, Aguilas sports manager Jesus "Chino" Valdez says "the arrival of the Cuban outfielder has caused a positive impact within the Aguilas." Writer Thomas Lopez says that during an interview on the Bateo Libre radio progam, Valdez said he held a meeting with Aguilas players before Puig's signing with Veracruz was announced and that the players "perfectly understood the level of character we were receiving. The harmony is very beautiful, a true 'teamwork' and we have not started to play yet." Valdez rejected speculation that Puig was receiving perks like a personal chauffeur or security at his in-town residence.
Finally, a longtime Tigres star is in camp with the Quintana Roo team in a new role with the Mexican League club. After briefly appearing in the Indians' system in 1991, Robles went on to spend 21 seasons as a power-hitting shortstop in the LMB (including a 14-year stint with the Tigres in Mexico City, Puebla and Cancun between 1994 and 2007) before retiring as a player in 2012. Now Robles is in his first season as the Tigres hitting coach under manager Adan Munoz, a teammate between 2004 and 2007. "What you learned during 20 seasons, you have to do it now with your players, with the boys," Robles said. "Support them in whatever they can take care of and given them advice for game time." The 50-year-old played on seven division champions and four pennant winners with the heritage franchise.
SARAPEROS SIGN 14-YEAR-OLD INFIELDER FROM MERIDA
Most professional teams in any sport will sign a young, unproven player with an eye to the future, but the Saltillo Saraperos may have outdone themselves with their latest contract. The Mexican League club recently announced an agreement with a 14-year-old native of Yucatan, middle infielder Jorge Cervantes.
Saraperos sports director Roberto Magdaleno led a virtual press conference last week to announce the signing that was also attended by Cervantes, parents Jorge Cervantes Ramos and Fely Lara Garcia, sister Monserrat Cervantes and paternal grandfather Francisco Cervantes. "I want to thank Jorge's parents on behalf of the board of directors for the opportunity they give us to have their son with us, and even more to come from so far away.
"We hope to God that with the passage of time, he can make a relevant career with us. A special thanks to Luis Borges for his support and follow-up. Luis is a person who spent a long time in Saltillo keeping a very special affection for the team and the city, a professional as an athlete and a great person who was able to coordinate with (scouting director) Leo Figueroa to complete this important signing."
A native of Merida like the young signee, Borges spent the final four seasons of his 17-year LMB career as an infielder in Saltilo after 11 summers with the Yucatan Leones. He's worked as a baseball instructor in recent years for Pittsburgh and in Merida, he had the opportunity to train and observe players and has known the Cervantes family for a long time. "I've known Luis from a very young age," Borges said. "He's always had skill but above all, the attitude to play baseball. It was a process to know at which point could he get to do it professionally."
"Luis has excellent hitting to develop and great projections to be a good player, even for the United States. He is very young, having just turned 14 years old, and we must continue working with him, but he'll go as far as he wants."
The 14-year-old shortstop and second baseman, who's studied the past year at Blas Pascal High School (where his favorite subject is science), said at the press conference, "I'm very excited to be able to belong to this great organization. I was training with Luis Borges in Yucatan for about eight months and was confident that I could be signed. We trained very hard several days a week to achieve this dream."
Cervantes had a chance to work out with the Saraperos for three days in training camp and said he settled down in short time. "At first I didn't think about it much," the teen remarked. "I was nervous batting. I felt a little tense when I saw great players like Kennys Vargas and Manny Rodríguez himself but on the second day, I was letting go and I was calmer."
His favorite Major League player at the moment is Fernando Tatis Jr., but also appreciates Randy Arozarena "a lot for his hitting. In my country I have had the opportunity to train with him (Arozarena is a Merida resident during the offseason). He's an icon for everything he achieved in the World Series."
Cervantes concluded by saying, "I want to raise the surname Cervantes high. I have to take advantage the confidence that the entire Saraperos board of directors have given me and the support I received from Luis Borges so that they would notice me. This is the beginning of a career and I want it to be worth it."
BRAVERMAN: MEXICANS GET "DIFFERENT TREATMENT" IN LMB
One of Mexico's most prominent baseball columnists is David Braverman. His "Out 27" column is one of the most widely-read across the country and his name was floated as a potential replacement for Javier Salinas as president of the Mexican League before the Assembly of Presidents selected Horacio de la Vega as the 26th man to hold that title in November 2019.
Braverman recently wrote a column decrying what he considers poor treatment of Mexican-born ballplayers within the Mexican League, particularly in roster spots a salaries. The following is an edited Google translation of that column:
With the LMB mini-season just around the corner and the 18 teams preparing for it, a theme is once again becoming more acute that should not be put aside because it is a recurring one. I am referring to the growing inequality that appears on the rosters of some organizations around the hiring of Mexican players born in Mexico, Mexicans born in the United States and foreigners.
Taking the preseason roster presented by the Acereros de Monclova as an example, we can see that of 44 players, only 8 of them are born in Mexico; that is, only 18% of the total of their squad. The remaining 82% is made up of Mexican baseball players born across the border (dual nationality) along with Dominican, Venezuelan and American foreigners.
The issue is not only on the list of players and goes further. This team will be managed by foreigner Pat Listach and among 10 members of its coaching staff, only three were born in Mexico: Martín Arzate, Matías Carrillo and Francisco Villegas. Needless to say, Spanish is practically unspoken in their dugout, something very similar to what has happened in other dressing rooms such as Tijuana or Dos Laredos.
You may be wondering how all of this affects the Mexican-born player. I tell you, the country's baseball player collects his salary in pesos as a native person with a business activity, is issued a receipt for salary and therefore pays taxes. In the case of foreigners, every player receives their salary in dollars, as agreed from the beginning of the season. The Mexican-American plays as a "Mexican," bienvenidos, but is paid like an American (in dollars) and I leave there the doubt of how they work in terms of taxes. They are Mexicans like you and me, that is how the Constitution establishes it, but just as they have rights, they must comply with obligations and there is the doubt. Now that if it is about making a player "Mexican," they tell me that in Castaños, Coahuila, there is the solution.
Given all this, it is clear that a good number of players born in Mexico are being displaced. Many of them have not played since August 2019 and have had to dedicate themselves to other trades for more than a year. Let's not forget that the LMB teams, in addition to their seasonal rosters, have reserve lists in which many players are simply "stand by" without receiving a salary.
The Mexican baseball player born in Mexico has to get on his feet and once and for all react and pull in the same direction: stars and rookies, with high or low salaries. They should have formed a union a long time ago, an association that looks out for their interests not by fighting with owners but to give themselves their place both in contractual and salary issues, insisting not to create conflicts but to build profits. Today the players, in addition to salary issues, have no one to defend them or in matters such as fights with umpires, expulsions, fines, etc.
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