Caribbean Series looks ahead to Mexico in '13
Confederation hopes to bring Cuba back to tournament
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Plans for the next big fiesta in baseball are already under way.
The 2013 Caribbean Series will be held in Hermosillo, Mexico, approximately 175 miles from the U.S., and the teams from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela could have company.
Juan Francisco Puello, commissioner of the Caribbean Confederation, is leading a delegation to Cuba next month to present a proposal to sports authorities in an effort to bring that country back to the Caribbean Series.
An original member of the Caribbean Confederation, Cuba has not participated in the series since 1960.
"We are thinking about including Cuba in some way," Puello said. "We believe they will be a big factor in the next Caribbean Series, in Hermosillo."
What's more, next year's round-robin tournament will be played in Hermosillo's new stadium, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of November. The plan is to play games at the facility in December and January in preparation.
"Every Caribbean Series in Mexico distinguishes itself because of fans and the atmosphere, and this will be the same," said Omar Canizales, president of the Mexican Pacific League. "We love sports in Mexico, and we also feel fortunate to have our Latin American brothers in one place. It's a fraternity in all ways. We are ready to receive them and welcome them to our country. We hope everybody from every country [comes], including the United States."
The Dominican Republic's Leones de Escogido won this year's series, finishing the six-day event ahead of Mexico's Yaquis de Obregon, Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez and Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua.
The Dominican Republic won its first four games of the series, and by virtue of Puerto Rico's win over Mexico on Monday afternoon, clinched the title before even taking the field for Monday night's game.
Venezuela shut out the Dominican Republic, 7-0, in the nightcap, but that didn't stop Escogido from celebrating on the field and taking a victory lap around the stadium. D.R. also dropped the Series finale with a 3-1 loss to Puerto Rico on Tuesday night. Venezuela wrapped up its slate with a 6-2 win over Mexico earlier in the day.
Puello has been talking about a format change to the tournament since last year's event. He's also addressed the notion that the series does not feature enough big-name stars, and was asked if such players will ever return.
"You have to have a crystal ball to talk about that. Times change," Puello said. "Nobody knows if the big figures in baseball will ever return to compete in our event. ... What teams have to do is concentrate on having fans follow the teams, not the names. Look at Venezuela. Caracas and Magallanes fans don't focus as much on the players as they do on the tradition of the team. We have to explore that also."
Hermosillo has a rich baseball history to consider, as Vinny Castillo, Curt Schilling, Maury Wills, Larry Walker and Fernando Valenzuela all played for the hometown Naranjeros. Home run legend Hector Espino, known in Latin America as the Mexican Babe Ruth, is among the club's greatest players.
The Naranjeros have won 15 Mexican Pacific League titles, the most in league history. They've won seven since 1990, including championships in 2007 and 2010.
Overall, a team from Mexico has won the Caribbean Series six times since the country began participating in the tournament in 1970, with the last title coming in 2011, by Yaquis de Obregon. The first team from Mexico to win the title was Hermosillo, in 1976. Culiacan has won two (1996 and 2002), Mexicali brought home the trophy in 1986 and in 2005 the hometown Venados won the title in Mazatlan.
"It's a very friendly town," said Obregon outfielder Chris Roberson, a former D-backs farmhand who has played for several teams in Mexico, including Hermosillo. "It's one of the most comfortable cities I've been around in Mexico as far being an American, and it's really Americanized. It's like Tucson, pretty much. It has great food, and they have the best steak in the whole country."
But Roberson, who played for Hermosillo's championship team in 2007, admits that he could be a little biased.
"That's where I met my wife," he said. "I met her when we were playing against Obregon in the playoffs, and she came to see a good friend of hers play. I told my buddy I just wanted to get to know her, and four years later we are married."