Why Things Are About To Get Hot, Hot, Hot In Mazatlan, Mexico

The Naranjeros will be playing at “home” (Credit: Naranjeros de Hermosillo)

Nothing warms the heart of baseball lovers like… the Super Bowl? Mais oui, and not just because this year’s version could very well be the swan song for a certain former Montreal Expos draft pick. Go Brady, go!

It’s also that the big game marks the end of the American football schedule and is thus a welcome reminder, for baseball fans, that Spring Training is just around the corner. Good news indeed.

But before pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida — and even before Tom Brady suits up the Sunday after next for his record 10th NFL title game — there’s another regrouping of sorts, this one south of the border, in Mazatlan, Mexico.

That’s where, starting this Sunday (as in just a few days from now), the annual Serie del Caribe baseball tournament gets underway. And it’s with that in mind that Le Baseblog turns its attention to the six club champions that will be representing their respective nations in a new quest to be the baseball kings of the Caribbean.

Colombia, Venezuela and Panama

The series has taken place every winter since 1949. Historically, the Dominican Republic has had the most success, with 20 titles, followed by Puerto Rico with 16, Mexico 9, Cuba 8, Venezuela 7, and Panama 2. Colombia, which joined the field for the first time last year, has yet to win a title.

This year, Colombia will again replace Cuba in the six-team event, with its national club champion, the Caimanes de Barranquilla, set to represent the South American nation more commonly associated with that other brand of futbol.

The Barranquilla bombers (Credit: Caimanes BBC)

The Colombian squad, which plays its home games in Estadio Edgar Renteria, has plenty of big league talent on its roster. MLB veterans Sandy Leon, Dilson Herrera, Harold Ramírez and Donovan Solano will all make the trip to Mazatlan. 

Neighboring Panama and Venezuela also have plenty of talent, although compared to Colombia, their paths to Mexico have been quite different.

Venezuela will send its champion, Caribes de Anzoátegui, to the Series after they made quick work of last year’s LVBP champion Lara in the Venezuelan finals last week.

The Caribes have big leaguers like Willians Astudillo and Lester Oliveros (yes, the brother of La Rochelle ace Rayner Oliveros) but they also have a European connection. Spanish national team closer Andrés Perez will appear in his second consecutive Series after playing the 2020 edition with Lara.

The talent Mr. Andrés Perez (Credit: Prensa Caribes)

Panama, a country rich with baseball tradition, home to the legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera amongst others, has put together a bit of a last minute fix in order to compete in the prestigious series. While the ProBeis (Panamanian professional league) season was canceled due to COVID-19, the Panamanian Federation has put together a sort of all star team that’s been training at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City before it heads north to Mexico to represent the small Central American nation. 

Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico

From the island nations of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the clubs that made the Serie del Caribe cut, in each case, come as little surprise. They’re also among the the favorites to take home the 2021 trophy.

Puerto Rico’s top club, Criollos de Caguas, features arguably the island’s biggest name, Yadier Molina. The 38-year-old St Louis Cardinals all star catcher and future hall of famer surprised the baseball world by choosing to continue to play winter ball in his native land this offseason.

Señor Molina’s reputation precedes him (Credit: Wikipedia)

In the nearby Dominican Republic, Las Aguilas took home the country’s LIDOM title over the Gigantes in early January and have added a few big names to their squad as well. Eight-time all star Robinson Cano, a second basemean, will join the team as a refuerzo (yes, he is allowed to play even though he will be suspended for the entire 2021 MLB season for steroids).

Joining Cano on the Dominican roster are outfielders Juan Lagares and Melky Cabrera. Infielders Robel García and Jonathan Villar also make the Dominicans the early favorites to win it all. Atop the rotation stands longtime big leaguer Carlos Martínez (58-43, 3.51 career ERA in MLB). Closing games for the club will be Neftali Felíz, who in nine seasons in the majors picked up 107 career saves.

Last in our preview, but certainly not least, we take a look at the “home” team from Mexico, the Naranjeros de Hermosillo. The club just took out the favorites, Tomateros de Culican, in the Mexican finals. Outfielder Yadiel Hernandez (.339, 4 HR, 24 RBI) has been the hot bat in the lineup.

Three games per day

Whether playing in nearby Mazatlan in front of the home crowd will give the Mexicans an advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that fans will be allowed to attend the games. Attendance will be capped around 15,000 spectators per game due to COVID-19 concerns.

Six teams, one trophy, and it all kicks off Sunday

The tournament will start this Sunday, Jan. 31, and will feature three games per day (Sunday thru Thursday) with the top four clubs advancing to the semi finals on Friday, Feb. 5. The two winners play the title game on Saturday, Feb. 6 — just one day before the Super Bowl!

The daily schedule has first pitch for game one at either 18:30 for fans in Europe, with game two at 23:00, and the last game at 4:00 a.m.

Panama takes on Venezuela to open action, with first pitch at 18:30 CET Sunday (Jan. 31).

Vamos!

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