The Winter Baseball tournament is down to its final four clubs. This year’s Caribbean Series is being played on, la Isla de Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela.
In the first semi-final game to be played Thursday evening, the Dominican League champions, los Tigres del Licey, will oppose the Mexican League champs, los Naranjeros de Hermosillo. On Friday, the #1 seeded Venezuelan champions, los Navegantes de Magallanes will take on the Puerto Rican champions, los Indios de Mayaguez. The respective winners will then face-off in the championship game to be played on Saturday.
Two seasons ago, los Leones de Escogido of the Dominican Republic were able to capture the Caribbean flag in their nation’s capital of Santo Domingo. Last year, los Yaquis de Obregon of the Mexican League also captured last year’s Caribbean title in their home country. The top seeded Venezuelan squad will try and do the same this year.
Here’s how the four qualifying champions captured their respective league titles. In Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente League, Mayaguez defeated los Criollos de Caguas four games to two. In the Dominican circuit, Licey defeated los Leones de Escogido by a five games to three margin. In the Mexican League, los Naranjeros edged los Mayos de Navojoa four games to three, while in Venezuela, los Navegantes outclassed los Caribes de Anzoategui four games to one.
For the first time since 1960, when Fidel Castro dissolved professional baseball in Cuba, the island nation participated in the Caribbean tournament. Major League Baseball begrudgingly approved their participation in December. Last year, MLB threatened to withhold affiliated players if Cuba were included in this year’s tourney.
Pertaining to this year’s developments, and changes in traditional Cuban policy, MLB.com’s Phil Rogers wrote:
That policy has finally changed, along with a deal that could allow Cuban players to essentially be leased to teams in Mexico and Japan this season. For Cuba’s baseball federation, the hope is that the easing of restrictions will slow the stream of defections that has cut into the talent pool for Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league, which operates in the winter. Rather than bolting for potential riches in North America, players could essentially play year round, earning money out of the country during the summer and then returning to play for Cuban teams in the winter, the way that many young players do in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
After 53 years of non-participation, Cuba’s entrant, los Azucareros de Villa Clara, officially competed this year as guests. Despite defeating Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Cuba still needed Venezuela to defeat Puerto Rico on Wednesday in order to advance. However, Puerto Rico prevailed over Venezuela, and Cuba’s team was eliminated from the tournament.
In 1949, the first Caribbean World Series was held in Cuba. The nation’s member teams went on to capture seven of the first twelve titles before being shut out of competition by Fidel Castro.
The Dominican Republic has won 19 Caribbean titles, the most of any nation participant. Los Tigres de Licey have won ten titles, the most all-time of any individual team. Their last title came in 2008, and will attempt to win flag number 11 starting with tonight’s semi-final match against Mexico.
Puerto Rico is next with 14 Caribbean titles. Los Indios de Mayaguez are attempting to win only their third championship. They last won the tournament in 1992.
Cuba, Venezuela, and Mexico, are all tied with seven championships apiece. Panama won the tournament one time, back in 1950. Venezuela’s Navegantes de Magallanes are likewise aiming for their team’s third title, while Mexico’s Naranjeros de Hermosillo’s lone Caribbean title came in 1976.
From Left Field:
Playing for los Tigres de Licey, Mets fans should remember outfielder Timo Perez. The team is stacked with 25 players belonging to MLB 40-man rosters, nine of which are pitchers. Shortstop Jurickson Profar is among the team’s more recognizable names. Also listed for Licey, is Mets third base prospect Jairo Perez, who is not on the 40-man roster.
In Puerto Rico, former Mets second baseman Carlos Baerga is manager of los Indios de Mayaguez. He is charged with the care of Mets prospect, shortstop T.J. Rivera. Mets fans might also remember infielder Ruben Gotay, who is now property of the Reds organization, and currently playing for Mayaguez.