2012 Serie del Caribe – the Caribbean World Series

estadio quisqueya

Estadio Quisqueya – Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana – site of the 2012 Serie del Caribe

I had so much fun at the Caribbean World Series last year, in Puerto Rico, that I went again in 2012.  This year’s Serie del Caribe is being held in Santo Domingo on the traditional dates – Feb. 2 – 7.  The site is Estadio Quisqueya, built in 1955 by the government of then-dictator Rafael Trujillo (as you might guess, it was originally called Estadio Trujillo).

Only one of the four winter league champs is making a repeat appearance in 2012, and it happens to be last year’s Serie champion from Mexico.  The 2012 participating teams are:

Yaquis de Ciudad Obregon, Mexico

Indios de Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

Tigres de Aragua, Maracay, Venezuela

Leones de Escogido, Santo Domingo, DR

I will summarize my observations of the 2012 Serie now, followed by a few pictures and then by my daily “blog” items at the end of this article.

The hosts win the 2012 Serie del Caribe

The format of the Serie del Caribe is a “double round robin”, where each of the four teams plays the other clubs twice.  This yields a six day tournament, with a double header each day (at 3pm and 7pm).  The host Dominican team, Leones de Escogido, won their first four games and clinched the tournament on day 5 via an early-game loss by Yaquis de Obregon.  Consequently, the last three games did not figure in the championship although national pride was still at stake to see who could finish second.  The final tournament standings are:

Dominican     4-2

Venezuela      3-3

Puerto Rico    3-3

Mexico            2-4

Dominican manager Ken Oberkfell was staying at our hotel, and he was very accessible.  I spoke with him on several occasions and he was very friendly and open.  He told me this was his third season as “dirigente” at Escogido and he loves it.  He has won two Serie championships in his three seasons here.  Moises Alou is the GM of Escogido.

The stadium

As mentioned above, Estadio Quisqueya is 57 years old in 2012.  It has been remodeled/updated several times and it’s in great shape.  Seating is about 16,500.  The playing surface is natural grass and it was in excellent shape for the Serie.  It’s a pitcher’s park, with dimensions of 335′ down the lines and 411′ in center.  With the heavy, humid tropical air, lots of shots “died at the warning track”.  There were only two home runs hit in the 12 games.

The stadium is “home” to both Santo Domingo teams, Licey and Escogido.  Consequently, team stores, dugouts, offices etc down the right field line are “rojo”, the red for the Leones de Escogido.  Likewise, the same facilities down the left field line are “azul”, the blue for the Tigres de Licey.  If someone refers to a local club as the “felinos” (cats), you may have to clarify whether they’re talking about Lions or Tigers.

Personnel at the park were well organized and friendly.  Ushers and security people were evident and helpful.  The Serie overall was well-planned.  Each day, upon entering the gates, we received a free 32-page newspaper/program that contained interesting articles & interviews, summaries of the previous day’s games, standings and rosters.  Food was plentiful, varied and cheap.  The empenadas were a taste sensation — I ate the pollo (chicken) and carne (beef), but did not have the courage to try the “medianoche especial” (the midnight special) …  El Presidente, the most popular beer on the island, was the main sponsor of the Serie and was flowing freely at the stadium.  Ron Brugal, the local rum, was also sold in small bottles at the stadium.

We had two electricity failures, but that just added to the fun at the ball park.

The players and the game on the field

The key games were low-scoring.  The clubs played for a run at all times, leading to lots of sacrifice bunts, taking the extra base, and exciting plays on the bases.  As I observed in Puerto Rico last year, hitters in the middle of the order would even bunt to advance the runner.  With expanded rosters (28 – 30 players), the managers went to the bullpen often to get matchups they liked.

The rosters featured lots of familiar names — Francisco Liriano, Julio Lugo, Fernando Tatis, and Julio Borbon (Rangers) for the Dominicans, Karim Garica for Mexico, and Nelson Figueroa for Puerto Rico.  Most of the players are late-20s to mid-30s and are mainstays on their winter-league teams and possibly looking for a major league contract or spring-training invite.  Two players for Escogido — Andy Dirks (Detroit Tigers) and Pablo Ozuno  (formerly with White Sox) would qualify as “rock stars” in Santo Domingo with their January/February play.  Aneury Rodriguez, with the Astros, was on the Dominican pitching staff.  Raul Valdez, a Cuban currently under contract to the Phillies, has starred the last two years as an “abridor” (starter) for the Dominicans.

While any U.S. baseball fan would enjoy baseball “south of the border”, there are a few elements of the game that will strike an MLB fan as “different”.  I’ve already mentioned the strategy to play for a single run even very early in the game.  Another is the use of the “bat boy”.  In reality, the bat boy in latin american baseball is another base coach.  He positions himself near the on-deck circle and watches closely for potential passed balls/wild pitches.  If the catcher “can’t find the ball”, the bat boy will signal the runner to advance.  He also signals the runner in other instances, and consults with the batter.

Another difference is the presence of advertising on the team uniforms.  Even the umpires’ shirts had advertisements (for Samsung).  Only the Puerto Ricans did not follow this custom.  As an example:  the Dominicans’ shirts had ads for El Presidente (beer) and Orange (cell phones), and their batting helmets said “Frosted Flakes”.

But the most exciting and enjoyable difference for the U.S. baseball visitor is …

The fans

With the help of my good friend Juan Antonio Jasso Rodriguez (an important and well-known Mexican fan from Hermosillo) I made my travel arrangements with a Mexican agency (Travesias Mundiales from Hermosillo).  I met Juan Antonio and the Mexican contingent at our hotel, travelled together on the bus and taxis, and sat together in great seats in row A of the box seats near the first-base on-deck circle.  Meals and drink together added to the fun.  It was a tremendous experience.

While most U.S. fans probably have some concept of a latin american ball game, it really must be experienced first-hand and close-up to be fully appreciated.  The Mexican fans I was with brought their own band (complete with tubas, drums, trombones, etc) and are well-known throughout winter baseball for their big noise-makers (known as “matracas”, loosely translated as “rattlers”).  To rally the fans and club, and to acknowledge good plays, the matracas are swung above their heads to create lots of noise.  One of the Mexican fans and “matraqueros”, Enrique (“K.K.”) Estrada, is well-known throughout latin american baseball and was honored at the last Serie del Caribe in Puerto Rico and threw out a “first pitch” there.

The Mexicans fans, along with the Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Venezuelans, are both passionate and extremely knowledgable about baseball — in their home countries, the U.S. and in the Far East.  With the Dominicans both hosting and winning the tournament, my Mexican friends took a lot of good-natured “razzing” at the stadium and on the streets.  It was all in good fun.

In closing my summary, I’d like to say “thank you” to all that have taken a moment to read this article.  I hope you enjoyed it and, if you haven’t already, will take the opportunity to experience latin american baseball for yourself.

I’d also like to say “THANK YOU” to my good friend Juan Antonio for all his help and kindness, as well as express my thanks to all the Mexican fans that I met that helped me enjoy the 2012 Serie del Caribe.  I hope to see you all next year, when the Serie del Caribe will be hosted in Hermosillo, Mexico!

Best wishes, Monte

three amigos

The author, my friend Juan Antonio Jasso Rodriguez, and his friend Jesus Villegas at the 54th Caribbean World Series

Estadio Quisqueya

bug

The author with Mexico mascot “Chacho” the tiger and fanatico “Chapulin” (the grasshopper)

***** A day-by-day log of events follows *****

Tuesday, 31 January

I had uneventful flights to Atlanta and then on to Santo Domingo.  There was an ESPN crew on my flight to Santo Domingo, as well as several guys wearing MLB gear in first class, assume they’re scouts.

I had a big treat for dinner as Ken Oberkfell sat down next to me.  The former Cardinals third baseman is currently el dirigente (manager) of Escogido, so he’ll be managing the Dominicans in the upcoming Serie.  He told me this is his third year managing winter ball in DR and he loves it.  Had a very enjoyable conversation, and he even bought me una cerveza (no XX down here, it’s all El Presidente) !

Wednesday, 1 February

Lots of scouts at breakfast this morning.  I saw lots of San Diego guys, some Rangers and some Royals-clad gentlemen.  Two older guys were giving a hard-sell to a young Dominican in the lobby — he looked like he was 15 or 16, probably just coming upon legal signing age here.

Almost ran into Miguel Tejada in the hotel lobby!

Thursday, 2 February

I met up with my friend Juan Antonio Jasso R. from Hermosillo, MX today.  He is an important baseball fan here, as our seats were in row A of the box seats — between home and the first-base dugout.  We sat next to “Los Matraqueros”, the men with the matracas — huge noise makers that they swing around to rally the Mexican team and fans.  (loosly translated, “matraca” means “rattler”).

Both games today were close, low-scoring affairs.

In the early game – Puerto Rico defeated Venezuela 3-1.  The Venezuelans put together four hits in the top of the first, but could only plate one run and had another thrown out at home.  Nelson Figueroa started the game on the mound for Puerto Rico and he had good stuff throughout and recorded the win.

The late game did not go well for my Mexican friends.  The Mexican team could only muster three hits and lost to the host Dominicans 2-1.  The Dominican team features many familiar names, including Julio Lugo, Julio Borbon, Esteban German, and Fernando Tatis, among others.  They seem to have added talent throughout their playoffs.

I’d guess attendance was around 9,000 at the late game.  Very loud and lots of fun!

Friday, 3 February

At breakfast this morning, my friend Juan Antonio and I were interviewed on a Mexican radio show being broadcast from the hotel back to Hermosillo!  With my poor Spanish, I’m afraid that the listeners back in Sonora did not get too much insight from me …

Back at Estadio Quisqueya, the Mexican team rebounded with a great defensive effort and good pitching to win 2-0 over Puerto Rico in the opening game.  Mexico is now 1-1.

The late game was really late — it took 13 innings for the home team to defeat Venezuela by a score of 5-2.  Due to the late hour, we took cabs back to our hotel — it was an exciting ride with five of us in one car with the cabbie.  We arrived safely at our hotel to a band playing outside the lobby.

Each team will play six games over the six day Serie.  At the end of two days of play, the standings are:

Dominicana              2-0

Mexico                        1-1

Puerto Rico               1-1

Venezuela                 0-2

Saturday, 4 February

Team Mexico won their game against Venezuela by a score of 4-2.  Only one of the six runs was earned, as the teams commited five errors in total.

The late game was delayed two hours due to a shortage of electricity at the ball park.  All of the field lights would not come on, and power was shut off under the stands.  The game finally got underway at 9pm.  This was the highest attendance so far, I would guess around 14,000 fans, to see the home team play Puerto Rico.  The Dominicans prevailed over Puerto Rico 6-1.

Sunday, 5 February

In the first game today, Venezuela notched their first win with a victory over Puerto Rico.  The Puerto Ricans looked flat after their late-night loss to the hosts yesterday.  Final score — Venezuela 7 – Puerto Rico 0

The second game was a key match-up of the two leaders in the Series so far.  Francisco Liriano started for the Dominican team.  In another low-scoring game, Team Mexico gave up an unearned run in the top of the first and it turned out to be the game-winner.  Liriano overcame poor control (4 walks) and got the strikeout or double-play when he needed it, pitching five innings and recording the win.  Final score – Dominicana 2 – Mexico 0.

As a result, Team Mexico is on the ropes with a 2-2 record.  Dominicana can clinch with a win or a Mexico loss.  Mexico will need lots of help from Venezuela and Puerto Rico to stay in contention.

The standings after four days:

Dominicana       4-0

Mexico                 2-2

Venezuela          1-3

Puerto Rico        1-3

Monday, 6 February

Team Mexico had a must-win game with Puerto Rico in the first game this afternoon.  Things went well early for my friends, with Mexico jumping off to a 3-0 lead.  However, the Puerto Ricans chipped away at Mexico’s lead and the game went into the bottom of the ninth tied at 3-3, with the Puerto Ricans at bat.  The first PR batter walked — a bad omen.  After a single, an intentional walk, an out, and another intentional walk — the bases were loaded with one out.  An RBI single followed to win the game for Puerto Rico.

The loss by Mexico clinched the Series title for the host Dominicans!

In the second game, Venezuela prevailed 7-0 agains DR, but the game was meaningless.  The game did feature two home runs by the Venezuelans, the first circuit clouts of the Series.

The standings after five days:

Dominicana      4-1 (clinched the Championship)

Mexico                2-3

Venezuela         2-3

Puerto Rico      2-3

Tuesday’s games will be for fun and a chance to claim second-place.  Congratulations to the Dominican team!

Thanks for reading.  Monte

 

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