La Serie del Caribe, the Caribbean World Series, returns to Puerto Rico in 2015. The Series will be held in Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan from February 2-8. This stadium, which served as a temporary “home away from home” for the Montreal Expos in 2003-4, is named in honor of Hiram Gabriel Bithorn Sosa, a native of nearby Santurce and the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Estadio Bithorn currently serves as the home field for both the San Juan (Senadores) and Santurce (Cangrejeros) franchises in the Puerto Rican winter league. It is one of the larger baseball venues in Latin America, seating about 18,000.
Hiram Gabriel Bithorn Sosa (1916-1951)
With the Cuban Serie Nacional champions again participating, the five-team tournament will follow the same schedule of competition that was established in 2014. That is: the first phase – Feb. 2-6, will be a five-day, single round-robin competition. From those results, the bottom (fifth-place) team will be eliminated and the remaining four teams will play a semi-final round on Feb. 7, with the two winners then playing for the championship on Feb. 8. The schedule is here .
Your author with Mexican fanaticos in Venezuela and with KK Estrada and my good friend Juan Antonio in Hermosillo
I’ll once again be traveling to la Serie and will serve as SABR’s “unofficial” reporter. 2015 will be the fifth consecutive Series that I’ve attended, and I look forward to it with much anticipation. I’ll do my best to keep you informed of the run-up to the Series, the participating teams, the excitement in the stands, and the action on the field.
Updated at 9:30am CST, Wednesday, February 11
Your author and Mexican amigos at Hiram Bithorn’s statue Your author helping to normalize relations with Cuba
CUBA WINS SERIE DEL CARIBE 2015
Cuba 3 – Mexico 2 — Cuba pushed across single runs on multiple singles in the 1st and 2nd innings, and got a solo homer in the 8th to take the win and the series. Mexico managed only four hits against Cuban pitching.
The is the first Serie del Caribe win for a Cuban team since 1960, their eighth overall, and comes in their second year back in the torneo invernal.
Cuban DH/OF Frederich Cepeda was the tournament MVP.
Some reflections upon Serie del Caribe 2015 in San Juan:
* Once again Venezuela dominated in the round-robin phase, but was knocked out in the semi-finals.
* The Puerto Ricans were disappointed in Santurce’s play, although they did pack the stadium for an emotional win over the Dominicans in the last game of the round-robin.
* Cuba is back on top of la Serie del Caribe! The Cuban team started off slowly. They may have been back on their heels after the usual visa problems, etc. caused their trip from Havana to their hotel in San Juan to take over 14 hours. Then, two players defected from the squad. However, once the Cubans gained their footing they were hard to beat in the latter stages of the tournament. Cuban stars Despaigne, Gourriel, and Cepeda did not disappoint, hitting .333, .333, and .471 respectively.
* La Serie was well-organized and things ran smoothly at the stadium. Unlike past series, there were two tickets per day (rather than one ticket for a double-header). Therefore, we had to clear the stadium after the day game and re-enter for the evening game. This made for extremely long days for those of us with tickets for all thirteen games. Food and drink in the stadium were plentiful and tasty. There was a reasonable amount of sports-wear for sale, although Puerto Rico team jerseys and hats were either extremely expensive or non-existent.
* Attendance was as expected, although possibly less than hoped-for with the two-ticket-per-day format. There were two evening game sell-outs, both with Santurce playing. Daytime attendance ranged from 1,200 for the opener (Cuba vs. Mexico) to 5,600 for the first semi-final (Mexico vs. DR); night-time attendance from 3,800 to 18,747 for the emotional Puerto Rican victory over DR in the ninth inning of their final round-robin game. The Mexico-Cuba final drew 7,700.
* The play on the field featured the “inside” game that is popular in winter ball. Teams played for one run at all times, bunting often and putting runners in motion. The prevailing breeze blowing in from left field kept most balls in the park. With the expanded 28-man rosters, most teams carried 15 pitchers and pitching changes were frequent.
* The 2016 tournament will be hosted by the Dominican Republic and tentatively the site will be Estadio Micheli in La Romana. I think this will probably be dependent upon stadium seating being expanded.
Thanks for reading. I’ve received many emails and I appreciate the comments and feedback.
******following is a day-by-day summary of Serie del Caribe 2015******
MEXICO AND CUBA REACH THE FINALS!!
Mexico 5 – Dominicana 4 — Mexico jumped out to a 5-0 lead and held on as Gigantes had the tying run at third in the bottom of the ninth.
Cuba 8 – Venezuela 4 — Venezuela led 4-0 after four, but the Cubans stormed back with the help of three Caribes errors.
Cuba has a chance to win its first Serie del Caribe title in over 50 years! Mexico is looking to take its fourth title in the last five years! The action begins at 5:30pm AST in Estadio Hiram Bithorn.
One of the Cuban fanaticos had a good-natured exchange with my Mexican friends. He told us “Tonight we eat arepas (a Venezuelan dish), and tomorrow we will have tacos.” Funny! Los Vegueros from Pinar del Rio made good on the first half of his statement. Vamos a ver esta noche (we’ll see tonight).
Game results, final round-robin standings, and semi-final/final schedule:
Venezuela 4 – Mexico 2 — Venezuela swept through the round-robin phase without a loss. A late two-run homer sealed the deal for the Caribes.
Puerto Rico 3 – Dominicana 2 — An emotional walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth in front of a packed home-field crowd helped the host Cangrejeros salvage some satisfaction after losing their first three games.
Standings as of the end of the round-robin:
Puerto Rico 1-3 (eliminated due to having lost head-to-head against Cuba)
The remaining schedule is:
Semifinal #1 — Afternoon Saturday February 7 — Mexico vs. Dominicana
Semifinal #2 — Evening Saturday February 7 — Venezuela vs. Cuba
Final — Sunday Evening February 8
Game results from Thursday, February 5:
Venezuela 6 – Cuba 2 — The Caribes scored four in the top of the 3rd and that lead held up. The Cubans hit two HRs, but both were solo shots. Venezuela added a solo homer. The three round-trippers are somewhat unusual with the prevailing wind blowing in from left field and the damp tropical air.
Dominicana 3 – Mexico 2 — The Mexican team pushed across runs in the 3rd and 7th, but the Domincans scored one in the bottom of the 8th and two more in the bottom of the 9th. Mexico was constantly in trouble and committed five errors during the defeat.
After four days of the todos-contra-todos (round robin) the standings are: Venezuela 3-0, Dominicana 2-1, Mexico 2-1, Cuba 1-3, Puerto Rico 0-3. The round-robin phase will finish with Friday’s games.
Game results from Wednesday, February 4:
Venezuela 6 – Dominicana 5 — All the scoring occurred in a wild first two innings that took 1:20 to play. Once the two clubs settled down defensively, it was scoreless for the rest of the game that lasted a total of 4 hours, 2 minutes. The two clubs used a total of 16 pitchers; both starters were gone by the second inning. A mild upset in favor of the Venezuelans.
Cuba 3 – Puerto Rico 2 (10 innings) — A near-capacity crowd of 15,500 hoped to see the home team register a victory and avoid almost-certain elimination. Puerto Rico put runners in scoring position in the 8th and 9th but could not push across the lead run. Cuba won the game after a fielding error put a runner at second and a subsequent single sent home the winner in the bottom of the 10th. The game was a hugh disappointment for the Santurce aficionados. This was another long game due to 43-minute rain delay in the bottom of the 2nd.
Cuban major-leaguer Aroldis Chapman was in attendance. It was the first time he’d seen his country’s team play since 2009.
It’s reported that two Cubans defected from the team.
A Puerto Rican family sitting in front of us has a son that’s a catcher in the Mets’ farm system. His name is Tomas Nido.
The round robin standings are now: Mexico 2-0, Venezuela 2-0, Dominicana 1-1, Cuba 1-2, Puerto Rico 0-3.
Game results from Tuesday, February 3 :
Dominicana 6 – Cuba 1 — the Dominican team looked very strong in all aspects of the game and won their first game handily against the Cubans. Although Cuba had 12 hits, the Dominicans turned four double plays to get out of several jams.
Between games we saw former Astros player Jose Cruz at dinner. He was very gracious and spoke to all of us.
Prior to the second game, all of the members of the Puerto Rican “Dream Team” 1995 Serie del Caribe champions threw out first pitches. This club included Bernie Williams, Carlos Delgado, and Roberto Alomar, amongst many others.
Mexico 3 – Puerto Rico 2 — The Mexican club took advantage of two Puerto Rican errors to push across enough runs for the victory.
As of the completion of the first four games of the todos-contra-todos (round robin), the standings are: Mexico 2-0, Domincan 1-0, Venezuela 1-0, Puerto Rico 0-2, Cuba 0-2.
A little more about Estadio Hiram Bithorn: The field is a turf field, with the older-style dirt cut-outs around the bases. The outfield distances are symmetrical – 325′ down the lines, 375′ in the alleys, 404′ to straight-away center field. There seems to be a prevailing breeze blowing in from left field, and that knocked down at least two possible home runs on Monday.
Estadio Hiram Bithorn Quiz: There are four retired numbers on the outfield walls. Can you name them?
ESTAMOS LISTO (We’re ready) The baseball started Monday. Here’s a brief summary of the opening day:
Mexico 2 – Cuba 1 — Mexico prevailed in a pitching duel between both clubs’ starters and bullpens. Cuban starter Freddy Alvarez went six innings allowing only two hits and a run. His wind-up reminded us of “El Duque” Hernandez. Anthony Vasquez went five innings for Mexico, allowing only one run. Mexico pushed across the tying run in the sixth, scoring on a fielder’s choice when Cuba was unable to complete a double-play. Los Tomateros then scored their second run in the seventh, on a pinch-hit RBI single by Walter Ibarra. That run stood up, as Mexico took the victory despite only having three hits.
Opening ceremonies – Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez threw out the “first pitch”. But, he did it by taking the ball, walking off the mound and going behind the plate, and then firing a “strike” to second base. The home crowd loved it.
Venezuela 5 – Puerto Rico 2 — los Caribes de Venezuela scored three in the third and two more in the fourth to take command of the game. The host Puerto Rico team managed only five hits.
Sunday, February 1 – Had lunch today with friends Lewis and Gail Rubman, who we met at Serie del Caribe 2011 in Mayaguez. After lunch, took the bus to Estadio Hiram Bithorn so that Lewis could check on his press credentials.
While at the Stadium, we visited SABR member Leo Landino in the ESPN Deportes production truck. Leo showed us some of his operation and expressed his confidence that the telecasts of la Serie would be the best yet. Thanks, Leo, for an insightful visit.
Saturday, January 31 — Well, I’m on the ground here in San Juan. On the drive in from the airport, we passed a parade with los Cangrejeros players and staff in open trucks going down one of the main highways in San Juan. Coincidence?
Cuba – Having been disappointed in their performance last year, the Cubans have heavily reinforced the Pinar del Rio squad. It’s reported that 16 players on the tournament team are refuerzos (reinforcements) and 12 are from the Vegueros regular roster.
Puerto Rico – Highly-touted Cubs prospect Javier Baez, a native of Bayamon, PR, will not play in Serie del Caribe. The middle infielder, who was playing for Santurce, has not received permission from Chicago to continue playing winter ball.
Dominicana – Top Phillies prospect Maikel Franco will play with the DR team, along with Brewers shortstop Jean Segura.
Los Arbitros – fourteen umpires have been assigned to officiate la Serie, six from the host league in Puerto Rico and two each from the other four leagues.
THE FIELD IS SET ! THE FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL COMPETE IN SERIE DEL CARIBE 2015 ARE:
Cuba – Vegueros de Pinar del Rio won last year’s Serie Nacional 53 title and will represent Cuba in this year’s torneo. Due to the length and timing of the Cuban winter league season, the 2014-15 champions will not be crowned until later in the Spring, so last year’s champs are the Cuban representative.
Dominican Republic – Gigantes del Cibao (San Francisco de Macoris) won their first Dominican league title and the honor to represent Dominicana at la Serie del Caribe.
Mexico – Tomateros de Culiacan return to la Serie del Caribe after an 11-year absence. Culiacan last won la Serie in 2002 and they also took the crown in 1996.
Puerto Rico – Cangrejeros de Santurce will host la Serie in their home ball park. This storied franchise was the last Puerto Rican squad to win la Serie, in 2000. They are seeking their sixth championship in el torneo invernal.
Venezuela – Caribes de Anzoategui led the entire way in the LVBP, winning the regular season, round-robin, and finals. They last competed in la Serie in 2011 in Mayaguez. Caribes are looking towards their first-ever Caribbean Series crown.
**** The following is an overview of developments and results leading up to Serie del Caribe 2015 ****
OFF-SEASON (ie, Spring & Summer 2014) DEVELOPMENTS
In May, Serie Nacional 53 wrapped up in Cuba with Pinar del Rio taking the championship. They will represent Cuba at Serie del Caribe 2015.
There were franchise changes in the Mexican Pacific and Puerto Rican winter leagues. In Mexico, the Guasave Algodoneros moved to the Guadalajara metro area and are competing in the 2014-15 Mexican Pacific League campaign as the Charros de Jalisco.
In Puerto Rico, there were changes involving two of that league’s iconic franchises. The Senadores de San Juan returned to league play after an absence of several years. They will share Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan with the Santurce club. Sadly, los Leones de Ponce, one of the league’s oldest clubs, decided to suspend operations for the season. A disbursement draft was held to distribute their players among the other Puerto Rican clubs. The loss of the Ponce club leaves the Puerto Rican league with five clubs for the 2014-15 season.
REGULAR SEASON RESULTS (concluding December 31, 2014)
CUBA – as mentioned earlier, Pinar del Rio will represent Cuba at the Caribbean Series in San Juan. Due to the length and timing of the Cuban Serie Nacional, their 2015 champion will not be decided until Spring of ’15. Consequently, the previous year’s champion will represent Cuba at la Serie del Caribe.
DOMINICANA – the rol regular wrapped up in the Dominican on December 21. The final standings were:
Estrellas Orientales (San Pedro) 32-18
Aguilas Cibaenas (Santiago) 30-20
Gigantes del Cibao (San Francisco) 28-22
Toros del Este (La Romana) 24-26
Tigres de Licey (Santo Domingo) 19-31
Leones de Escogido (Santo Domingo) 17-33
The top four teams qualify for the post-season todos-contra-todos (round robin) playoffs, beginning December 27. As you can see from the standings, both of los felinos from Santo Domingo failed to qualify, leaving los fanaticos in the capital without any post-season beisbol at venerable Estadio Quisqueya.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE – the Mexican winter league plays a split-season format. The standings at the end of la primera vuelta on November 21 were:
Yaquis (Ciudad Obregon) 21-13 8 points earned
Charros (Jalisco) 21-14 7
Aguilas (Mexicali) 19-16 6 (three teams tied at 19-16, places were awarded by ratio of RS/RA)
Tomateros (Culiacan) 19-16 5
Caneros (Los Mochis) 19-16 4.5
Venados (Mazatlan) 16-18 4
Naranjeros (Hermosillo) 13-22 3.5
Mayos (Navojoa) 11-24 3
And, in a race that literally went down to the final hour to determine which teams would accumulate enough points to make the playoffs, the standings at the end of la segunda vuelta on December 29 were:
Charros 21-12 8 points earned
Tomateros 19-14 7
Aguilas 18-15 6
Caneros 15-18 5 (four teams tied at 15-18, places were awarded by ratio of RS/RA)
Venados 15-18 4.5
Naranjeros 15-18 4
Mayos 15-18 3.5
Yaquis 13-19 3
Upon adding the points earned and determining the top six teams that will qualify for the playoffs, the defending Mexican Pacific League and Serie del Caribe champion Naranjeros de Hermosillo was eliminated, along with los Mayos de Navojoa. The remaining six clubs will enter quarter-final best-of-seven playoff matches to begin January 1.
VENEZUELA – the final standings of the rol regular are:
Caribes (Anzoategui) 39-24
Tigres (Aragua) 35-27
Aguilas (Zulia) 35-28
Navegantes de Magallanes (Valencia) 32-31
Cardenales (Lara) 29-34
Leones (Caracas) 29-34
Tiburones (La Guaira) 29-34
Bravos (Margarita) 23-39
The top five teams enter a round-robin phase to begin January 3, but there was a three-way tie for fifth place! Consequently, a two-game knockout playoff is being held in Barquisimeto, home of los Cardenales de Lara, on January 2 to determine which team will advance.
PUERTO RICO – the final standings of the rol regular are:
Criollos (Caguas) 25-14
Indios (Mayaguez) 22-16
Cangrejeros (Santurce) 19-19
Gigantes (Carolina) 19-20
Senadores (San Juan) 12-28
The top four teams advance to a round-robin phase. The newly-reestablished Senadores squad is therefore eliminated.
LEAGUE PLAYOFFS – round-robin, quarterfinal and semi-final series results:
VENEZUELA – as mentioned above, at the end of the regular season there was a three-way tie for the fifth and final playoff qualifier. The three clubs involved, Cardenales de Lara, Leones de Caracas, and Tiburones de la Guaira met in a sudden-death doubleheader at Estadio Antonio Herrera Gutierrez, home field of los Cardenales. Per decision of the league directors, Leones and Tiburones played the first game, with the loser being eliminated and the winner advancing to the second game versus the host club. The results were as follows:
Game 1: Tiburones 4 – Leones 1 (Tiburones advance to game 2)
Game 2: Tiburones 8 – Cardenales 7 (Tiburones de la Guaira advance to the five-team round robin series)
The five-team round robin in Venezuela opened play on Saturday, January 3. The final standings are:
Caribes (Anzoategui) 11-5 (qualify for final series)
Navegantes (Valencia) 10-6 (qualify for final series)
Tigres (Aragua) 8-8 (eliminated)
Aguilas (Zulia) 6-10 (eliminated)
Tiburones (La Guaira) 5-11 (eliminated)
As of the end of play on January 18, Caribes and Navegantes de Magallanes both had 4 game leads with only three games remaining in the 16-game todos-contra-todos; thus they will face each other in the LVBP final series.
DOMINICANA – the final standings in the round-robin phase were:
Gigantes (San Francisco de Macoris) 10-6 — Gigantes advance to the finals
Estrellas (San Pedro de Macoris) 10-6 — Estrellas advance to the finals
Aguilas (Santiago) 7-9
Toros (La Romana) 5-11
MEXICO – the last of three quarterfinal best-of-seven series concluded Friday night, January 9 with these results:
Charros (Jalisco) 4 – Venados (Mazatlan) 0 — Charros advance to the semi-finals
Tomateros (Culicacan) 4 – Caneros (Los Mochis) 2 — Tomateros advance to the semi-finals
Aguilas (Mexicali) 4 – Yaquis (Cd. Obregon) 3 — Yaquis and Aguilas both advance to semi-finals, Aguilas as the winner and Yaquis as el comodin (the wildcard) having the most wins among the three losing clubs.
The semifinal best-of-7 series began Sunday, January 11. Here are the standings:
Charros (Jalisco) 4 – Yaquis (Cd. Obregon) 2 — Charros advance to the LMP finals
Aquilas (Mexicali) 3 – Tomateros (Culiacan) 4 — Tomateros advance to the LMP finals as the result of a 9-8, 11-inning victory at home in Culiacan on January 19 !
PUERTO RICO – the final standings of the 12-game round-robin phase are:
Cangrejeros (Santurce) 8-4 (advances to finals)
Indios (Mayaguez) 8-5 (advances to finals)
Gigantes (Carolina) 7-6 (tied for second but eliminated in play-in game)
Criollos (Caguas) 2-10 (eliminated)
Indios and Gigantes tied at 7-5 in the round-robin. Indios then defeated Gigantes 1-0 in one-game play-in held in Mayaguez on January 18.
WINTER LEAGUE FINALS
MEXICO – the finalists are Charros de Jalisco and Tomateros de Culiacan. The best-of-seven finals began January 21 in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
After splitting the first two games on the road in Jalisco, Culiacan swept their three home games and took the LMP Championship four games to one. The Tomateros return to la Serie del Caribe after an absence of 11 years.
VENEZUELA – Caribes de Anzoategui and Navegantes de Magallanes (Valencia) qualified for the final series. The best-of-seven final series began January 24 in Puerto la Cruz, home town of Caribes.
Caribes’ home field is named for this former major league shortstop.
Caribes won the LVBP title 4 games to 1 over Navegantes.
DOMINICANA – the finalists are Gigantes del Cibao (San Francisco) and Estrellas Orientales (San Pedro).
Gigantes play in a ballpark named for this former major league second-baseman, a native of San Francisco de Macoris.
After losing the first two games of the final series, Gigantes won four in a row. Estrellas fought off elimination by winning game seven. But the Gigantes rebounded in game eight to clinch the title at home (in Estadio Julian Javier), five games to three. This is the Gigantes first title in the Liga Dominicana.
PUERTO RICO – Cangrejeros de Santurce and Indios de Mayaguez are in the finals. The best-of-seven final series opened January 20 at Estadio Isidoro Garcia in Mayaguez, site of the 2011 Serie del Caribe. Home games for Santurce are played at this year’s venue, Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan.
Santurce won game six at Estadio Hiram Bithorn before 12,000 hometown fans, clinching the Puerto Rican title 4 games to 2.