Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chicago, particularly Cubs organization, will be a part of the Caribbean Series

Round about the time that many of us in Chicago were coping with 20-plus inches of snow that fell overnight by watching bad day-time television, there was evidence of more civilized activity.

I’m referring, of course, to the Caribbean Series – the annual early-February tournament played by the champions of the professional baseball leagues in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Pacific League that plays during the winter months in Mexico.

IT BEGAN WEDNESDAY at 2 p.m. our time when the Dominican and Mexican champions played each other, and will come to an end on Monday with one of those four countries being proclaimed the champions of Latin American beisbol for the year 2011.

Part of the reason I get a kick out of following the tournament each year is that it is a sign that winter’s end is approaching – a more reliable one than the fact that Punxsutawney Phil on Wednesday proclaimed that winter is at an end.

That must sound like a sick joke to those of us who are shoveling our way through thick, well-packed snow (personally, I had to help my brother Wednesday morning when his car got stuck in the snow about a half-block from where we live).

But the sight of championship baseball being played in the Caribbean (this year’s tournament is being held in Mayaguez, P.R.) means that spring training for U.S. professional baseball is only a couple of weeks away (at least for the pitchers and catchers who report early). Springtime is on the way.

BUT THE PROFESSIONAL baseball leagues in Latin America that take advantage of equator weather to play ball during our winter months also give the various youthful ballplayers who are trying to make it with major league teams in this country a chance to gain some more experience.

So yes, there will be a Chicago presence on the rosters of all four teams partaking in the tourney – although it won’t be the big stars.

The Chicago White Sox will have an outfielder, Alejandro de Aza, who played in 19 games for the Sox (a .300 batting average, but only 2 runs batted in), in addition to the bulk of 2010 for the Charlotte Knights, on the roster for the Toros del Este, who were the Dominican League champions and who will represent their home country.

The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, will NOT have a chance to create any kind of curse on any one ballclub playing in the Caribbean Series, since they have four members of their organization playing – one on each of the four teams.

EVERY CARIBBEAN CHAMPION will have a touch of “Cub-ness” going against them when they play ball in coming days.

The Dominican champions also have Welington Castillo, a catcher, who played the bulk of 2010 for the Iowa Cubs, but actually got into 7 ballgames for the Chicago Cubs – with 1 home run in 20 at bats.

Among the other teams, each has a member of the Cubs organization, although not a ballplayer who has ever worn an actual Cubs uniform at the major league levbel.

In Mexico, the champion Obregon Yaquis will carry pitcher Marco Carillo – who during 2010 played for Cubs affiliates in Daytona Beach, Fla., Knoxville, Tenn., and Des Moines, Iowa – on their roster, while the Venezuela League champion Anzoategui Caribes will have pitcher Eduardo Figueroa.

NOT TO BE confused with the Ed Figueroa who pitched for the New York Yankees during the 1970s (and was the first Puerto Rican native to win 20 games in a single season), this Eduardo accumulated a won/loss record of 2-3 with a 3.63 earned run average while playing in 2010 for Cubs affiliates in the Arizona League and the Boise Hawks of the Northwest League.

Then, there is the Puerto Rican champion Caguas Criollos (considered by some to be the favorites to win this year’s tourney because of the home-field advantage). Luis “Lou” Montanez was originally signed by the Cubs in 2000, but played in 2010 for Baltimore Orioles affiliates in Bowie, Md., and Norfolk, Va. (and also played in 26 games for the Orioles themselves, hitting .140 with 3 runs batted in).

He was released by Baltimore in November, and the Cubs have signed him – making it likely he will play the 2011 season for a Cubs minor league affiliate.

So for those of you who feel the need to have a “local” angle in order to watch a ballgame (personally, I’ll find the Caribbean Series action on Sunday to be more interesting than the Super Bowl), enjoy one.

CHECK OUT SOME of those more obscure cable television channels you don’t usually watch; the games are televised.

Because, let’s face it, a little taste of beisbol and the sight of sunshine and people enjoying themselves will be a nice diversion from the not-quite-record-setting winter slop we got hit with this week.

It’s either that, or we ponder the fact that Farrah Fawcett’s iconic red bathing suit will now be on display at the Smithsonian Institute as an authentic cultural artifact.


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