Warm reception on chilly night as Dominican Winter League teams meet in New York
Fri, Nov 10, 2023
MLB News (AP)
NEW YORK (AP) - Fan reception was warm when a pair of Dominican Winter League teams met to start a three-game series at Citi Field. The weather was anything but.
More than 1,500 miles from their Caribbean ballparks, players from Aguilas Cibaenas and Tigres del Licey took batting practice before Friday night's opener at the New York Mets home wearing hoodies and ski caps.
"I was waiting for this day. To come back to this stadium for me is something very special," said Aguilas center fielder Juan Lagares, who played for the Mets from 2013-20 and won a Gold Glove in 2014.
A crowd of less than 10,000 was on hand for the first pitch at the 44,000-capacity ballpark. Tickets were priced at $47-$207 for the games, which also are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons, all exhibitions that don't count in the winter league standings. The advance sale for Saturday was 31,000.
At a time of year the ballpark is usually empty - the World Series finale was nine days earlier and the Mets last played on Oct. 1 - it was 52 degrees (11 Celsius) at gametime, 23 degrees below the temperature in the Santo Domingo.
"The main thing is the weather," said Jose Offerman, a two-time All-Star who is managing Tigres. "That's going to be the difficult part."
Wilfrido Vargas' "El Africano" blared during batting practice and a DJ spun records between innings. Tony Pena, the five-time All-Star who took over as Tigres' manager in the last week, had his warmup jacket nipped to the neck.
About 50 people from each team emerged from the heated dugouts to line up along the foul lines for introductions, as if for a postseason opener, Aguilas Cibaenas in yellow and black and Tigres in blue and gray. The scoreboard touted the games as "Titanes del Caribe," or "Titans of the Caribbean." The Dominican national anthem followed "The Star-Spangled Banner" as a small Dominican flag was unfurled in center field, and fireworks were set off. David Ortiz caught the ceremonial first pitch.
Tigres, a Santo Domingo team, has 23 league championships to 22 for Aguilas Cibaenas, which translate to Eagles from the Cibao region of the north Dominican. Tigres has 12 Caribbean Series titles to six for Aguilas,
Lagares, who hit second between Jonathan Villar and Starlin Castro, expected more than 100 friends and family from the New York area to attend the games.
Miguel Andujar, claimed by Oakland off waivers from Pittsburgh on Monday, hit cleanup for Tigres and the Chicago Cubs' Christopher Morel batted cleanup for Aguilas. Morel scored the first run on a single by Cardinals' prospect Cesar Prieto after reaching when Arizona first baseman Tristin English misplayed his second-inning grounder for an error. Francisco Pena, five years removed from the big leagues, followed with a sacrifice fly off Cleveland's Logan Allen as the Eagles mascot cheered and waved a flag.
Next year's Caribbean Series, an event started in 1949, will be played at a Major League Baseball regular-season ballpark for the first time when the Miami Marlins host the 25-game tournament from Feb. 1-9. Teams from Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela are to compete.
Major League Baseball has moved regular-season games to London; Mexico City; Monterrey, Mexico; San Juan Puerto Rico; and Sydney, with the first series in Seoul, South Korea, scheduled for March. But no games have been shifted to the Dominican Republic.
"What MLB has been demanding is to have a better stadium," Offerman said.
An expanded weight room is under construction in the Mets clubhouse.
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