MANAGUA – The first ball thrownout in tomorrow’s opening-day gamebetween Bóer and San Fernando is moresignificant than just the first pitch ofNicaragua’s new professional baseballleague; it marks the official beginning of anational campaign to revive the country’sonce-proud baseball tradition.The new Nicaraguan ProfessionalBaseball League (LNBP) is the only of itskind in Central America. It is the first professionalbaseball league in Nicaraguasince the old Liga Profesional Nicaragüense– which once featured future U.S.Hall of Fame pitchers Ferguson Jenkinsand Jim Kaat – folded in 1967.Nicaragua has had several other competitiveamateur baseball leagues over theyears, including the six-team Liga Nica,which was won last year by San Fernando.But the lack of a professional league herehas prevented Nicaragua from home groomingnational talent, and attractingcapable foreign players.The new league will change all that,according to Noel Urcuyo, director ofoperations for the LNBP.IN addition to the 30-plus Nicaraguanplayers who are returning from theirminor-league clubs in the United States toplay here, the new professional league hasattracted players from Cuba, theDominican Republic, Mexico, Colombiaand the United States (minor-league playersfrom the Cleveland Indians andAtlanta Braves).Several of the more gifted playersfrom Nicaragua’s Liga Nica have alsobeen invited to stay on and play for thenew professional league, which will payplayers an average of $1,000 a month –about eight times the average wage of theNicaraguan blue-collar working class.The four-team LNBP (Bóer of Managua,San Fernando of Masaya,Chinandega and León) will act, primarily,as a “winter league” for professional playerscontracted by U.S. Major LeagueBaseball franchises and their farm-systemaffiliates. The 48-game season here willrun from October to January, so as to notinterfere with the U.S. Major LeagueBaseball’s 162-game series or spring trainingschedule.Players contracted by Major Leagueteams and their minor league franchisesare allowed to play here only with the permissionof their major league team. Manyyounger professional players in the UnitedStates are sent to play winter ball to getextra at-bats or pitching appearances duringthe off-season.THE Nicaraguan professional leaguehas already received an important boost ofstar-power from Nicaraguan baseball iconVicente Padilla, the hard-throwing pitcherfor the Philadelphia Phillies, who returnedto Nicaragua Oct. 7 and announced he isgoing to play for his hometown team, theChinandega Tigers.Padilla, a former Major League all-starwho struggled with injury and controlproblems last season, said the Phillies’front office gave him permission to play inthe Nicaraguan league during the off-seasonto prepare for next year.The right-handed hurler will take themound once a week for Chinandega, andis not allowed to surpass the 80-pitchcount, according to stipulations by thePhillies.Each of the four teams is allowed tocarry five foreign players on its 24-manroster, with plans next year to increasethat number as more international interestis generated in the league, accordingto Urcuyo.The LNBP is also affiliating minorleague teams, with recent additions byChinandega and Rivas. The minor leagueswill act as feeders into the LNBP.LNBP announced last July that it hasbeen admitted as a “passive member” ofthe Caribbean Ba-seball Confederation(Dominican Republic, Mexico, PuertoRico and Venezuela). Passive member statusmeans Nicaragua is a trial memberwithout a vote, but hopes to be admittedinto international league play this year.With a better system to develop nationaltalent, the LNBP hopes the Nicaraguannational team will be able to compete moresuccessfully on the international level,after several years of very disappointingperformances.Nicaragua’s national team hit a newlow during last year’s Mundial de Beisbolin Cuba, when several of the Nicaraguaplayers – still dressed in uniform – wereseen getting drunk and rowdy in the hotelbar the night before their game againstPanama, which proceeded to pound thevisibly groggy Nica team.THE LNBP is not without victims,however.During the past 20 years, Granada andEstelí have both participated in the amateurLiga Nica, but did not make cuts forthis year’s professional league. It is not yetknown what will happen to those teams,their fans, or their stadiums, which are sittingidle.LNBP president Enrique Gasteazorotold The Tico Times this week that therehas been talk of Granada joining the professionalleague next year. But for now,Granada and Estelí have been benched.For more information on the LNBPand the full 2004-2005 schedule, see theWeb site www.lnbp.net.
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