SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Leones del Escogido were crowned champions of the Dominican Winter Baseball League for the fourth time in the past seven years. And just as they have dominated the local scene, they will be out to maintain Dominican dominance in the Caribbean Series, which starts Monday in the capital city.
With 19 championship titles, five more than their closest rivals, Dominican teams have clearly been the most successful in the tournament, which celebrates its 58th edition in 2016.
“We have played in four Caribbean Series in recent times, winning three of them, and the one we lost was in that historic 18-inning game against Mexico [in 2013]. We are proud to be representing the country once again," said Leones executive vice president Jose Miguel Bonetti.
With players like Lew Ford, Leury Garcia, Moises Sierra, Carlos Peguero and Alex Valdez, Leones have been crowned champions of the Dominican Republic 16 times, behind only Tigres del Licey with 21 and Aguilas Cibaenas with 20.
Looking ahead to the Caribbean Series, they promise to further strengthen in order to be worthy representatives of their country, which is hosting the tournament.
“On this occasion, it's been easy to assemble the team because everyone wants to be involved, all the guys want to play. The hardest part is having to leave out guys who helped lead us to the title, but we're not just talking about Leones del Escogido here but the whole Dominican Republic," general manager Moises Alou said.
Alou announced that Leones have reached agreements to bring in catcher Carlos Paulino from Gigantes del Cibao, Diory Hernandez and Zoilo Almonte (both from Licey) and pitchers Wirfin Obispo, Edwar Cabrera and Adrian Salcedo for the finals.
They are also in final negotiations with pitcher Angel Castro, from Aguilas Cibaenas, who has certain limitations in place due to his organization in the United States.
“This will be a good team. There are a few loose ends to tie up before the final roster on Monday, but I feel very satisfied with what I have," he added.
Alou also indicated that the Dominican team will be able to count on the services of Ford, who has been playing as a refuerzo (reinforcement) in Venezuela before joining Leones in the Dominican Republic.
“There was some doubt as to whether he could play for us after having played in Venezuela first, but that has been cleared up and he will be with Escogido," Alou said.
Leones' manager is Luis Rojas, brother of Moises Alou and son of Felipe Rojas Alou. On winning the championship, Luis and his father became the first father-son pair in Dominican baseball to win titles as managers.
“I am very proud of this achievement and now we're going to give everything to win the title for the country," Rojas said.