By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MERIDA, Mexico – On Thursday afternoon, the first game of the inaugural Baseball Champions League will get underway at Parque Kukulcan Alamo.
And that game will make history: When the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the American Association face the Alazanes de Granma from Cuba’s Serie Nacional, it will be the first time professional teams from a U.S.-based league and a Cuban league have played each other since the start of the Cuban trade embargo.
The Alazanes de Granma have announced veteran Serie Nacional pitcher Erlis Casanova as their starter for the opener. Casanova, 36, has pitched 17 seasons in the Serie Nacional with Pinar del Rio, Industriales, and Camaguey. He’s also pitched for parts of two seasons with Parma in the Italian Serie ‘A’ and appeared in the 2015 Caribbean Series for Cuba. Overall, Casanova has a career ERA of 3.20 over 18 seasons and 315 appearances, throwing 1536.1 innings.
Fargo-Moorhead has yet to announce a starter for the opening game.
And while the initial matchup is historic, the event itself is just as significant. For the first time, four professional league champions from North and South America will play off in a “champions league,” giving fans and pundits alike the opportunity to gauge which league has the highest level of play by results from the field rather than intense debate.
The event will feature the 2022 champions of the Serie Nacional de Cuba, the American Association, the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, and the Liga Beisbol Profesional Colombiano. Each team brought its 2023 roster reinforced with several players from around their league.
The Leones de Yucatan, who won the 2022 Liga Mexicana de Beisbol championship, added veteran pitcher Cesar Valdez to the roster as a reinforcement in advance of hte BCL. Valdez, 38, spent the 2018 and 2019 Liga Mexicana de Beisbol seasons with the Leones de Yucatán. He had a 2.97 ERA in 36.1 innings in 2018 and a 2.26 ERA in 147.2 innings in 2019. Valdez was in a starting role for Leones de Yucatan, but only made six starts in 69 career Major League Baseball games.
Last February, Valdez was dominant at the Caribbean Series, making two appearances and throwing 12.1 innings of shutout ball with a miniscule 0.486 WHIP while helping the Dominican Republic’s Tigres del Licey capture the Caribbean Series title.
Three days of split doubleheaders will kick off the BCL, with Fargo-Moorhead and Granma playing the opening game Thursday at 3 p.m. EDT. A 9:30 p.m. EDT opening ceremony will precede the nightcap, which will feature the Caimanes de Barranquilla of the LBPC against the Leones de Yucatan, the host club from the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol. A full schedule for the 2023 Baseball Champions League is in the graphic above this article.
On Sunday, the teams with the two best records will meet in the Baseball Champions League Final at 8 p.m. EDT.
The Baseball Champions League will be streamed on The Unbeaten, which is available via Vizio Watchfree, Amazon Freevee, Plex TV, and Fubo, as well as AABaseball.TV.