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'08 Caribbean Series made history

'08 Caribbean Series made history

SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic -- The 2008 Caribbean Series made history.

It was the first in the city of Santiago and the first round-robin of its kind to feature two teams from the Dominican Republic.

The Licey Tigres (5-1) won this year's version, the club's 10th Caribbean Series title since the country began participating in 1970 and the 17th overall for the Dominican Republic. The Aguilas Cibaenas (3-3) finished second, while Venezuela and Mexico each finished with 2-4 records.

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"It was a well-played series all around," Tigres de Aragua pitcher Andrew Lorraine said. "I think it's kind of neat that Licey can get their butts kicked in the [Dominican] finals and then come out and run out 4-0. I think it's a great story."

The 51st annual version of the tournament, scheduled for next year in Mexicali, Mexico, might be remembered for a completely different reason altogether: its start date and participants.

The lack of Major League participation from players outside of the Dominican Republic has the Caribbean Confederation officials considering moving up the start of the tournament from the first week of February to Jan. 26. The latest the newly proposed tournament would end is Feb. 4.

Caribbean Confederation commissioner Juan Francisco Puello hopes the change would encourage more participation from Major League players from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, because it gives them at least 10 days before they are expected to report to their respective camps in Spring Training. This year's tournament ended six days before pitchers and catchers begin reporting.

Of the 33 players on Caribbean Series rosters currently on 40-man Major League rosters, 30 were on the Dominican Republic teams.

Puello also mentioned a possible change in format from round-robin to double-elimination in order to crown a true champion and breathe fresh air into a tournament that he fears is losing momentum. The absence of Puerto Rico's participation in the tournament did not go unnoticed to Puello and his colleagues. Puerto Rico canceled its Winter League this fall because of economic reasons and did not play in the Caribbean Series in Santiago.

"I'm not sure everybody will leave with the greatest taste in their mouths," Puello said. "You leave without the greatest taste because of the competition and the change in teams, those that did not show. But, as far as organization, participation and fans, I think it was a success."

Additionally, Puello said a revision of the Winter League agreement between the Caribbean Confederation and Major League Baseball is crucial and might provide a boost for the tournament.

"The biggest help from MLB is not economic help," Puello said. "It is allowing players to play. It's important to the countries and to the players. The future of Latin players in the Major Leagues has a lot to do with the success we have here."

Adding new teams to the tournament is also an option for the future of the Caribbean Series.

"In the case of Colombia, it depends on them. In the case of Nicaragua, it depends on them. In the case of Cuba, it depends on them," Puello said. "It does not depend on the Caribbean Confederation. For Cuba, the door is open to them. In the case of Colombia and Nicaragua, it's when they improve their stadiums. Puerto Rico will have its tournament. I have no doubt about that."

As for Mexico, the biggest challenge could be on the field, regardless of who plays or when the tournament starts. The country is 3-15 since it won the 2005 Caribbean Series in Mazatlan.

"It's hard to say it was success for us when you look at our record, because the tournament is about results," Mexico manager Homar Rojas said. "Next year, we are hopeful. We have always played hard and will keep playing hard. I just think the teams in this tournament are at a higher level than we are right now. Maybe that can change next year."

There could be many changes come 2009.

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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