Expos series injects new life into island’s baseball spirit
Friday, April 11th, 2003
By Ian James of Associated Press
Sprinting boys stir up dust with their cleats as they round the bases and jubilantly head for home.
Playing passionately is the rule in Puerto Rico, where baseball has long been the top sport. But with the island hosting its first regular-season U.S. Major League series starting Friday, there is new excitement in the neighborhood parks that have produced many top-notch players.
"It makes us part of baseball," said Ricky Marin, a 16-year-old outfielder. "It makes us want to play better."
The Montreal Expos' game against the New York Mets is the first of 22 that the Expos will play on the island this season. Many young fans say they're particularly looking forward to seeing Puerto Rican stars like Roberto Alomar of the Mets and Ivan Rodriguez of the Florida Marlins.
This year, there are 38 Puerto Rican-born players in the Major Leagues. The island has long been a source of top recruits, but until now few have returned to play on their native soil in Major League uniforms.
"This is a gift to our fans, to our people, to our island," said Edwin Correa, a former Major League pitcher who heads the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School in Caguas. "Everybody is looking forward to these games."
Three of the academy's 105 prospects have been chosen to serve as bat boys during the games. Oscar Marrero, a 16-year-old catcher who will be a bat boy in September, said he has baseball cards and balls ready for the signing, and is looking forward to meeting Rodriguez, the Marlins catcher.
"He's Puerto Rican, and he's always been one of my favorites," Marrero said.
Office worker Amarilys Quintana, 35, said she is deciding which tickets to buy for her 8-year-old son Luis Angel, who "wants to see the players from close up" for once instead of on television.
At the Las Lomas Park in San Juan, many teenage players said they plan to attend the games. For some, it will be their first time seeing a Major League matchup in person.
"It's really an honor," said 15-year-old slugger Julio Alamo, gazing onto the diamond as his team, the Comets, attempted a comeback.
When a shot sailed into the outfield, cheers in Spanish of "Eso es!" erupted, blending with a shouted "Ataboy!"
A similar mix should be heard in the cheers at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where workers in recent days have been grooming the infield and patching rubber near the outfield wall.
Up until the mid-1990s, many Puerto Rican stars would return to play in the island's Winter League. But concerns of injuries put a stop to the practice.
In 2001, the Texas Rangers played their season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays in Puerto Rico. This year, after their series against the Mets, the Expos will have games on the island against the Braves, Reds, Angels, Rangers, Marlins, and Cubs.
Some see the games as a way to test the waters for the possibility of Puerto Rico taking on its own team as the Major Leagues seek new markets in Latin America.
Others say the coming of the Expos is important simply because it should bring new spirit and motivation to young players.
"They're going to see the best in the world," said Carlos Berroa, a high school coach and scout for the Marlins. "It has to serve as a motivating factor."
Psicoanalisis del vejigante
Hello, PR. I am planning on making a trip to Puerto Rico, this Summer. I am an avid Basketball fan, and I was wondering if someone out there could let me know if any games will be going on in that time?? I hear that there are some leagues in PR. However, I do not know where to locate them on the Web. Could someone PLEASE help me??!!
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