I'm sorry that I missed out on the Mets-Expos series in Puerto Rico last weekend, so here are a few related, if belated articles. As cool as it seems for MLB to host games in P.R., baseball is not the sport there it once was:
And here's a myth that could get exposed during the 22 games the Expos will be playing in San Juan this season: Baseball is not revered with unbridled passion any longer on this island. Contrary to popular opinion, Puerto Rico is not a baseball-crazed nation.
...Listen to the explanation that winter league president Enrique Cruz gave the Puerto Rican Herald this winter about the lack of interest in the game in Puerto Rico, compared to the passion for the game in the rival Dominican Republic.
"Baseball is part of their culture there," Cruz said. "They have more big leaguers than we do, they have all these baseball schools and the people live baseball in a way that we don't. In Puerto Rico there is so much entertainment competing for the baseball fan's attention. You have the movies, [amusement parks], the Internet."
In an effort to energize the country's lagging baseball interest, former major league pitcher Edwin Correa, has started a baseball academy, which has recieved partial funding from MLB:
Here, in a one-story building 30 minutes south of San Juan, Correa is trying to salvage Puerto Rican baseball, which has sent fewer players to the major leagues in recent years.
This season, 38 major league players on opening-day rosters came from Puerto Rico, compared with 79 from the Dominican Republic. The amateur draft's numbers are even more remarkable. Fifty-five Puerto Ricans were taken in 1989, the first year they were subject to the draft; 37 were drafted the next year and 23 last June.
..."I think the kids in Puerto Rico have a lot of comforts," said Vazquez, one of the handful of Puerto Rican stars to come out of the draft. "They have computers, PlayStations, all types of things like that. A kid has a life outside of sports."
..."There's probably always a little skepticism when it comes to this type of program, whether it's Puerto Rico or anywhere else," [MLB executive, Sandy] Alderson said by telephone. "Besides the logistics, what are the motivations of the individual involved? Are they as honest and altruistic as they say? I think in Edwin's case, it's been borne out."
Correa recognized that children in the Dominican Republic "have that hunger to play, that desire to leave their country or to have a better future."
"One thing we want to instill in our players is desire,'' Correa said. "To want to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and be at school, that takes discipline."
The academy's $5,500 tuition sounds steep, but players have help. Vazquez, Delgado, Gonzalez and other Puerto Rican major leaguers have lectured and donated scholarships. Sixty-six students receive some form of financial aid, the administrator Lucy Batista said.
Finally, here a terrific article by Nick Peters on Felipe Alou , which appeared in the Sac Bee earlier this week. Peters covers Alou's early days in baseball:
"We had it worse than the blacks," he recalled. "At Lake Charles, the blacks would buy food for me at the bus stop, at a line for 'colored only.' I couldn't go in a white restaurant, although I was light-skinned -- my mother is Spanish.
"Two blacks on the team and I were put up with a nice white family. They cooked breakfast and lunch for us, but dinner was not part of the agreement. And the blacks had a social life. They didn't want me with them when they were with girlfriends.
..."There was no other communication with anyone."
It was more comfortable when he reached the Giants to stay in 1958, their first year in San Francisco. Spanish-speaking teammates included Ruben GZmez, Ramon Monzant, Valmy Thomas and Cepeda. Jose Pagan came in 1959, Marichal in 1960.
Although there was strength in numbers, the Latino players often were treated like second-class citizens -- by frugal management that didn't pay them commensurate with their worth, and by the pervasive climate of discrimination.
..."I was more diplomatic than others. I was older and a little wiser, and I had gone to college. Most of the other Latins signed when they were very young. I tried to be a buffer between management and the Latin players."