For all the history and lore that could be told about Major League Baseball, it is still an American Corporation with one thing in mind, how to make more money. The 2002 season saw MLB abuzz about the possible contraction of two teams, the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins, due to lagging attendance. Other teams who had not fared-well on the field and in the stands became worried. Several other large markets became interested in owning a team. With no other option, the Montreal Expos were bought out by Major League Basebal. In an attempt to increase attendance, and therefor revenue, 22 Expos home games were not to be played at home in Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Instead they're going to be played on a much more southern lattitude: the games are to be played in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Catching on to a major trend in Major League Baseball, The Expos are going to Latin America to play ballgames. Playing foreign games is nothing new to the Major Leagues. Annually, a few games, at least one, have been played in Japan. So what's the big deal about Puerto Rico? The big deal is that 230 out of the 827 ball players that play in the Majors were born in Latin America1. That's a smidge under a third of all the players who play professionally.
"Being a Puerto Rican, of course I think it's great ... I get to pitch in front of my family and my friends. It's going to be exciting. I've played there in winter ball, of course, but this will be even better. The crowd is going to be really into it. I guarantee that." -Javier Vazquez2
The first of 22 games was played in San Juan, at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium last night, with the "home town" Expos battering the struggling New York Mets 10-0. The game was supposed to open with multi-cultural pop-star Marc Anthony singing both the American and Puerto Rican National Anthems, but he declined. Instead, the anthems were sung by Millie Corretjer, wife of boxer Oscar de la Hoya. Three more games are to be played with the Mets, followed by three with the Atlanta Braves and the Cinncinatti Reds. These games, of course, are not regular home games for the Expos. While a few more people might have been rooting for the Expos, because their the "home team" and they were winning, it was the Latinos on either team who received the large pops. Roberto Alomar told ESPN "You'll hear congas in the stands, a lot of noise, a lot of music, a really good crowd ... I bet every one of these games is going to be a good one."3
"Puerto Rico will now have the chance to see those major-league players, and see them up close ... I hope this becomes an 'in' so that someday a team goes to Puerto Rico permanently." - Orlando Cepeda 4
That is the underlying question. Can a Major League Baseball team survive in the tropical climate of Puerto Rico? Several factors go in to this. Puerto Rico is a poorer country than the United States of America. Whereas many Americans could afford the 20$-30$ for a seat, this is a lot more to Puerto Ricans wishing to see the game. Even when they bought the ticket, there is still more. Parking, hot dogs and soda are another way that ballparks make money.
"I'm not sure the local economy is strong enough for a full season. This is a good first step, though. It'll be good for baseball to see how much the Puerto Rican people appreciate major league baseball. I know my father would be proud the game is finally coming to the island." - Roberto Clemente Jr.5
"It's very exciting to think about," said Carlos Gonzalez, who covers Puerto Rican players in the major leagues for the paper. "But it would be very difficult to maintain a team in San Juan. You can't start charging people $20 to $25 for a ticket. People here are not going to pay $4, $5, $6 for a beer."6
Even though many are not sure if it's monetarily feasible to support a team in Puerto Rico, the experiment has been successful so far. People are going to watch the game. The attendance for last night's game was 17,000. While this is no record breaking attendance figure (the Boston Red Sox usually average 31,000-36,000 for the season) it is more than last years average attendance of 10,000. One fan, shown on ESPN's Sportscenter this morning said that he was not a fan of either team, but was there to see a good baseball game. Puerto Rico also has a population of 3.9 Million, ranking it as the 12th largest baseball market behind Houston, Texas and above Atlanta, Georgia.
"I sure like the idea of warm weather, finally, but at the end of the day, we're still on the road. It's a tough demand on our time." - Montreal general manager Omar Minaya.7
All in all, I hope that this succeeds. I would love to see a ballclub down in San Juan, or in the Dominican Republic, or anywhere else. Hell, one in Japan would be cool too. On ESPN talk show, Pardon The Interruption, Wilbon and Kornheiser tossed around a "new" format for the All-Star Game, America vs The World. One begins to think that America would be sure to win, which is a common naivete. Given the great amount of talent from Latin America, they'd have hitters like Sammy Sosa, and Vladimir Guerrero, as well as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui from Japan. Do I even need to mention Pedro? This game would not be one-sided.
The winners in all of this are the Puerto Ricans. Several have family in New York, as well as several other American Cities (the Florida Marlins have 3 games scheduled). The Atlanta Braves' Javier Lopez is already planning to take his team on a tour of his "home island" in their time off.
"My players, like all players, ideally they'd like to be home ... But we're fortunate that they're hungry, too. It's a hungry team. We've got guys that want to perform well, not only for the team but for their long-term future. This team as a whole has been very willing to accept a challenge." - Omar Minaya8
Update: July 16, 2003 At this point in time, it is still unknown where the Montreal Expos will be playing next season. Several of the larger markets mentioned above are still interested, and Puerto Rico is still an option. However, one theme remains clear: "Me being Puerto Rican, I would love it to be in Puerto Rico, but to tell you the truth, I don't care where we play next season as long as we play 81 games in the same place."9 All the travel has been taking a toll on everyone, from the equipment manager all the way up to the players. Many are like Mr. Vidro, tired.
While Puerto Rico is not a shoe-in for the Expos next season, they have averaged 3,000 more fans in attendance than homegames played in Montreal. Northern Virginia, Portland, Oregon and Washington, D.C. seem to be the forerunners on the American front. The Baseball owners want to see plans for a new stadium in these places before they make their final decision on a new home for the Expos next season. An official deadline has been made for September of this year, however, it does not sound as if this deadline will be strictly enforced. On September 12, 2003 Bud Selig announced that nothing has yet been ruled out for the Expos. If they decide on a split schedule between Montreal and Puerto Rico, games would also be played in Monterrey, in Mexico.
A full three months later than announced, Major League Baseball has decided what to do with the Montreal Expos for the 2004 season. 22 "home" games will be played in San Juan, Puerto Rico again. While this is pretty much the same deal as before, there is one important difference. Instead of being spread throughout the season, all the home away from home games will be played before the All-Star break. This pivotal decision allows the people of San Juan to enjoy Major League Baseball while not interfering with the players. Many of the Expos complained that their games in San Juan hurt the team while they were making a surprise push for the playoffs in 2003.
A more permanent home for the 'Spos has not been announced yet, however the MLB has announced that a new home would be found by the 2005 season. Monterrey, Mexico, as well as the previously mentioned American cities and San Juan remain the likely spots for the Expos.
Puerto Rico welcoming baseball with open arms - Bob Klapisch, http://espn.go.com/mlb/columns/klapisch_bob/1537587.html
Major League Baseball In Puerto Rico? - Gabrielle Paese, http://www.puertorico-herald.org/issues/2002/vol6n40/PRSportsBeat0640-en.shtml
Puerto Rico Ready for Major-League Baseball Road Show - Ivan Roman, http://www.hotel-online.com/Neo/News/2003_Apr_07/k.ORB.1049822412.html
Expos well-equipped for Caribbean - Phil Rogers, http://msn.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/rogers_phil/1537158.html1
Dream of Major League Baseball in Puerto Rico has island abuzz - Matthew Hay Brown, http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/all-baseball0929,0,2714703.story
Expos begin Puerto Rican adventure with big win 10-0 over Mets - Bill Beacon, http://canada.com/sports/story.html?id=E75FEA5E-54BD-4D02-9619-6A54E9A80362
MLB considering plan on Expos' home schedule - Associated Press, http://espn.go.com/mlb/news/2003/0715/1581101.html
Thanks to: SEF, BrooksMarlin, trainman, Lord Brawl, and Mauler