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October 29, 2001
The Puerto Rico Winter Baseball League season went up to bat Monday, Oct. 29, with the defending champion Caguas Criollos hosting the Ponce Leones.
The rest of the teams, Santurce Cangrejeros, Bayamón Vaqueros, Mayagüez Indios, and Carolina Gigantes, took the field Thursday, Nov. 1.
Each team will play 54 games, with the last day of the season slated for Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002. The All-Star Game will be played Jan. 7. The semifinals, in a best-of-seven series, should be held Wednesday, Jan. 9 to Thursday, Jan. 17. The first- and fourth-place teams will play each other while the second and third-place face off.
The final series, a best-of-nine, should start Saturday, Jan. 19, and conclude Jan 29. That will leave the championship team ready to go to the Caribbean Series in Venezuela Feb. 1-7. The series will pit championship teams from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and host Venezuela.
Here's a look at the Bayamón Vaqueros, Santurce Cangrejeros, and Ponce Leones for the 2001-02 Puerto Rico Winter League Baseball season.
The Vaqueros hope to bring new life to Bayamón after a disastrous 2000-01 season. The team wants to look more "major league" and therefore is holding several special major-league events during the season.
On the field, the team will have a new manager, Carmelo Martínez, a former top hitter in the league. Martínez hopes to lead the Vaqueros to the finals, something the team hasn't accomplished since 1996.
Omar García and Orestes Marrero will be at first base, although one of them may start as designated hitter. Martínez, however, has said it will be García on opening night.
On second, Carlos Baerga hopes to show he still deserve to play in the majors. This year, Baerga played in the Korean League, where he was one of the top hitters.
At shortstop, Nick Ortiz consolidated that position last year. He's expected to play all season with the team.
At third, Lou Lucca has shown some power in past seasons and loves to play winter ball. He's also a good defensive player, so Martínez will have a nearly perfect player in the hot corner.
The outfield is led by major-leaguer Carlos Beltrán of the Kansas City Royals, who batted .300 and drove home 100 RBIs. Beltrán, however, may join the team in mid-December. In the meantime, Martínez will have Raúl González, José León, and Marrero, who also can play outfield.
Import Scott Podsednik is a player of the future for the Seattle Mariners. He's a centerfielder with good speed and could be the team lead-off batter. Two other players, Rod Henderson and Robert Theodile, also were announced as import outfielders.
Izzy Molina, who hit .300 with the AAA (Toronto Blue Jays), will start behind the plate, trying to improve his skills and stay with the Blue Jays in 2002.
The pitching staff has natives Dicky González, José Alberro, Javier Martínez, Edwin Corps, and Rafael Carmona. There are also six imports coming from the Atlanta Braves. They are Tim Spoonebarge, Chris Seelbach, Billy Silvester, Raymond Beasly, and Jake Robbins.
The Ponce Leones may have one of the strongest teams in the league with its native players. The question is how many of them will play. Still, new manager José
"Cheo" Cruz hopes to make it to the post-season.
Robinson Cancel and John Pachot are expected to share duties as catchers. They have shown good consistency in this league, but they aren't Javier López, Benito Santiago, or Raúl Casanova, three top catchers in the major leagues who won't play.
At first base, Luis López comes from Santurce, where he has posted strong numbers in the past three seasons. He was one of the heroes in the 1999 Caribbean Series, won by the unbeaten Santurce Cangrejeros.
At second, there's superstar José Vidro, but his participation is questionable. Still, Ramón Martínez, who stayed all season with the San Francisco Giants, should be one of the top players for manager Cruz.
At shortstop, veteran Kevin Báez can still play the position very consistently. Third base will be in the hands of Donny León, who played it last season, and import Andy Fox, a member of the Florida Marlins.
In the outfield will be import Daryle Ward. Miguel Correa and Roberto Vaz will be on the lineup opening night.
The pitching staff is led by Ricky Bones, Javier Vázquez, and Joel Piñeiro. All three major-leaguers are expected to see action. There's also imports Joe Strong, Mike Johnson, who pitched with the Leones last season, Rocky Coppinger, Mark Roberts, and John Ruffin.
Manager Mako Oliveras is confident his team will be one of the finalists this season. The main reason is his native talent, which is expected to be 80% of the team offense.
Javier Cardona and Ramón Castro are two top prospects behind the plate and both are coming with major-league experience. Cardona played 46 games with the Detroit Tigers and Castro was in his second season with the Florida Marlins, although he played only seven games.
Cuban Jorge Toca, of the New York Mets, will start at first base and may be the clean-up batter. Oliveras also expects veterans Orlando Merced and Eduardo Pérez to join the team in December.
Edwin Díaz was one of the top players last season and will start at second, while Felipe López, who ended the major-league season with the Toronto Blue Jays, will play shortstop. José Flores and Angel Espada come with more experience and should share duties on third base, although hiring an import for the position was mentioned as a possibility.
The outfield looks solid for Santurce with newcomers Angel Echevarria and Melvin Nieves, both whom are experienced and have good power. There's also import Randy Winn, who was Tampa Bay Devil Rays' starting rightfielder. Ben Candelaria, John Rodríguez, and Jesús Feliciano also are proven players in this league and should get the call from Oliveras to play in the outfield.
The pitching staff looks solid with J.C. Romero, Stevenson Agosto, and Kevin Juarbe. Among the imports is Hideki Irabu of Japan, once a solid pitcher with the New York Yankees. In addition, Dan Perkins, Bronson Arroyo, Grant Robert, Brian Ward, and Jarred Fernandez all will have major-league experience in 2001.