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Vaqueros Make Desperate Coaching Change During Final Series

By Gabrielle Paese

August 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Fans in Puerto Rico who belly up to the sports buffet table this week can really get their fill. League finals are being held in four major sports at the same time – men's volleyball, men's basketball, semi-pro baseball and tennis. The island amateur golfers are also competing at Rio Mar in Caribbean championships.

It's not often the planets line up like this. In fact, league finals rarely coincide. However, the Superior Basketball League (SBL), which has at times held its finals as late as September, adjusted its season this year in order to accommodate Puerto Rico's team headed to the World Basketball Championships Aug. 29 in Indianapolis, Ind.

Lares and Naranjito are dueling for the Superior Volleyball League title while Ponce and Bayamon are facing off for the SBL crown. In the Superior Baseball League, it's San Lorenzo versus Cidra. And for dessert, the island's amateur boxers headed to the Central American-Caribbean Games later this year, are competing this weekend and next in a regional tournament that features the leading boxers from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

Basketball, as usual, provided plenty of drama in its post-season. The Bayamon Vaqueros, down 0-3 in the semifinals against the Arecibo Capitanes, went on to win the next four games and advance to the finals. It was the first time in league history a team crawled back from 0-3. Down 0-2 late last week in the final series versus the Ponce Lions, Cowboys franchise holder Juan Trinidad made a bold move when he fired the team's coach, Miguel Mercado, and replaced him with the Capitanes' former coach, Manolo Cintron.

Trinidad said he had no choice because coach Mercado didn't believe in his own Vaqueros.

"In the five times we've played Ponce this season, he's lost four of the games," said Trinidad. "He honestly doesn't think we are capable of beating Ponce."

A bad spot to be in when Ponce is the team you have to beat.

"With Miguel, the problem was more psychological and motivational," said Trinidad. "He wasn't communicating with the players."

Trinidad said he made the decision to can Mercado after speaking with the players. Veteran forward Jerome Mincy is reported to have been the player who demanded that Mercado get the boot.

Still, it's a rare and risky move to put a new captain at the helm of your boat in the middle of a storm.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Francisco "Paquito" Rodriguez Jimenez, the Basketball Federation's general secretary. "The players may or may not adapt to a new coach fast enough. That kind of a move can blow up in your face."

"Nothing surprises me in this league," said former NBA and national team player Butch Lee, who now owns the league's Carolina Gigantes.

While the move is not unprecedented in this league, Rodriguez Jimenez said that on previous occasions, late-season coaching changes came about because a stateside coach had to leave town.

"I can remember in Ponce, Felix Joglar came in after Red Holzman had to get back to the states," said Rodriguez Jimenez. "But I can't remember a team ever firing a coach in the middle of the finals."

Then again, the Vaqueros had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

"We have the material, we just have to put it together on the court," said former NBA player Daniel Santiago of the dilemma facing his Vaqueros.

Team forward Franklyn Western said Mercado constantly criticized.

"When we were winning everything was OK, but when we started to lose, he always had something negative to say," said Western, who plays for the Dominican Republic's national team.

Gonzalez likely to miss rest of season

Texas Rangers outfield Juan "Igor" Gonzalez will probably see his season cut short due to a ligament injury to his right thumb. He was placed on the DL last week for the second time this season with the same thumb injury that landed him on the DL earlier this season.

Team doctors estimate Gonzalez will be out for at least six weeks. Gonzalez, who has played in just 70 games this season, had only eight homers and 35 RBIs in 277 at-bats thus far this season.

Boxing roundup

Don King has put together a fight card in Carolina's new Roberto Clemente Walker outdoor stadium on Aug. 24 featuring Derrick Gainer versus Daniel Sedo and Nelson Dieppa versus John-John Molina. The stadium is home to the Carolina Gigantes in Puerto Rico's winter baseball league and will also be used to host the Caribbean Series in February 2003.

In other news, Peter Rivera, who manages the career of Miguel Cotto (11-0, 9 KOs), said Cotto will fight veteran John Brown on the Sept. 14 Oscar de la Hoya-Fernando Vargas fight card. John Brown (23-9, 11 KOs) lost his most recent bout for the IBF junior lightweight belt to Steve Forbes last September.

Cotto's father, Evangelista, said he doesn't care who his son fights.

"It's just important for us to be on that fight card and get that kind of exposure," said the elder Cotto, who trains a stable of 42 boxers in the Bairoa sector of Caguas. "Miguel can beat anyone. He's back in the gym and training very hard."

Cotto KOd Mexican Carlos Ramirez last week in three rounds during a fight card held in Oklahoma.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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