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Trinidad's Retirement Top Story In Puerto Rican Sports

By Gabrielle Paese

December 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

It was to have been a perfect palindrome of a year -- 2002 reads the same forwards as it does backwards. Alas, there is no such neat symmetry to wrap up the year in Puerto Rican sports. Nope, what we got was the full gamut of numbers, both odd and even. For those of you who are counting, here"s a list of the top four stories in Puerto Rican sports in 2002.

1. Boxer Félix "Tito" Trinidad"s official retires. Trinidad, considered one of the sport"s best pound-for-pound boxers, said "no mas" in July, even though it took him nearly four months to convince his fans this wasn"t some plot to get more money out of promoter Don King.

Trinidad, 29, hung up his gloves with a 41-1, 34 KO record. In all, he fought 21 title fights in three weight classes during his 12-year- career. He made his professional debut at age 17 in 1990.

Trinidad won his first title, the IBF welterweight belt, on July 19, 1993 with a second-round KO of Maurice Blocker. He made 15 successful defenses of that title before moving up to super welterweight on March 3, 2000 to beat David Reid by unanimous decision.

He unified that super welterweight title by beating IBF junior middleweight champion Fernando Vargas, who was 20-0 before Trinidad ended his streak. Trinidad won 2000 Fight and Fighter of the Year honors for that effort and got his pound-for-pound best ranking as well.

Under the watchful eye of father/trainer Félix Trinidad Sr., Trinidad moved up to middleweight in 2001. He won his first fight for the WBA belt versus William Joppy on Don King"s unification of the weight class. In September of 2001, he suffered his first career loss to Bernard Hopkins, getting knocked out in the 12th round.

He made one half-hearted return victory over Frenchman Hacine Cherifi earlier this year in San Juan, but was reportedly frustrated by unsuccessful talks with Don King over rematches with Hopkins, Vargas or Oscar De la Hoya.

To those who contended that his retirement was a negotiation ploy, Trinidad had an answer in October when Don King personally visited the island for his Little Giants fight card, bringing Hopkins in tow. The Cupey Alto native silenced the rumors by failing to take the bait: He was a no-show, even though the fight was held in his honor.

Now with an extra 30 pounds on his 6-0 frame, Trinidad is unlikely to make any unexpected comebacks. With Trinidad gone, Puerto Rico loses an idol, a hero who transcended the squared circle and stood for something more.

2. The Montreal Expos" decision to play 22 games of the 2003 season in San Juan. T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, but he knew nothing about Puerto Rico"s favorite pastime (after politics). Apart from San Juan"s hosting of Opening Day in 2001 (Toronto Blue Jays versus Texas Rangers), Puerto Ricans on the island have usually had to wait until wintertime to see their favorite major leaguers. Major League Baseball made the announcement official back in November. The team will take its home show to Hiram Bithorn Stadium for the first time in that franchise"s history.

The Expos will debut at Bithorn Stadium versus the New York Mets April 11-14, followed by the Atlanta Braves April 15-17 and Cincinnati April 18-20.

In the second homestand, the World Series defending champion Anaheim Angels will come to San Juan June 3-5 and the Texas Rangers June 6-8. The final homestand will be Sept. 5-7 versus the Florida Marlins and the Chicago Cubs Sept. 9-11.

Antonio Munoz, an avid baseball fan and the owner of the Puerto Rico winter baseball league"s Ponce Leones, put the deal together. The Ponce investor is said to have guaranteed revenue for the Expos, whose value is estimated at somewhere between $150 and $200 million. According to sources, Munoz has guaranteed MLB $350,000 per game, or a total of nearly $8 million.

"Puerto Rico will be known as the country that brought baseball to Latin America," said Munoz. "This represents a great economic achievement for Puerto Rico and will bring income here."

The Expos were the off-season news, but the regular season also had its bright spots. Puerto Rico"s players continued to make headlines this year. Seattle Mariners pitcher Joel Pineiro finished his first full season in the majors with a 14-7 record and a 3.24 ERA, eighth in the American League.

His 2002 performance capped an impressive debut with the Mariners in 2001, going 6-5 with a 2.03 ERA despite spending much of his time in the bullpen.

Also earning honorable mention this year were San Francisco Giants" catcher Benito Santiago, Anaheim Angels brother catcher duo of Bengie and Jose Molina and Yankees slugger Bernie Williams.

Santiago"s career resurged at age 37 this season with his stunning offense to get the Giants into the World Series, earning NLCS MVP honors. Bengie Molina, who helped his team defeat Santiago"s for its first World Series title ever, was named the NL"s best defensive catcher.

New York"s Williams finished third in AL hitting with a .333 average.

3. The performance by Puerto Rico"s athletes at the November Central American-Caribbean Games.

On one hand, it"s a triumph of athleticism. Puerto Rico"s athletes earned 139 medals -- 30 gold, 47 silver and 62 bronze at the regional contest. Swimmer Sonia Alvarez made a successful comeback to the sport, winning three gold medals, a silver and a bronze. Puerto Rico"s baseball team won a gold medal in the event for the first time since 1959.

Sailor Quique Figueroa won his fourth straight CAC Games gold medal in the Hobie 16 class while swimmer Ricky Busquets, taekwondo star Ineabelle Diaz and beach volleyball duo Raul Papaleo and Ramon "Monchito" Hernandez all dominated convincingly on their way to gold medal victories. WTA pro Kristina Brandi and NCAA standout Vilmarie Castelvi won gold-silver in the CAC Games women"s tennis finals.

On the other hand, the numbers fail to tell the entire tale. Cuba boycotted El Salvador, giving Puerto Rico more opportunities to win medals.The island athletes did not disappoint, having won just 80 in Maracaibo 1998. Still, Puerto Rico finished a back-of-the-pack fifth in the region behind Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Puerto Rico was unable to keep up with the Joneses in its neighborhood, despite a historic increase in government funding for the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee (PROC). Thanks to Gov. Sila Calderon"s initiative, the PROC"s funding more than doubled. In addition, Calderon also offered elite athletes full-time stipends, essentially paying them to train full-time.

4. Puerto Rico"s seventh-place finish at the men"s World Basketball Championship and its 10th place showing at the women"s World Volleyball Championship.

One sports psychologist even went so far as to say that the basketball team"s brief run at the semifinals in Indianapolis and subsequent conformity with seventh place had something to do with Puerto Rico"s political status. His theory: because Puerto Rico"s political status is undefined, its sports teams can"t have a winning attitude. Seems only nations without issues can play basketball (so much for Yugoslavia and Croatia).

It's a bit of a stretch, especially since anyone who watched Puerto Rico lose to New Zealand could see that the islander"s got beat at their own game -- a better fast break and a superb outside game.

Puerto Rico"s performance in Indianapolis, no matter what placing, means basketball is back (the island did not qualify for the 2000 Olympics). The team has half a year to practice before it gets another test: In 2003, San Juan will play host to the 2003 Olympic Basketball Qualifiers.

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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