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Looking Into The Crystal Ball: 2003 Is Going To Be A Banner Year

By Gabrielle Paese

January 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Walter Mercado I'm not. If I could see the future, I would have set up shop in Vegas years ago.

But sometimes I can just see it coming, the same way I know that when I give my 3-year-old a cup of grape juice after he's in his Sunday best, he will spill it all over his shirt.

So this week I peered into my crystal ball to check out what's in store for Puerto Rico's sports world in 2003. Here's what I saw.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not one of those myopic optimists who sees the glass half-full. I usually say "half-empty" and prefer to think of myself as a realist, thank you very much.

But even the gloomiest Tarot card reader has to agree with me: This is going to be Puerto Rico's biggest sports year ever. The calendar is chock-full of major sports activity, month after month, all the way through. Yup, 2003 is going to be a banner year in Puerto Rico sports. Here are more specific predictions.

This month we're going to see more fans showing up at WL ballparks. This one's really kind of a no-brainer because winter league attendance always picks up in the playoffs and the finals. The regular season ends this week and fans will start paying attention now, especially since Puerto Rico plays host to the Caribbean Series Feb. 2-7 at Carolina's Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium.

Women's Superior Volleyball League heats up. For those who prefer a faster-paced game, the women's Superior Volleyball League season gets under way this month. Under the direction of marketing wizard Carlos Beltran, I see the league's most successful season yet thanks to clever promotion and a sprinkling of import players from both the United States and the Caribbean.

Top Rank prospect Miguel Cotto earns a shot at a title bout. The undefeated junior welterweight Cotto (13-0, 9 KO) will KO Cesar Bazan in February and on the basis of that success plus those of 2002, will jump right up the rankings and into a chance to challenge for a title.

The Montreal Expos games in San Juan wll be a huge success. Duh. I know you don't need a crystal ball for this one. Remember how Puerto Rico sought, but did not win the bid to host the Olympics in 2004 (Athens got it)? Well, think of the Expos' 22-game home stand at Hiram Bithorn Stadium as a way cool consolation prize. Tickets go on sale Jan. 13 and John Blakeman, San Juan's director of the sports facility, hopes to get 20,000 fans in for each game (the stadium seated 19,800 for 2001 Opening Day between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays). That means nearly half a million people will get to watch major league baseball in San Juan and thousands will benefit directly and indirectly from the boost in the economy.

The first games are April 11-14 versus the New York Mets, which means Roberto Alomar will also be in town. The Atlanta Braves follow (April 15-17) and then the Cincinnati Reds April 18-20. The Anaheim Angels come to San Juan June 3-5 followed by the Texas Rangers June 6-8. The final homestand features the Florida Marlins Sept. 5-7 and the Chicago Cups Sept. 9-11.

Having the Expos in town is going to get sports fans excited about sports again.

Puerto Rico's athletes will best their 1999 Pan Am Games medal performance during the 2003 Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo Aug. 1-17. Buoyed by a solid performance at the 2002 Central American-Caribbean Games, Puerto Rico's amateur athletes will hold their own in a much tougher venue this summer. Watch for medals in sailing, wrestling, taekwondo, boxing, basketball and equestrian in particular.

Puerto Rico's national basketball team will qualify for the Olympics and sell out Clemente Coliseum in August. Baseball is not going to be the only game in town in 2003. The Tournament of the Americas, a zone qualifier for the 2004 Olympics is going to be held within spitting distance of Bithorn Stadium Aug. 20-31, right before the Expos' final home stand. The U.S. Dream Team is going to be there (with a vengeance) and so will Argentina (second-place finishers to Yugoslavia at 2002 Worlds). For fans, it's going to be basketball at its best ˆ a preview of what's to come at the Olympics, only right here in our own backyard.

Ten teams from the Americas zone will be fighting for three Olympic spots and Puerto Rico will have to match wits with the U.S. Dream Team, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and probably Mexico.

Puerto Rico's team will need to qualify for the Tournament of the Americas at Centrobasket to be held in June or July. After that, expect to see a refurbished and fired-up team, with all its top guns playing. The tournament comes just days after the conclusion of the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo.

Finally, expect to see a winter league revival in 2003. Contrary to popular belief, the competition from having the Expos in town will not kill off the winter league. It will make them tougher. This is the year we are finally going to see intra-league play with the Dominican teams. The six owners are also going to reach deep into their wallets in 2003 and hire a marketing director to ride the wave of Expos success and capture some of those advertising dollars that went to the big league.

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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