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The Ultimate Dream: Move MLB Team To Puerto Rico


March 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN - Few people will be rooting harder for the Expos to succeed in Puerto Rico than Atlanta businessman Charles Vaughn. If Montreal's 22 games here are a hit, it figures to provide a major push to Vaughn's effort to move Major League Baseball to the island permanently.

''Our intention is to bring a professional baseball team down here,'' he said between meetings at the swank El San Juan hotel. ``We feel that San Juan is a vital, valid market, supported by Major League Baseball's own assertions. They've given us 22 games. And more importantly, the reason behind giving us 22 games was the fact that it is a credible means to raise revenue for a somewhat ailing team.

``[That] shows baseball will work down here.''

Vaughn, whose mother was born on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, has been pushing for a San Juan franchise for 18 months.

He originally planned to relocate the Expos here, but Major League Baseball has all but awarded that franchise to the Washington, D.C., area -- a move that could be put on hold indefinitely by a lawsuit filed by 14 of the team's former owners.

Now Vaughn, a 34-year-old graduate of Fort Lauderdale's Western High, said he is talking to representatives of other financially troubled franchises who have expressed interest in playing at least a portion of their ''home'' schedules on the island.

He refused to identify the teams or members of his investor group, but said his backers could finance the deal ``in raised capital as opposed to debt.''

Part of the cost they would have to bear would include the refurbishing of Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan or Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium in nearby Carolina, or building a new ballpark.

''We have an idea what we'd like to do,'' he said. ``We have blueprints already drawn on it.''

But Vaughn faces long odds. The population of metropolitan San Juan is about 700,000, and its per-capita family income of $12,332 would be the lowest in the major leagues, casting doubt on the city's ability to support a franchise financially.

''I think Puerto Rico is ready for 22 games. But for a complete season? That'll be tough,'' said major-league infielder and Puerto Rican native César Crespo, who played this winter for Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican league. ``Because of the market, because of the costs.''

Nevertheless, 87 percent of those responding to a public opinion poll in The Puerto Rican Herald believe Puerto Rico is ''a feasible venue'' for a major-league team.

And Major League Baseball's long-term marketing and sponsorship deals in Puerto Rico, plus the rescheduling of more than a quarter of Montreal's home games to San Juan this season, have led some to conclude the commissioner's office has more than a passing interest in the island.

Also significant is the fact MLB isn't denying rumors from San Juan that if this summer's games go well, the Expos will be back for as many as 40 games next year while the team's new owners build a stadium in the Washington area.

''If we are able to handle -- and handle well -- 22 major-league games, we're going to be recognized as a major-league city,'' said John Blakeman, San Juan's director of city enterprises. ``We're making sure that everybody looks good in this endeavor. And we expect that somewhere in the near future we are going to be awarded a major-league team.''

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