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Experiment A Cash Boon For Expos… SJ Has Plenty Of Atmosphere

Puerto Rico Experiment A Cash Boon For Expos: Allows Club To Keep

Dan Bollerman

Bloomberg News

April 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
National Post 2003. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The Montreal Expos, unable to turn a profit playing 81 home games in Olympic Stadium, may at least break even in Puerto Rico for promoter Antonio Munoz, he said.

Munoz said he is within US$1-million of recouping the US$7.6-million he paid Major League Baseball, plus more than US$1-million in expenses, to have the team play 22 home games in San Juan this season.

"I wasn't that worried that I'd lose money," said Munoz, who has owned the Ponce Lions of the Puerto Rican winter league for the past eight years. "Obviously we took on risk, but I always thought we'd do good in this market."

Major League Baseball, which bought the Expos from Jeffrey Loria last year with plans of folding them, agreed to the games in Puerto Rico after the club lost US$15-million last season and drew a major-league low 812,545 fans.

The profit from the trip to Puerto Rico has prevented the team from trading all-stars Vladimir Guerrero or Jose Vidro, said Claude Delorme, the team's executive vice president for business affairs.

"Our games in Puerto Rico will allow us to keep a star player on this team, a front-line player," Delorme said. "If we'd played all 81 home games in Montreal, we would have lost a player."

Delorme said the three trips to San Juan will cost the Expos between US$500,000 and US$600,000 for hotels, extra travel -- which includes wives and children on the team charters -- and additional meal money.

The Expos started the season with an Opening Day payroll of US$51.9-million, the 20th-highest among baseball's 30 teams. Guerrero and Vidro make a combined US$17-million.

After giving up the right to shut any teams down until 2006 in a new labor agreement, owners now are looking for a buyer to move the franchise to the Washington-Northern Virginia area or Portland, Ore.

The Expos, who are tied for the lead in the National League's Eastern Division with a 13-9 record, completed their first Puerto Rico homestand Sunday by going 6-4 against the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds.

The 10 games drew an average of 14,282 fans, 42% more than the team averaged last season at Olympic Stadium.

San Juan Has Plenty Of Atmosphere

Ross Newhan

June 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - There was the percussive beat of Latin music and there were the cries of vendors pitching pina coladas as a tasteful and cooling accompaniment to that menu of international concession staples: Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut.

There was Puerto Rico's favorite golfer, Chi Chi Rodriguez, rejecting a chance to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in favor of chipping it out with a bat borrowed from Montreal Expo Manager Frank Robinson, who had been his fairway playing partner earlier Tuesday, and there was a quick and emphatic demonstration by the Angels, arriving at Hiram Bithorn Stadium from their beachfront hotel and casino, that they knew they weren't here simply to catch some rays or cash some chips.

"The way we've played this year, none of us should have a problem going out there with the right mind-set," said Jarrod Washburn. "We can't afford any more mental breaks."

Well, maybe it was the friendly dimensions of a park in which the foul lines measure only 313 feet, or maybe it was the friendlier fastballs of Montreal starter Tomo Ohka, but the Angels had no problem with focus.

They hit three home runs and scored five runs (with no allegations they were swinging corked bats) after only 16 pitches of the Expos' second home stand here, if that's what this is and not just another stop on a ridiculous 22-game, 25-day trip for baseball's lost souls (even Robinson had difficulty choosing between homestand and road stop).

The Angels ultimately tied a club record with six home runs and collected a season-high 22 hits in a 15-4 interleague rout that had the partisans in a crowd of 10,034 booing their adopted Expos even before the first out was registered.

An afternoon of periodic rain storms may have impacted a turnout that was about 4,200 less than Montreal averaged while winning six of 10 games during its first engagement here in April.

Then again, maybe the locals would prefer to save their dollars for a weekend appearance by native son Juan Gonzalez and his Texas Rangers (15,000 or more are expected for each of the three games in a park that has been expanded to 20,000) than spend those dollars on native-son Bengie Molina and his World Series champions.

Either way, it certainly didn't mar a night of nights for the Molina brothers and their red clad, noise stick rapping pockets of family and friends. Bengie had four hits, including a home run, and brother Jose singled in his only at bat after coming into the game late.

Garret Anderson also had four hits, and then there was Babe (OK, Jeff) DaVanon, who hit two home runs for the second consecutive game and is batting .376, further insuring that he has a spot with the Angels even after Darin Erstad's expected return on Monday.

For DaVanon, the night may not have carried the same emotional impact that it did for the Molina brothers, but it was special in another way.

After the starting lineups had been introduced along the foul lines and the three national anthems -- Canadian, Puerto Rican and U.S. -- performed, Robinson stood near the plate and asked Angel Manager Mike Scioscia if he could call DaVanon over before the young outfielder got away.

Robinson shook hands with DaVanon, put a hand on his shoulder and chatted briefly in an unusual scene shortly before the first pitch.

"Frank and my dad [Jerry DaVanon] were teammates on Baltimore's 1971 World Series team," DaVanon explained later, "and he just wanted me to say hello for him. It was awesome."

Jerry DaVanon lives in Houston, but his son said he wouldn't be calling until the Angels get to Miami on the weekend because of the higher phone rates from Puerto Rico.

He seemed to be serious, just as he was when introducing himself to Robinson in another way with his three hits and two home runs.

Of course, Robinson knows how it can be in Hiram Bithorn, having said before the game that hitters tend to come in "licking their chops," and DaVanon also knows how it can be, having played winter ball in Puerto Rico.

"The park played a little small tonight," DaVanon said. "With the way the wind was, if you got it up, it had a chance to go."

The first 10 games that the Expos played in Hiram Bithorn produced an average total of 10 runs per game, but Scioscia compared it to the changing complexion of Wrigley Field, depending on the wind.

"With the short lines and the way the fences go straight across, the power alleys are only about 345 or 350," Scioscia said. "You have to make sure to keep your pitches down."

It was probably a good thing that Ramon Ortiz was in the clubhouse and not watching Ohka give up those three home runs to DaVanon, Tim Salmon and Troy Glaus in the top half of the first or he might have been on the first plane out. Ortiz gave up a major league-leading 40 homers last year, and had allowed 11 in 11 starts this year, but he managed to work six effective innings with the big lead, giving up just his 12th homer.

It wasn't much of a game, but the crowd was noisy and animated, and Scioscia said, "for those of us who have played winter ball and are experienced with the passion that fans in all of the Latin areas have for the game, this wasn't unusual. They bring a lot of understanding. It's fun."

It wasn't for Robinson and the Expos, who have lost seven of their last eight and still have to travel to Seattle, Oakland and Pittsburgh before returning to Montreal. Of the six games against the Angels and Rangers in San Juan, Robinson said:

"They're not true home games because we're still living out of a suitcase and living in a hotel, and they're not true road games because we're the home team. It's the way it is for us, but we had success here in April, and the guys are looking forward to playing these games."

The first inning wasn't even over, however, before Robinson was probably wishing he could have one of those pina coladas.

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