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Associated Press Newswires

Hiram Bithorn Stadium Playing Like Home Run Bithorn


June 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - If the Montreal Expos return to San Juan next season, they might want to consider renaming their park Home Run Bithorn Stadium.

That's because the ballpark named after pitcher Hiram Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican major leaguer, has made Coors Field look like a pitchers' park and turned routine flies in home runs.

"Personally I feel sorry for their pitchers," Anaheim starter Jarrod Washburn said this week after watching his teammates tie an AL record with 13 homers in two games against Montreal.

"They have to pitch a lot of games here. A lot of the home runs we hit would be outs anyplace else," he added. "It's just something they have to deal with."

A full season in Puerto Rico could force baseball to rewrite its record books.

Already this week, the Angels became the first AL team since Joe DiMaggio's Yankees in 1939 to homer 13 times in two games.

Jeff DaVanon - yes, Jeff DaVanon - followed up a two-homer game in Tampa Bay with two more in San Juan to become the fourth player ever and first in 34 years to post three straight multihomer games.

And Garret Anderson hit five homers in a three-game series, including three Wednesday night. But even Anderson admits this park isn't fair.

"It's small. I've played in a lot of hitters' parks but you still have to hit the ball halfway decent," he said. "Here, if you hit the ball down the line you don't even have to hit it well."

The small stadium with the fast artificial turf, 8-foot high fences and the wind that usually blows out to right field has easily been the best hitters' park in the majors.

There have been 57 homers and an average of 12.2 runs in the first 14 games at the ballpark, where it's 399 feet to center, 315 to left and 313 to right.

That's 54 percent more runs per game than in Montreal's other 47 contests and 29 percent more than the average for the rest of baseball.

The homer comparisons are even more stark: nearly double the major league average outside Puerto Rico and 67 percent more homers per game than at the thin air in Coors Field.

"What I've learned here is that as soon as the ball goes in the air to right field it's a home run," Expos manager Frank Robinson said. "You can just about call it. If you hit the ball in the air that direction it's gone. Even more so on this trip than the first one."

While keeping the ball down can be the answer in many ballparks, at Hiram Bithorn it's often only the difference between a homer and a double. With perhaps the fastest artificial turf in the majors, groundballs that are outs in many stadiums roll to the wall here.

About the only part of the ballpark that favors the pitcher is the expansive foul territory. But inducing foul popups isn't really a sound strategy for a pitcher to use.

"If you try to get a hitter to pop one up, he can just as easily pop one out," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Expos haven't had nearly as much luck with the longball in their part-time home than the opposition, causing Robinson to joke that the fences must be moving out when his team bats.

Montreal has been outhomered 37-20 so far this year, including 18-5 in the first four games this trip.

"If you don't make a perfect pitch it can be a home run," Montreal starter Livan Hernandez.

Robinson doesn't want his pitchers to be looking for excuses and said the small park hasn't gotten into their heads.

"If you make a good pitch you'll get him out," he said. "If you make a bad pitch, people can hit it out of the Grand Canyon. It's as simple as that."

The Expos, who are owned by the other 29 teams, might be back for even more games next year. Baseball moved 22 games to San Juan this season to increase revenues and is considering playing more in 2004 if a new buyer and city isn't found.

But officials don't see any need yet to change the stadium.

"It's too soon to tell," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "It's fair to say it's a hitters' park. But we'll wait and see."

Bithorn might not like playing in his own stadium, being a pitcher. He went 34-31 with a 3.16 ERA in 105 major league games for the Chicago Cubs and White Sox in the 1940s.

He wasn't much of a hitter, with a .158 average and no homers in 177 at-bats - but then again he never played at his namesake stadium.

"I don't have pop," Washburn said. "I'm just a singles guy. But if I had a shot anywhere, it's probably here."

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