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New York Daily News

San Juan Belongs In Big Leagues


July 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 New York Daily News, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

It's time for Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, to step up to the plate for the millions of Latino baseball fans and hundreds of Hispanic players.

He should move the Expos to San Juan.

Consider the latest words from baseball's commissioner about his Montreal "relocation" problem.

During the All-Star break this week, he announced that he will travel to San Juan in September for the final home series the Expos will play against the Chicago Cubs.

If you're not a baseball fan, you're wondering why a Canadian team plays homes games in Puerto Rico - 22 of 81 home games, to be exact.

You're not the only one.

"We're big leaguers," said Jose Vidro, the Expos' All-Star second baseman. "It's time for them to give us a home."

The Expos are baseball's economic basket case. They have the lowest attendance and smallest revenue of all 30 major league teams.

Last year, to prevent the team's collapse, baseball owners were forced to pool $120 million to purchase the Expos outright.

While they searched for a permanent owner and new home for the team, baseball brass came up with the bright idea of playing a quarter of Montreal's home games in San Juan as a revenue booster.

Puerto Rican businessman Antonio Munoz and Angelo Medina, singer Ricky Martin's manager, teamed up to sponsor the games in Puerto Rico.

So far, the Puerto Rico portion of the Expos' season has been a big success. Attendance for games on the island is averaging 14,216, compared with only 11,133 in Montreal, even though ticket prices are double those in Montreal. Willing to pay the price At $85 for the best seats, prices at Puerto Rico's small Hiram Bithorn stadium rival the best box seats at Yankee Stadium.

Vendor prices also are skyrocketing. Caribbean cuchifritos and empanadillas have been replaced by the $3 hot dog and $7 beer.

Despite the Expos' Puerto Rican success, baseball's barons seem bent on moving the team permanently to Portland, Ore., Washington or northern Virginia, all of which have interested investor groups. All of them boast television markets that can deliver more lucrative broadcast contracts.

But none of the three has come up with firm financing commitments for a new stadium.

"Each year, it gets more difficult everywhere to build new stadiums," Selig acknowledged this week. "I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's tough. A lot of states are broke. A lot of cities and counties are in trouble."

So Selig is considering a proposal for the Expos to play all 81 homes games in San Juan next season. Puerto Rico, after all, has a population of 4 million, greater than half of the 50 states.

For next year, at least, they would become the San Juan Expos. Pitch for a full season Puerto Rican fans and local government officials are convinced that if they can produce a full successful season, they will make the best case possible for keeping the team right there.

Puerto Rican fans - who were crazy about baseball long before players like Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Roberto Clemente began the great Hispanic transformation of the game - deserve a chance.

It's time baseball started looking south instead of north and west for its future. It's time for Selig to deliver the big one in San Juan.

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