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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Puerto Ricos Basketball Team Wins A Trip To Athens, Expos Are Back
By Gabrielle Paese
September 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
After an eight-year absence, Puerto Rico's basketball team is finally going back to the Olympics. The island quintet earned the third and final spot allotted to the Americas last week at the FIBA Olympic Qualifier held in San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
Puerto Rico beat out Canada, 79-66, to finish third and win the trip to Athens. Ironically, it was in this same venue four years ago that Canada beat Puerto Rico for the second of two berths FIBA allotted the Americas in 1999 for Sydney.
"I knew lightning couldn't strike twice in the same place," said veteran big man Jose "Piculin" Ortiz of Canada's chances for winning a second straight Olympics berth on Puerto Rican soil. "I knew that we had to have a great game."
Ortiz had one of the finest games of his 20-year career. The 39-year-old, who will head to his fourth Olympics, was three blocks shy of a quadruple-double.
"He was intimidating offensively and he stepped up when they needed him," said Canada coach Jay Triano of Ortiz. "He was just incredible."
In the bronze medal victory, Ortiz had 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and seven blocked shots. He played 36 minutes and 11 seconds and never showed signs of tiring.
"Before the game started, he [Ortiz] told me that he was going to let me know when he needed to rest and I granted him that right [to play all 40 minutes] without any doubt in my mind," said P.R. team coach Julio Toro, who called Ortiz, Our Showtime warrior.' "I knew he was in a zone. He's a great player. He does exactly what needs to be done in the precise moment it needs to be done."
Ortiz has been Puerto Rican basketball's go-to guy for nearly two decades. Not just because he's got game: Ortiz shows leadership off the court as well, charming island fans. In 23 seasons of Superior Basketball League play, Ortiz has won eight titles (1985, 1991, 1994 with San German and 1998 through 2001 and again this year with Santurce). A Pac-10 Player of the Year with Oregon State, Ortiz was drafted 15th overall by the Utah Jazz straight out of college in 1987. Rather than warm the bench in the NBA, Ortiz opted for serious playing time in Europe, honing his game in the Spanish and Greek Leagues.
At 39, he's still considered one of the best international players in the game and is arguably fitter than most of his teammates, many of whom were still wearing diapers when Ortiz made his senior team debut at the 1983 Pan Am Games.
Puerto Rico's basketball team sat out the 2000 Olympics, the first it had missed qualifying for since 1984. In all, the Puerto Rican team has gone to seven Olympic Games, with its best finish coming in 1964 in Tokyo (fourth place).
As of this week, Puerto Rico has qualified for the Athens Games in five sports, according to Elite Athletes Commission director Humberto Cintron.
Showjumper Mark Watring earned a spot in equestrian by virtue of his Pan Am Games gold medal in Santo Domingo (the Pan Am Games were Olympic qualifiers in 15 sports, including equestrian and boxing). Boxer Alex De Jesus also classified for Athens by winning a silver medal in Santo Domingo. Swimmer Ricky Busquets and hurdler Ivonne Harrison have already met their minimum qualifying standards. Gymnast Luis Felipe "Tingui" Vargas is in line to get a wild-card spot (pending confirmation this month) after a 50th-place all-around finish at the recent World Championships in Anaheim, Calif.
In all, P.R. Olympic Committee president Hector Cardona estimates that Puerto Rico will field a delegation of between 40 and 55 athletes next summer in Athens.
Will they or won't they play 81 games next year in San Juan?
Major League Baseball is poised to decide the fate of the Montreal Expos and all of San Juan is on pins and needles awaiting word. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to be at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Tuesday to hand down the verdict many thought would have been made back in July at the All-Star Game.
At issue are the Expos' home games next season. Promoter Antonio Munoz, who has put on the 22 games the Expos have played in San Juan this season, is bidding for all 81 of Montreal's home games to be played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
The City of San Juan has reportedly given MLB some guarantees that it would improve the 41-year-old stadium with the hopes of sweetening the deal. Monterrey, Mexico, is reportedly also a candidate to host all or part of Montreal's home season next year and insiders say the Mexican promoter has offered MLB more guaranteed revenue than Munoz. MLB was given an estimated $10 million in guaranteed revenue to bring the 22 games this season to San Juan.
The island gears up for the third and final Expos home stand, which gets under way Sept. 5 when Montreal plays the Florida Marlins. The Marlins play a three-game stand here and then the Expos take on the Chicago Cubs Sept. 9-11. By midweek the Expos had lost five in a row and trailed Philadelphia and Florida by five games in the NL wild-card race.
Winter League summer moves
Interim Winter Baseball League president Joaquin Monserrate Matienzo confirmed this week that the Bayamon Vaqueros, owned by Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Carlos Baerga, will relocate to San Juan for the 2003-2004 season. Monserrate said the move was designed to bring back league rivalry as the Santurce Cangrejeros will now share Hiram Bithorn Stadium with Baerga's new team, presumably, the Senadores.
Baerga bought the franchise in 2001 from Josue Vega, who was having trouble making it work in Arecibo. The Lobos became the Vaqueros and won the league title in the 2001-2002 season. The last time Santurce shared Hiram Bithorn Stadium with a San Juan team was the 1999-2000 season, after which time owner Benjamin Rivera moved them to nearby Carolina (and a brand-new stadium), claiming (among other things) that San Juan had too few fans.
Baerga's move to San Juan is partly motivated by marketing guarantees he's received from Santurce Cangrejeros owner Julio Hazim, a Dominican businessman who bought Santurce last season and has brought four teams into his exclusive marketing circle (Caguas, Mayaguez, Santurce and now San Juan).
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 email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.