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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Who's The Fairest City Of All (For The Montreal Expos)?
By Gabrielle Paese
September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Get out your crystal ball. Consult your favorite astrologist. Have your cards read. Go to your favorite botanica and mix a magic potion. Who knows? It might be just the spark Major League Baseball needs to make a decision regarding the Montreal Expos.
Baseball fans in San Juan were feeling like voodoo dolls this week -- on pins and needles awaiting the Expos' fate. Will they play 81 games in San Juan next year? Will they play a split "home" season again in Montreal and San Juan? Will they skip San Juan entirely and opt to play in Monterrey, Mexico?
MLB Players Union vice president Gene Orza shed some light on the subject during the Expos-Marlins series when he revealed that the Expos were only considering a split season (Montreal-San Juan or Montreal-Monterrey) but had ruled out playing all 81 games in San Juan or Monterrey.
Less than a week later, Commissioner Bud Selig batted the ball back at Orza, saying MLB hasn't ruled out an 81-game season in Latin America.
"Right now we're considering all our options," said Selig of the team he tried to can two years ago with 'contraction.' "What we need to do is look at all the options and then determine what is the best course, not just for Montreal, but to continue the internationalization process."
Either Selig is trying for the Henry Kissinger Award for baseball diplomacy or it's back to the instructional leagues.
Orza and MLB Players Union special assistant Tony Bernazard insist the players have the last word on the subject, and Selig denied any squeeze play from MLB.
"This is the first I'm hearing about this," said Selig when asked whether the Expos' decision not to field any September callups was a repercussion for the players' July 31 announcement that they wanted to play the entire 2004 season in Montreal. "That's not only incorrect, it's not fact. Everything in life runs on budget. Their [Expos] player budget is considerably more than three or four of the other clubs. It's higher than it has ever been. And that's fine. There are other clubs that don't have as many call-ups. That's all that was involved. I sympathize with the players."
Expos player rep Brian Schneider said the players don't see it that way. They continued to slide in September. Despite winning their first game in 10 outings Wednesday night versus the Cubs, the Expos are well out of the NL wild card race.
"It's not a happy clubhouse. There's no other way to look at it than MLB is giving us the bad end of the deal," said Schneider. "When we said we wanted to play the whole season in Montreal they didn't like it. It's the truth, they're not gonna have the revenue they have if we play the whole season in Montreal. But it's not fair that we didn't get any September call-ups. There's no other way to see it except they're pressuring us."
Selig said there's no timetable for a decision on the Expos' 2004 season and he went so far as to say that neither has permanent relocation been ruled out.
"The thing is I'm not going to engage in needless speculation," he said. "Obviously we know it's difficult and the longer you wait the harder it is."
Bernazard said he'd like to see the Expos' 2004 fate sealed "before the end of the season."
Selig said word from the relocation committee could come "in the coming weeks."
Selig said he was pleased with the 22-game San Juan spectacle and said it bodes well for what he called the "internationalization of baseball."
"We haven't moved as fast as we should have on that," he said regarding bringing the MLB show to other countries. "Yes, this [the Expos homestand in San Juan] does give me a lot of confidence that it can be done as long as we have the cooperation we've had here."
The fact that promoter Antonio Munoz was not able to sell out Bithorn Stadium regularly during the 22 games did not bother Selig.
"I would say the games here have been a success and we've had good attendance," he said.
The Expos have averaged about 14,500 per game in the 18,000-seat capacity stadium.
Schneider, speaking on behalf of the Expos players, said the team's main worries about a second split season in San Juan were the size of the ballpark and extra compensation for the travel.
Promoter Antonio Munoz Jr. reiterated on Tuesday that plans are still in the works to move the outfield fence and make adjustments to the park, which is considerably smaller than most minor league ballparks in the states (315 feet down the left and right field lines, 330 in the power alleys, 400 feet to center field). He said it's even possible that new turf will be put in.
"We're willing to do what MLB requires," said Munoz Jr. "We are just waiting to see what happens."
Monterrey's promoter has reportedly also promised to invest $3.5-$4 million in stadium improvements should Mexico be chosen as a 2004 playing site.
My crystal ball says the Expos will be back in San Juan next season for at least 22 games.
Changos win men's volleyball title, Cotto to fight in Las Vegas
Baseball is not the only game in town. In the Puerto Rico Superior Volleyball League, the Naranjito Changos beat the San Juan Playeros in six games to win the championship thanks to the strong play of tournament MVP Victor Rivera, who died his hair red for the finals.
Meanwhile, Top Rank's hottest prospect, Miguel Cotto fights Saturday night in Las Vegas versus Panamanian Demetrio Ceballos on the Oscar De la Hoya-Shane Mosley undercard. Cotto (16-0, 13 KO), as is his custom, has not watched any video of his rival Ceballos (26-4, 17 KO), but his uncle/trainer Evangelista Cotto has mapped out a plan.
"He [Ceballos] comes straight at you. He knows how to hit with both hands," said the elder Cotto. "We're just going to develop our fight."
For Cotto that means his customary hard-hitting style. In his last fight, held July 25 at Bayamon's Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum, Cotto finished off Mexican Rocky Martinez
in the second with a left hook to the body at 2:42. He never even broke a sweat.
Both Cotto and Ceballos have regional titles, which they will put on the line. Cotto's is a WBC Intercontinental belt (140 pounds) and Ceballos' is a Fedelatin belt (WBA). Cotto's promoter Bob Arum, of Top Rank, is looking to line up a title fight for Cotto as early as spring of 2004.
Winter league notes
Their bags were already packed and the Puerto Rico winter baseball league rubber-stamped their passports making the Bayamon Vaqueros' move to San Juan official. The league hopes that having Bayamon (now San Juan) share the same stadium (Hiram Bithorn Stadium) with the Santurce Cangrejeros will create greater rivalry and woo fans back to the ballpark.
Former Carolina GM Edwin Rodriguez is trying a different tack this season as he's been given the rights to make his website, www.hitboricua.com, the league's official mouthpiece. Even without the league's info (and it remains to be seen whether the league will actually get the game results to Rodriguez so he can post them), the website, in Spanish, is a baseball gem. Rodriguez and fellow writer Francisco Bartolomei have posted profiles of Puerto Rican minor leaguers to watch. The writing is simple and concise.
Top Cuban swimmer defects in Puerto Rico
Cuban swimmer Gunther Rodriguez Osorio, 23, winner of five gold medals at the 1993 Central American-Caribbean Games, made it to Mona Island earlier this week floating on a homemade raft, or yola, with 23 other undocumented Cubans coming from the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez abandoned the Cuban delegation during the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo last month prior to the start of the swimming competition. An Olympian in Sydney, Rodriguez was Cuba's best hope for a medal in the breaststroke events. In Puerto Rico he joins his former teammate Ives Garcia, who defected in 2001 following a similar path. Garcia also abandoned the Cuban team during a regional meet in Santo Domingo and boarded a plane for Puerto Rico shortly thereafter. Rodriguez is the fourth Cuban athlete to defect in less than a month. Three gymnasts left the Cuban delegation during the World Gymnastics Championships last month in Anaheim, Calif. All three had won medals at the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.