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Island Enjoyed Expos' Games Selig Stars In A Sitcom: Puerto Rico Farce
Island Enjoyed Expos' Games
September 12, 2003
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico- When the taxi drivers in a city of 3 million people start to recognize you, it means you've been here too long.
There's no place like home, for a baseball writer, or a baseball player - even if home, for many of the Expos players, was a Montreal hotel room this season.
The people of Puerto Rico could not have been more welcoming during the three separate "homestands" in San Juan.
If they didn't exactly treat the Expos as the home team - why would they? - they knew the game, enjoyed it, partied hard and handed Major League Baseball their hard-earned American dollars at the turnstiles and the merchandise stands.
-The Expos swept the New York Mets in a four-game series to kick off their first "homestand." By the end of that series, only a few fans who made the trip south to see their Mets pierced the haze of Expos fever. Unfortunately, the very nature of the three homestands, separated by months, ensured this budding romance couldn't continue long-distance.
-Youppi! absolutely killed in San Juan. He ran off Populoso, the fat brown bear who had ruled the mascot roost around these parts, to the point Populoso was rarely seen by the end of the series. Youppi! probably dropped 50 pounds doing his thing in the oppressive heat.
-After some anxious moments with the rain on the first trip, the weather was picture-perfect during the final one. Sandwiched as it was between Hurricane Fabian and the oncoming Isabel, it was pure luck.
-For male visitors who hadn't yet had the Caribbean experience, the constantly revolving cast of fabulously gorgeous Puerto Rican senoritas, whether they were hawking promotional items at the entrance or doing dance routines on the field between innings, was a revelation. It seemed the jeans got lower, and the crop tops got more cropped, with every game. And the jaws kept dropping, without complaint.
-The first two games against the world champion Anaheim Angels in June, in front of disappointing crowds, were the Garrett Anderson show as the Expos were thoroughly outpowered.
-The music jumped 10 decibels with every homestand, to the point where you could hardly hear yourself think. If you were wondering, YMCA, Rapper's Delight and Get Jiggy With It rate at Hiram Bithorn Stadium as much as anywhere else.
-Atlanta Braves' public-relations director Jim Schultz got trapped in the only elevator up to the press box within minutes of arriving on his first day in Puerto Rico. Fifteen harrowing minutes later, he was rescued; he hiked through the stands for the rest of his stay. Every trip on that contraption was a heat-soaked, jangly adventure, although you soon learned that if the door didn't move, all you had to do was yank it, force it a bit, and it would usually shudder to a close.
-Somewhere along the line, Estadio Hiram Bithorn became Hiram Bithorn Stadium, with a fancy new sign painted above the main entrance. Something about playing better to the U. S. audiences.
-O Canada singer Angel Rosario got the same line wrong 22 consecutive times. They told him, but he ignored them. He did, however, add a special "American Idol" big finish during the final series against the Cubs. Rosario wore the same two-sizes-too-small Expos jersey every night but one, when presumably he had his wife throw it into the "maquina lavadora." to freshen it up.
If the choice were between San Juan and the pits of Milwaukee or Pittsburgh, you would pick Puerto Rico hands down. More fun, more beachy, better atmosphere, better fans.
And if the Expos could have played as well in San Juan as they did at their real home, although at 13-9, it wasn't bad, you could also make a case.
But all the 22 games did was doom a season that held so much promise. Purgatory in paradise.
The first trip was part of a 2 1/2-month tour that included spring training. The second came in the early stages of a 25-day, 22-game road trip. And the last kicked in just as the heart and soul returned to Olympic Stadium during the four-game series against the Phillies.
There was no way around it. Everyone here tried to make us feel at home, but it wasn't home.
A necessary evil, hardly the worse sentence in the world, but not even close to home.
Selig Stars In A Sitcom: Puerto Rico Farce. Baseball Czar Has Nothing To Say
September 11, 2003
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - It was long-awaited, more unintentionally hilarious than a bad Saturday Night Live spoof, and more about absolutely nothing than a classic episode of Seinfeld.
In Ballroom C at the El San Juan hotel yesterday morning, baseball commissioner Bud Selig stood up on a stage and announced ... nothing.
The main event came with a long preamble, during which MLB executive vice-president for administration John McHale Jr. stood up and thanked just about everyone.
Then nervous looking promoter Antonio Munoz, slicked-back and confident San Juan mayor Jorge Santini, and tourism official Jose Suarez all stood up, turned to Selig on the stage and made a personal plea for the return of Major League Baseball to Puerto Rico in 2004.
It was so shameless, some of the members of the Monterrey group competing with San Juan for the right to host the Expos in 2004 should have been trotted out just to give them equal time.
Then came the commissioner, who waxed poetic about his 24 hours of international exposure.
"This has worked far better than many of us had any right to expect. It's been a wonderful experience, a wonderful success," Bud said. He then thanked a lot more people for making it happen. Conspicuously absent from that list were the Expos themselves, without whose approval this "experience" won't happen again next season.
"Now the relocation committee is hard at work finding a home for the team. We will make that determination in the coming weeks, or however long it takes," Bud said.
In other words, after months and months, they're no closer.
"We've made the best of a very tough, sensitive situation," Bud said. "I don't want to get into the specifics. We're considering all options."
McHale said those options are numerous. "There are permutations around them that make it an unwieldy number, a double-handful," he said.
The floor was then opened to questions. And after answering the first one, the commissioner took advantage of a brief lull, looked around and attempted to make a quick getaway.
But the questions kept coming, even if the answers did not.
When it got absurd was when several local reporters, in reasonable if heavily accented English, took the microphone to press Selig on the Puerto Rico decision.
Selig turned his ear, scrunched his face, and stood open-mouthed as he tried to make out a question he had no answer for anyway.
The heavy combat boots of Major League Baseball trod into new territory here, part of their stated mission to internationalize the game. Yet they didn't think to provide a translator at a press conference in a Spanish-speaking country, to make sure everything was clear on both sides.
It's hardly surprising. In a press box at least half full of Spanish-speaking reporters for this 22-game odyssey, MLB hasn't had enough respect for its hosts to make announcements in Spanish and English.
"What we need to do is look at all the options we have and determine which is the best course, not only for the Montreal franchise, but continuing to accelerate the internationalization process," Bud said.
At least he's still calling them the "Montreal" Expos.
When it was mentioned the players were upset at the lack of September callups, and it could affect their decision on the split-schedule issue, Selig said it was the first he'd heard of it.
But he thought it was not only incorrect, but unfair.
He couldn't comment on Monterrey, Mexico, saying he hadn't been there since visiting 12 years ago with the Milwaukee Brewers.
He didn't want to revisit the Montreal situation. "We don't have an owner in Montreal. We haven't had one for a long time, and there's no sense in recreating that history," he said.
McHale said the commissioner's office was aware of the electrifying support for the team during the last homestand against the Phillies. But McHale passed it off as a blip in the team's recent history, perhaps caused by the fans' realization they wouldn't get another opportunity this season.
"You can't delude yourself that this was a long-term manifestation of viability," McHale said. "I don't know what their intention was."
Thank-yous dutifully distributed, Selig left Puerto Rico, stopping to autograph a baseball proferred from a reporter on his way out of the ballroom.
And the Expos are right back where they started. Everywhere, and nowhere.