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After 13 Years, "Pudge" Finally Goes To A World Series... Diaz Jr. Next Trans Am Series Rookie Of Year?... Castellvi Wins ITF Event In Mexico City

By Gabrielle Paese

October 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

After 13 Years, "Pudge" Finally Goes To A World Series

Thirteen years is a long time to wait. But that's just how much time Florida Marlins catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez has been biding to get to a World Series.

Finally, he has a shot. The Vega Alta native who spent 12 years with the Texas Rangers, had never made it past a divisional series until this year, his first with the Marlins. Despite earning 10 Gold Gloves and being a 10-time All-Star catcher, undoubtably one of the best in the history of the game, a trip to the World Series was the one goal that had eluded Rodriguez.

The Rangers let Rodriguez go last year during the off-season and Rodriguez found a tight job market. Finally, he said he was happy to sign with the Marlins for a one-year, $10 million contract, which left him close to his home in Miami Beach.

Rodriguez was named NLCS MVP for his stunning 16 RBI post-season performance capped in the Marlins' series victory over the Chicago Cubs. (It's also interesting to note that Rodriguez is the third Puerto Rican to be named NLCS MVP since the award was instituted in the NL in 1977. Preceding him were Benito Santiago, last year with the SF Giants and Javy Lopez in 1996 with the Braves).

Speaking of Santiago and last year, this is the second straight year that both World Series rivals have Puerto Ricans behind the plate. Last year, Santiago and Bengie Molina (World Series champions Anaheim) faced off. This year, it's Rodriguez versus Yankees' Jorge Posada.

Even if you are the most die-hard Yankee fan, it's hard to be Puerto Rican and not root for the Marlins catcher who earned his nickname because as a young player he was, well, pudgy.

Diaz Jr. Next Trans Am Series Rookie Of Year?

This is the weekend Trans Am Series race-car driver Jorge Diaz Jr. gets to showcase his skills in front of his own fans. The Puerto Rican driver turns 26 on Saturday just 24 hours before he will likely earn Rookie of the Year honors during the Puerto Rico Grand Prix to be held at Isla Grande's Ribas Dominicci airport.

A total of 23 teams, six of them from Puerto Rico, will take to the newly paved, 1.6-mile, 10-turn airport course, which is making its debut on this racing circuit. Newly crowned Trans Am tour champion Scott Pruett will end his season in style with a victory showcase in San Juan and the race is expected to be seen on the Speed Channel by some 68,000 households.

While it is not the first time a major auto race is held in San Juan, the Puerto Rico Grand Prix marks the first time in the Trans Am Series' 36-year history that one of its races is held in the Caribbean.

Diaz Jr. only needs to complete his first lap to seal the Rookie of the Year honors. He currently has a 27-point lead on rival rookie driver Bobby Sak. Diaz Jr. also has a chance at finishing third on the Trans Am circuit, not bad for his first year in the hunt.

Diaz Jr. will be joined at the starting line by fellow Puerto Ricans Wally Castro, Edison Lluch, Fraito Serralles, Axel Rivera and Juan Vento, all of whom will be making their Trans Am debuts, except Castro, who once finished 11th in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1996. Luis Mendez, of the Dominican Republic, will also be at the starting line.

The event promoter is Jorge Diaz Sr., father of the young driver. Diaz Sr. reportedly has invested $750,000 of his own money to try to keep San Juan as a regular stop on this Trans Am Tour. He's banking on numbers that show the event could bring in as much as $12 million for Puerto Rico and has attracted major sponsors, including the P.R. Tourism Board. Six months ago, when he first announced he had sealed the deal with the Trans Am Series, Diaz Sr. was roundly criticized for using his power and influence with the Popular Democratic Party to gain the use of the Isla Grande Airport. In exchange for closing it for this weekend to air traffic, the airport was repaved on Diaz Sr.'s dime. Diaz Sr. has a four-year deal with the Trans Am Series to hold the race in Puerto Rico. At the speed Diaz Jr.'s star is rising, the series stop will be an excellent showcase for his skills. However, it remains to be seen whether the airport will still be available to Diaz Sr. if the populares lose the 2004 election.

Castellvi Wins ITF Event In Mexico City

Puerto Rican tennis player Vilmarie Castellvi, 22, won her first $25,000 ITF challenger event last week in Mexico City after she saved a match point in the finals to beat France's Kildine Chevalier, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4).

Meanwhile, fellow Fed Cup teammate Kristina Brandi saw her 15-game winning streak come to an end this past Sunday when she lost in the finals of a USTA pro event in Sedona, Ariz., to Samantha Reeves, of the United States, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4. Brandi had won three of the last four tournaments on the USTA circuit.

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

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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