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Leones Head To Caribbean Series To Avenge Last Year’s Loss To Dominicans

By Gabrielle Paese

January 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Somewhere from his easy chair up in heaven, late Ponce mayor Rafael "Churumba" Cordero watched his Leones beat the Caguas Criollos 8-1 in Game 7 of the Puerto Rico Winter League final series.

Cordero, who died unexpectedly last week of a brain hemorrhage, didn't get to see his Leones win their first WL title in 22 years. But nine days before Game 7, Ponce manager Jose "Cheo" Cruz and the rest of the team made a promise to Cordero's widow that they would win the championship for their biggest fan.

With Ponce leading the series 4-2, starter John Burgos took charge of the defense while Hiram Bocachica and Carlos Rivera sparkled on offense to give the Leones the decisive victory.

Burgos held the Criollos hitless through five innings while fanning five batters. At the plate, Bocachica started Ponce's offense with a solo home run in the top of the fourth and another leading off the sixth inning. With Valentino Pascucci on base, Carlos Rivera caught a fastball from reliever Roger Deago and sent Ponce's third home run over the right field wall.

Deago unraveled after that, surrendering a double to Jose Molina, who scored on two consecutive Deago wild pitches. Juan Lebron closed out with the third home run of the inning to put the Leones up, 6-0.

"Since we were playing in Caguas, we knew we had to get off to a good start early," said Ponce manager Jose "Cheo" Cruz after the victory. "John Burgos gave us five big innings. We scored runs early and our bullpen did the job. It was a great game."

It was Cruz's first championship in three years of managing the Leones.

Ponce heads to Santo Domingo on Saturday in the hopes of exacting some revenge at Quisqueya Stadium. The Dominicans beat Puerto Rico (Mayaguez) here at last year's Caribbean Series. Venezuela and Mexico are the other two countries competing in the Series.

In Mexico, the Culiacan Tomateros beat the Yaquis de Obregon, 6-4, to win that league title. Venezuela will be represented by the winner of the series between the Aragua Tigres and the Oriente Caribes while the Dominicans will be represented by Licey. The Licey Tigres scored an 11-3 victory over the Cibao Gigantes to win the Dominican title in five games.

With the Series less than one week away (it starts Feb. 1 when Puerto Rico faces Venezuela), Ponce scrambled to reinforce its final 25-man roster. Infielder Carlos Baerga, outfielder Raul Gonzalez and pitchers Omar Olivares and Dicky Gonzalez were the first invites. Pitcher Jose Alberro was also added shortly after the first practice.

Along with the additions of Olivares, Gonzalez and Alberro, the rest of the pitching staff includes Chris Enoch, Justin Lehr, Osvaldo Fernandez, Giancarlo Alvarado, Pedro Feliciano, Adrian Burnside, John Burgos and Bryan Ward. Raul Casanova, Jose Molina and Robinson Cancel will be the team's catchers. Carlos Rivera, Jose Enrique Cruz, Luis Lopez, Gaby Martinez, Rual Nieves and Baerga will be the team's infielders. In the outfield will be Hiram Bocachica, Valentino Pascucci, Miguel Correa, Juan Lebron and Raul Gonzalez.

Olivares is expected to pitch Puerto Rico's opener versus Venezuela on Feb. 1. Cruz has tentatively set Dicky Gonzalez (of the Carolina Gigantes) as his opening pitcher for Puerto Rico's Feb. 2 game versus Licey (Dominican Republic).

"I'm going to let Dicky pitch against the Dominicans because he pitched the best this season and he knows them very well," said Cruz.

Despite Carolina's poor regular season showing (they finished fifth with a 24-25 ledger), Gonzalez led the league with a 1.33 ERA. He was 3-0 and put in 61 innings of work and struck out 64 batters.

Meanwhile Licey's management announced it would add Miguel Tejada, Jose Guillen and David Ortiz, all major leaguers, as well as starting pitcher Claudio Vargas and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte.

Tito Trinidad update, Chapter XXXIX

Like a bad soap opera, expect Trinidad's return to the ring to develop slowly. Last week, Oscar De la Hoya thumbed his nose at Don King's latest offer for the two to fight. It reportedly guaranteed $15 million for Trinidad and $10.5 million for De la Hoya. De la Hoya called the offer an insult, saying he got more money versus Yory Boy Campas.

According to his strength coach, Ismael Morales, Trinidad is running daily and has already slimmed down from the 190 pounds he sported at a United Way fund-raiser in December to 178. Morales said Trinidad, who trains under running coach Cruz "Pensa" Garcia, has plans to run the World Best 10K on Feb. 29 in San Juan. He has not yet returned to the gym for sparring sessions, nor has he begun strength work.

Superior Basketball League reaches agreement with Player's Association

SBL president Henry Neumann finally reached an agreement with the league's player's association president Jose "Cheo" Otero. The bottom line: The proposed player salary cap ($60,000 for players who sign new contracts) was abolished while the Association gave up its free agency option.

Last year, the SBL didn't budge over a contractual dispute with the referee's association. In this deal, the Player's Association was the clear winner, although it remains to be seen whether the SBL teams will be able to afford the kind of salaries the players are asking.

Rodriguez, Ruiz are Olympic diving hopefuls

Puerto Rican diver Angelique Rodriguez finished second over the weekend at the 2004 Radisson Barcelo All-Star Diving Challenge, an international meet hosted by Team Orlando Diving.

Rodriguez, 27, a Rio Piedras native who now lives and trains in Coral Springs, Fla., under Puerto Rican coach Osvaldo Alberty, heads to the Olympic qualifiers in her sport Feb. 18-21 in Athens. The top 22 divers earn Olympic berths. She was fourth in the platform competition at the 2003 Pan Am Games.

Also headed to the qualifier is Toa Alta native Mark Ruiz, who competes for the United States. Ruiz recently won both the platform competition and synchronized diving (along with Kyle Prandi) at the U.S. nationals. He trains with Team Orlando.

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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