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Thousands Hail Puerto Rico… Sierra And Yankees Stage Own Parade

Thousands Hail Puerto Rico in New York City Parade


June 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

Parade participants danced on Fifth Avenue.
PHOTO: James Estrin/The New York Times

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tens of thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue in a sea of red, white and blue Sunday to celebrate all things Puerto Rican in one of the city's biggest, loudest and most raucous parades.

On a day when Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared everyone Puerto Rican "by mayoral order," thousands thronged the streets, trying to catch a glimpse of passing celebrities and dancing to the heavily amplified floats blasting salsa and merengue music.

"This is our family, so we've come to be with our family," said Michael Rivera, 33, who traveled with his wife and two children from Lawrence, Mass., to the parade. "We don't have so much of this in Lawrence so I brought my family down to see some of their culture."

That type of ethnic pride was on wide display as parade-goers waved the island's flag, wore shirts emblazoned in its colors and blew whistles as the parade rolled by.

"I'm proud to be Puerto Rican," said Melanie Mendez, 14, of East Meadow, on Long Island, who was coming to the parade for the first time. "This is time to come out and represent your culture."

For Richard Rodriguez, 66, who has come to the parade "20 or so times" over the years, the sentiment was the same, although perhaps slightly more jaded.

Thousands thronged the streets, trying to catch a glimpse of passing celebrities and dancing to the floats blasting salsa and merengue music.
PHOTO: James Estrin/The New York Times

"I came because I'm Puerto Rican. That kind of makes it like an obligation, doesn't it?" he said. "No, seriously, I just like to see so many Puerto Ricans together and having a good time."

Several celebrities, like rappers Jay-Z and Fat Joe, joined the festivities, drawing much of the attention, but the parade also featured a who's who of local politicians.

[Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton got so into the moment that she even broke into a restrained jig. "I love this parade," she said.]

"This is probably one of the most fun parades," Bloomberg said, sporting a gray traditional guayabera shirt. "It's definitely one of its most joyous and well attended."

Amid all the joy, Bloomberg saved some ire for building owners along the wealthy stretches of Fifth Avenue at the northern end of the parade route who in previous years have boarded up their buildings' ground floor windows and wrapped their flower planters in fencing.

"It's a disgrace," he said when asked about the practice by reporters. "I don't think it sends the right message and I don't think it's needed."

The parade, which has been an annual event in New York since 1958, has grown to be one of the city's largest. Although it was impossible to estimate this year's crowd, hundreds of thousand have attended in recent years. New York City has nearly 800,000 Puerto Ricans.

Sierra And Yankees Stage Own Parade


June 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

Ruben Sierra, right, from Rio Piedras, P.R., finished off the Padres on Sunday.
PHOTO: Barton Silverman/The New York Times

YESTERDAY was the day of the big Puerto Rican Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, but Ruben Sierra had to go to work.

So he did the next best thing and dug into his closet and found the bright white-red-and-blue shirt with the Puerto Rican star that he bought years ago. Then he found the matching cap.

"I decided to honor my people," he said later.

Sierra, from Rio Piedras, said his favorite player was "Roberto Clemente, of course." But Clemente fell into the sea in the last hours of 1972, when Sierra was only 7 years old, so he never saw Clemente play.

Two other Yankees from Puerto Rico, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada, were in the Yankee lineup posted inside the clubhouse door. In a humane gesture in a very formidable Yankee season, Joe Torre had given the players until 11:45 a.m. to report for the 1:05 p.m. game.

Looking like an animated Puerto Rican flag, Sierra came to work thinking he might have a chance to play, but Torre was giving him a rest because of his 0-for-17 slump.

Sierra had no gripe, none at all. During his first tour with the Yankees, in 1996, he said some rash things about Torre, and soon found himself in exile. He has been a perfect Yankee this time around.

He hung his festive shirt on one hanger and his white slacks on another, he pulled on the striped Yankee uniform, and he waited, and he waited.

While thousands of Puerto Ricans and their friends celebrated in the adjacent borough, the Yankees bided their time. They are very good at this. They fall behind early in games, but then they win.

They had come from behind 25 times already going into yesterday's game. This gives purpose to sitting on the bench. You very well could be part of something exciting in an hour or two.

"They always come back," Sierra said. "They never give up."

The Yankees cut it as close as they could, waiting out a superb David Wells comeback - no runs in seven innings. Then Hideki Matsui was batting in the ninth inning, two runs down, two outs, nobody on. Sierra finally emerged from the dugout and took his place in the on-deck circle and conducted his first exercise of the day, a few leisurely swings of the bat.

But when Matsui hit a home run, Torre decided to let Kenny Lofton, the fidgety leadoff-style hitter, bat for Tony Clark. Lofton stunned everybody by tying the score with a home run off Trevor Hoffman, one of the best relief pitchers in the business. Then Sierra was called back to the dugout.

"Sooner or later, I was going to get into the game," Sierra said.

This is the way it is with these 2004 Yankees, who might just be as good as any of those other Yankee teams if their pitchers stay healthy. They are showing abnormal resourcefulness to go along with their expensive power.

It is frightening, really, to think of Ruben Sierra, with his 291 career homers, as a sheer luxury, but that's what he is.

As people enjoyed themselves downtown on a glorious afternoon, Sierra's time came around. In the 12th inning, the Padres were only three runs ahead. The sight of reliever Rod Beck should have been a sign for John Sterling, up in the radio booth, to start gargling for his signature victory call.

Talk about your Puerto Rican Day Parade: Bernie Williams from San Juan walked to start the rally. Later Jorge Posada from Santurce hit a ground-rule double to tie the score. Bases loaded. One out. Finally it was time for Ruben Sierra from Rio Piedras.

"If they walk me, the game is over," he reasoned later, like the wise old head he has allowed himself to become.

"They want me to hit into a double play," he added. "I was trying to lift the ball."

He stroked a long fly to deep center field for a sacrifice fly that won the game, 6-5. It was only the sixth time in the history of this franchise - and that is a rather weighty phrase - that the Yankees have overcome a deficit of three or more runs in extra innings. But that is the way the season is going.

"You have to tip your hat to them," Beck said. "They've got a lot of bench players that could be starters on any other team."

Sierra suggested that his one solid stroke to end the game had ended his slump as well. The Yankees can afford this kind of simplistic positive thinking because it may all be true.

Sierra's cellphone was jingling. He told somebody, gently, in Spanish that "Papi is being interviewed right now." He said it was one of his children. He reached into the locker and took down his bright shirt with the Puerto Rican star and the snazzy cap and the white slacks, and he prepared to leave.

Was he going to the parade? No, Ruben Sierra said, he has never been. He's always working on that Sunday afternoon.

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