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Ponce Wins SBL Title, Expos Close Out 2004 San Juan Stay

By Gabrielle Paese

July 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Can a small-market team beat out a well-sponsored big-market giant in today's sports world? At least in the Superior Basketball League, the answer is no.

As much as SBL director Henry Neumann has tried to spread the local basketball world's wealth, the money and the power remain with the league's top franchises: Ponce, Bayamon, Santurce and San German.

This week it was Ponce flexing its muscles against lowly Coamo. The Coamo Maratonistas put up the fight of fights, taking the Leones to a decisive seventh game before bowing, 92-75, in Ponce's Juan "Pachin" Vicens Coliseum.

In a league that has had as many as 16 franchises in its heyday, Coamo has always been one of those that operated under a tiny budget. The team moved from Rio Piedras to Coamo in 1985 since that date, this year was its first trip to the finals. Ponce, meanwhile, won its 12th league title.

Puerto Rico's Teams Head To Regional Qualifiers

Just when you thought the basketball season was over, the Puerto Rican team picks up where the league leaves off. The senior men's team is in the Dominican Republic this week competing in a regional qualifier, Centrobasket, which, in addition to being a requirement to get to the World championships in 2006, is a tune-up of sorts for the Olympic Games in August. NBA prospect Peter John Ramos will get his second taste of international play with the senior. He played for the Puerto Rican team last summer at the Pan Am Games, also in Santo Domingo.

Meanwhile next week the Under-21 squad will play in its own Centrobasket, also a qualifier for those Worlds. Ramos is also expected to see action in U-21 Centrobasket, set for July 14-18 in Caguas.

Expos Close Out San Juan "Home Stand"

With the arrival of the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend, the Montreal Expos finish up their Caribbean vacation. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that MLB will reveal Montreal's future shortly after the July 13 All-Star game. Although MLB officials won't make any comment on which city might get the Expos bid, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., are said to be the front-runners.

A last-minute bid to bring the Expos to Fajardo, Puerto Rico by a group of investors whose names have not yet been revealed, is not expected to advance much past the idea stage, MLB executive vice president John McHale told reporters in San Juan this week. McHale said no proposal from the group has as yet been received by MLB.

"It's practically impossible at this time that a group wanting to acquire the Expos can put together all the information the other [bid cities] have put together in the past two years," McHale said.

Meanwhile, there's still grumbling in the Expos ranks. Even the usually diplomatic Jose Vidro has had trouble defending MLB's decision to ship the Expos to San Juan for the second time in two years.

"I'm going to be very sincere. Last year [MLB] told us this would be our last year and we came back this year [to Puerto Rico]. I have been in Montreal for seven years and every year they tell us this is the last year and we always go back to Montreal. I don't discard any possibility that we'll return to San Juan next year," Vidro told reporters before this final 10-game stand. "It's very important for us to stay in one place. This year has been even more difficult than last year. It feels like we've played six months of the season when it's only been three. I hope they resolve the situation soon because we don't deserve this."

At mid-week, the Expos were 2-3 thus far during their July visit to San Juan. The currently hold the worst record in MLB and were 4-12 in Puerto Rico thus far this year going into their last game against Atlanta and their final four-game series versus Pittsburgh.

Don't expect Pittsburgh to be an easy rival, though. The Pirates just ended a 10-game win streak and head to San Juan with great expectations.

This weekend marks the first time the Pirates visit San Juan since 1979, when they played the last two of a 10-game series of spring training games to raise money for Roberto Clemente Sports City (Roberto Clemente played 18 seasons with the Pirates before his tragic death in 1972).

The Pirates first visited San Juan in 1974, precisely against the Montreal Expos, whom they beat in two games, 5-3 and 4-1 with Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Manny Sanguillen.

Roberto Clemente's son, Luis, now 38, remembers a packed Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

"What I remember most was Willie Stargell. He would step into the batters box and do that thing with his bat and the crowd would make this sound 'Fua, fua,' to follow the bat's moves," said Clemente, who was 8 years old at the time. "He would have to step out of the box because he was laughing so hard."

Antonio Munoz, promoter of the Expos series here, has planned a special Clemente commemorative weekend for baseball fans, in conjunction with the Clemente family. In addition to a Clemente bobblehead doll giveaway, the big screen will also feature a highlight film of Roberto Clemente and both teams will don Œ70s uniforms in a "turn back the clock" night on Saturday.

"The Pirates coming back to Puerto Rico is a nice story especially because of the ties we have with Roberto Clemente," said Bucs GM Dave Littlefield. "I think people continue to remember Roberto Clemente because as a player he had outstanding ability but he also had a flair. He played the game with a lot of passion. His style of hitting was energetic and exciting. As a person he will be remembered for his charity functions and his giving back to the community, no matter where he was."

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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