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Manati, Carolina Start Solid In WL; WBO Champ Calderon To Defend Title

By Gabrielle Paese

November 26, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

From the looks of my e-mail inbox, ya’ll are starved for news about the Puerto Rico Winter League. It doesn’t really have to be this way, but I’m sorry to report that it is. We live in an era of way too much information (how many times have we seen Ron Artest’s image on TV this week?), yet when it comes to winter ball in Puerto Rico, it’s hard to get more than the basics.

In the 17 years I have been covering winter ball, the league has always been a disaster from a public relations, marketing and media standpoint. While some team owners, in particular the younger ones, like Carlos Baerga (Santurce) and Jose "Tony" Valentin (Manati), have taken greater interest, the majority of the owners (and the league itself) do little in the way of promotion or dissemination of information.

Case in point: At the league’s send-off press conference prior to season start, a team owner actually told me the following when I asked what kind of promotion the team was planning for its ballpark: "The fans here aren’t interested in hat or whistle giveaways. They come to see baseball. You have to have a competitive team or the fans won’t come out."

News flash to owner: No one in his right mind intentionally puts a losing team together. Baseball’s about winning, not hats and bobblehead dolls. That said and given the competition for your entertainment dollar, it sure helps to have a winning team AND a free bobblehead doll of your cleanup hitter, who is leading the league in home runs.

Sigh. I try to keep my league-bashing to a minimum. Winter ball is still the best-kept secret in the Caribbean, with great baseball, talented players, a handful of big-leaguers and dozens of young players destined for stardom. League-bashing isn’t fair to the players, coaches and managers who are out there putting on a quality show from November through February.

That said, I refer readers who want more league info to, Edwin Rodriguez’s excellent website that offer news and league stats. Under the standings on the home page, you will also find links to some team websites. If you can’t navigate the Spanish language, you can always keep up with the statistics at by clicking on the links to winter leagues.

Because mine is a weekly column written with several days lead time, it’s virtually impossible for me to keep readers informed of the daily results. Santurce has had a slow start, winning just one game in seven outings and their star first-baseman (yes, he is playing first base for the winter), Roberto Alomar, is out indefinitely after aggravating a back injury.

Cangrejeros ace Jaime Navarro got tagged for four runs in 2 1/3 innings of work during Santurce’s 9-0 loss to Manati Nov. 21, in the first of two losses on a twin bill (Manati won the second, 1-0). Valentin’s Atenienses held Baerga’s Cangrejeros to just three hits per game, despite a powerful Santurce lineup that includes Lou Lucca, Omar Garcia, Baerga and Orestes Marrero. Santurce is struggling, hitting .208 collectively through Nov. 22.

Meanwhile, Manati has looked good and was 3-2 along with the Carolina Gigantes to start the second week of play. Manati’s Edwards Guzman, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult summer, leads the league after five games with a .474 average and two home runs. Manati is hitting .304 collectively, the best this week, and the team’s pitchers have done their job with a collective 1.58 league-leading ERA. Manati manager Juan "Porky" Lopez deserves mention for the solid start as well. Lopez, along with Atenienses pitching coach Lester Strode, both work in the Chicago Cubs system and both have major league coaching experience.

Carolina’s offense is going to keep the Gigantes in the mix. Vic Rodriguez (.412), Armando Rios (.400), Cesar Crespo (.353), Yadier Molina (.333) and Edgard Clemente (.333) are all among the league’s leaders going into week 2. Caguas, Ponce and Mayaguez are all bunched up at 4-3. For Mayaguez, starter Bill Pulsipher (1-0, Independent league), was steady, fanning four batters in five innings of work. Caguas’ Rob Crosby is leading the league, hitting .467 as he begins his comeback to baseball after sitting out the 2004 double A season following knee surgery. Finally, Ponce’s Jose Molina is swinging a hot bat, like his brother, hitting .353 at week’s end.

Calderon to defend title versus Fajardo Nov. 27 in Las Vegas

World Boxing Organization minimum weight champion Ivan Calderon (20-0, 4 KO) defends his title for the fourth time this weekend versus Nicaraguan Carlos Fajardo (12-4-1, 8 KO) on the undercard of the Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera program "Once and for all" Nov. 27 at the Las Vegas MGM Grand.

The 5-0 Calderon is stepping back into the ring for the first time since July 31, at which time he successfully defended his title with a unanimous 12-round decision over former world champ Roberto Leyva in Las Vegas.

"We broke a record for rounds sparred with this fight," said Calderon’s trainer, Jose "Che Che" Sanchez. "Previously the most we’d sparred in preparation for a fight was 104 rounds, this time we did 126."

The 5-4 Fajardo, ranked sixth by the WBO, has fought just once in his career outside Latin America and that was in Spain, a ninth-round TKO over Rafael Lozano last year.

This is Calderon’s third fight of 2004 and his second defense. On March 20 he beat Edgar Cardenas in Guaynabo in a fight that was not for Calderon’s title as Cardenas failed to make weight. Puerto Rico’s Boxer of the Year in 2002 is also one of the island’s most active. He fought seven times in 2002 and six in 2003. Calderon said he anticipates four fights in 2005.

Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was 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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