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Puerto Rico Profile: José Vidro

April 21, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

A new season of major league baseball is under way, and as usual, a number of players from Puerto Rico are in the spotlight. In fact, as the national pastime begins its sweeping arc toward the World Series in October, now is an appropriate time to recognize all the great Puerto Rican ballplayers of the past, present, and future.

Looking back, one cannot help but think immediately of "The Great One," Roberto Clemente, whose excellence on the field was only surpassed by the strength of his spirit and the heroism that led to his untimely death. Then there is Orlando Cepeda, who last year became the second Puerto Rican, after Clemente, to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In today’s game, several of the biggest stars on the best teams come from Puerto Rico. This year, there are 33 Puerto Rican-born athletes on the rosters of 19 major league teams. These players have come from cities and towns such as San Juan, Ponce, Vega Baja, and Salinas to become stars in places like New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Texas, and Cleveland. Many of them are household names.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, the catcher for the Texas Rangers, was the American League MVP last year. His former teammate, Juan Gonzalez, now a Detroit Tiger, won that title in 1996. Bernie Williams led the New York Yankees to three championships in four years, twice defeating the team with the best record of the decade, the Atlanta Braves, with their stand-out catcher Javy Lopez. The Alomar Brothers, Sandy, Jr., and Roberto, hold court in Cleveland, following in the footsteps of their father, major leaguer Sandy Alomar, Sr.

Who, then, will be the great Puerto Rican baseball players of the future? Only time will tell, but there are some indications of who might be destined for stardom. José Vidro, the second baseman for the Montreal Expos, could be the player to watch.

Originally from Mayagüez, the 25-year-old, switch-hitting Vidro was drafted in 1992 by the Expos, a team with a small market but an excellent farm system. Pedro Martinez, now the pitching ace of the Boston Red Sox, came up in the Expos organization, along with all-stars Larry Walker, Moises Alou, and John Wetteland. All of these players, however, left Montreal for the greener pastures of big-time franchises and enormous salaries.

In his years with the Expos, Vidro has developed into a solid young player with a great deal of potential. Without much fanfare or media attention, he has made himself into a key element of the Expos’ offense, as well as a reliable defender. He was first called up to the major leagues on June 6, 1997. That year he made appearances in 67 games, batting .249. In 1998, he played in 83 games but only batted .220.

In the winter of 1998-99, however, José Vidro emerged as a major talent. Playing for the Ponce Lions in the Puerto Rico Winter League, he dominated opposing pitchers, batting .417 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in. With the highest batting average of anyone in the league since Edgar Martinez in 1990, he was the unanimous selection as the winter season’s Most Valuable Player.

Vidro returned to Montreal in the spring of 1999 with the same power and confidence that he had displayed in Ponce. ESPN called him "the Expos’ most pleasant surprise," a player who had "developed confidence in his ability to drive the ball and looked to do so whenever he got ahead in the count." Even though he was bogged down by injuries and fatigue at the end of the season, Vidro still batted .304 for the year, hitting 12 homers and driving in 59 runs.

This past winter, Vidro did not have quite as much success as the year before, but he remained one of the top hitters in the league, with a .315 average.

As the 2000 season gets under way, this may be the year when José Vidro will become the next Puerto Rican star. Early scouting reports did not seem overly optimistic. However, Vidro appears to be proving his critics wrong. Although the season is still young, his .423 batting average is one of the best in the National League. Hitting second, he is also among the league leaders in runs scored, a crucial statistic for batters at the top of the order. He has driven in 7 runs so far and hit 3 balls out of the park.

In fact, Vidro hit his first two home runs of the season in one game on Tuesday, April 11. Even his manager, Felipe Alou, was shocked by the performance. "He put on quite a show," Alou said the next day. "He surprised me the way he hit the balls. We know he has the power to pull the ball, but that second homer was the first time he showed power to straight-away center."

Despite his promising numbers and impressive play, José Vidro remains a relative unknown. If, however, he continues to develop as he has over the past few years, it will not be long before he steps out of the shadows of anonymity into the spotlight of stardom. A pre-season scouting report about the Montreal Expos called them "an exciting young team with a chance to be very good pretty soon." The same thing could be said about José Vidro, whose emerging greatness may be the key to the success of his team, and to the continuing legacy of Puerto Rico’s baseball heroes.

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