Puerto Rico was left devastated this summer by Hurricane Maria and large areas of the Caribbean Island remain with no electricity to date. So it seemed impossible that the winter league baseball season would be played.
Carlos Baerga a former All-Star second baseman in MLB and the Mayaguez Indios general manager said when he heard there was serious talk about playing the winter season, he thought those involved were crazy. He thought there was no possible way to play the season.
However, on Friday, that is just what took place, with a doubleheader in Mayaguez between Saturce and Carolina in the opener followed by Cagues and Mayaguez in the nightcap.
The doubleheader marked the start of the 80th version of the winter league albeit with a few problems. Just two of the stadiums on the island are able to have games, Garcia Stadium in Mayaguez and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan. In Hiram Bithorn only day games will be played due to problems with the lights.
The Mayaguez stadium’s main entrance is not accessible to fans due to FEMA using it as a disaster assistance center.
Tony Perez a Hall of Famer and former star with the Cincinnati Reds said baseball is baseball and people want to watch it again. Perez moved to Puerto Rico in the 1960s from Cuba.
Rather than the usual season of 40 games, this year’s season will be just 18 games long, which means Puerto Rico can send its team to Mexico in February to play in the Caribbean Series.
In recent years, a renaissance of sorts has taken place with baseball in Puerto Rico. Finishes in second place the last two World Baseball Classics plus a title in the Caribbean Series last year have helped return popularity to the games in the eyes of Puerto Ricans.
The surge in superstars from Puerto Rico in major league baseball does not hurt either. Those stars include Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez and the ever-popular veteran Yadier Molina.
None of the just named players will play in the league, as the league of four teams will have mainly younger players who are up and coming with a few veterans that hold onto hopes of landing with a big league team again.
Baerga said the sport is alive and well once again in Puerto Rico and this season is for everyone in Puerto Rico.