Robinson: Expos disadvantaged by travel

Updated: July 12, 2004, 12:44 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Everything went according to plan last year for the Montreal Expos in Puerto Rico.

The team had a 13-9 record in San Juan, Hiram Bithorn Stadium rocked with an average attendance of 14,222, the team stayed in the NL East race until the last month of the season, and Major League Baseball got much needed revenue from a struggling franchise.

Things changed dramatically in 2004.

Montreal traded its two most recognizable Latin stars -- Puerto Rican Javier Vazquez and Dominican Vladimir Guerrero -- and the team sunk in the standings from the start, going 7-14 in San Juan, with an average attendance of 10,333. The Expos finished their Puerto Rican trip Sunday with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"The fans here are like the fans everywhere. If the team is winning, they will come," said Expos GM Omar Minaya. "Last year it was also more attractive because of the visiting teams. This year the visitors were different."

In 2003, Puerto Ricans got to cheer local favorites like Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers; Javier Lopez of the Atlanta Braves; Ivan Rodriguez of the Florida Marlins and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.

This season, visitors like the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays lacked major Latin stars. The Blue Jays' lone Puerto Rican star, Carlos Delgado, did not play due to injury.

Manager Frank Robinson said the constant travels between Montreal, San Juan and other cities for a second consecutive year puts his team at a disadvantage compared to other clubs.

"This is not a usual schedule for any team," Robinson said. "It's very disruptive. Last year it was new, nobody knew, it was kind of exciting. This year you know the ins and outs, you know the wear and tear, and then you go, 'Oh boy, here we go again.' "

Robinson said with the Expos' lack of resources, his team has "to play almost perfect baseball" to make up for the extra traveling.

The Hall of Famer acknowledged that the reason Major League Baseball moved the games to Puerto Rico was to generate revenue from a team struggling to stay afloat in Montreal.

Local promoter Antonio Munoz's company, MB Sports, paid $10 million to bring the games this season after paying $6.6 million last year.

The Puerto Rican businessman submitted a formal proposal to relocate the Expos to the island, competing with groups from Washington, D.C.; Virginia; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Monterrey, Mexico.

"It can be done. We just need the support from everyone and a full stadium," said Munoz at the beginning of the last "homestand."

Minaya said he believes the island can host more major league games in the future. Munoz has expressed interest in bringing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays next season if the Expos deal is not reached.

"I'm always willing to recommend Puerto Rico," said Minaya. "I think there's always going to be major league baseball in Puerto Rico."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press