Welcome to Puerto Rico

Updated: January 16, 2006, 9:21 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

Quick facts

Puerto Rico 
PUERTO RICO


Camp Dates
March 3-6, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Exhibition (in Port St. Lucie, Fla.)
March 5 vs. New York Mets, 1:10 p.m. ET
Schedule (Pool C in Puerto Rico)
March 7 vs. Panama, 7 p.m. ET
March 8 vs. Netherlands, 7:30 p.m. ET
March 10 vs. Cuba, 7:30 p.m. ET
Team roster
Location: Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic, about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Fla.
Size: 3,514 square miles, or about slightly less than three times the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.
Population: 3.9 million
People: White (mostly Spanish origin) 80.5%, Black 8%, Amerindian 0.4%, Asian 0.2%, mixed and other 10.9%.
Language: Spanish
Government: Commonwealth of the U.S. (Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. Popularly-elected governors have served since 1948, and in 1952 a constitution was enacted providing for internal self government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and again in 1998, voters chose to retain their commonwealth status with the U.S.
Capital: San Juan (population: 440,000)

Baseball (and other) interesting notes

Most known for: Producing outstanding catchers; birthplace of "The Great One," Roberto Clemente; great beaches and untouched mountains and rainforest; Bacardi Rum.
Quotable: "I want to say to ... Puerto Rico's youth, which is the future of our country, that they study, prepare themselves, and that we continue to strive with our land so that Puerto Rico becomes a model. ... And that each day we feel prouder of our homeland," Orlando Cepeda, National Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, July 25, 1999.
Famous national anthem verse: Since Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the U.S, the "official" anthem is "The Star-Spangled Banner," but the local anthem is "La Borinqueña," more often heard and more identified by the people: "When Columbus reached these beaches, full of awe he exclaimed, 'This is the lovely land that I seek.' "
Baseball's Puerto Rico debut: In the early 1900s, introduced by Cubans.
Puerto Rico's baseball hotbeds: Baseball is played throughout the island, but is most popular in and around the northern cities and town of San Juan, Bayamon, Santurce, Manati and Arecibo as well as in the southern city of Ponce and the fishing port town of Mayaguez.
First Puerto Rican-born player to play MLB: Hiram Bithorn, whose name adorns Puerto Rico's most historic ballpark, debuted for the Cubs in 1942. He was born in Santurce.
Puerto Rican-born players currently signed with MLB organizations: 120 (approx.)
Current notable MLB players from Puerto Rico: Ivan Rodriguez (Manati); Carlos Delgado (Aguadilla); Carlos Beltran (Manati).
Ones to watch in the future: Felipe Lopez (Reds), Yadier Molina (Cardinals).
MLB record breakers: Roberto Clemente (member of 3,000-hit club); Javy Lopez (Ponce) hit 43 HR in 2003, most by any catcher.
National (U.S.) Hall of Famers: Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda.
Puerto Rico's baseball weather: Generally pleasant baseball weather year-round.
Biggest sports competitors: Basketball, boxing, soccer, golf.
Only in Puerto Rico: Do you find more brothers in MLB arms than anywhere else in the world: Roberto and Sandy Alomar; Joey and Alex Cora; Felipe and Cesar Crespo; Jose and Javier Valentin; Bengie, Jose, and Yadier Molina.

Amateur and international competition

Puerto Ricans playing organized baseball: 120,000
Biggest international rival: Dominican Republic
Leagues: Puerto Rico has two amateur leagues, Beisbol AA and Coliceba. The Double-A league, with four divisions of six teams each, takes place in the summer at lovely, quaint ballparks that seat as few as 1,000 spectators. They play almost all their games on Saturday and Sunday. A few of the larger Double-A ballparks are former homes for teams in the Puerto Rican Winter League. As a Commonwealth of the U.S., Puerto Rican players are subject to the Major League Baseball amateur draft, unlike their Caribbean counterparts that are free agents and, once signed, play in MLB-sponsored academies before moving up through the minor-league system. Non-U.S. citizens can be signed to a contract once they turn 16 years old, while players in the U.S. draft must be high school graduates, typically 18 years old. Puerto Ricans drafted and signed, who are ultimately released, are not eligible to return to play in the island's amateur leagues. Former MLB pitcher Edwin Correa founded the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy & High School in Gurabo, a small town about a 30-minute drive south of San Juan.
Contact information: Puerto Rico Amateur Baseball Federation
Coliseo Guillermo Angulo, Segundo Piso Calle José Severo Quiñones
Carolina, Puerto Rico 000986-7707
Tel: (+1-787) 776 80 63; (+1-787) 752 7729; (+1-787) 776 8060
Fax: (+1-787) 768 8540

Puerto Rico Baseball League (winter)

Six team play a regular season of around 50 games beginning in early November and concluding in early January. The top four teams participate in a best-of-seven semi-finals and a best-of-nine final, with the winner advancing to the Caribbean Series, which features the best team from the winter league in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico.
Teams: Santurce Crabbers; San Juan Senators; Caguas Criollos; Carolina Giants; Ponce Lions; Mayaguez Indians
Most successful franchise: Santurce Crabbers
Recent MLB participants: Brian Roberts, Justin Morneau
Blasts from the past: Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn and many others.
Best ballparks: Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which hosted the Montreal Expos for a number of games over two seasons, is the island's most historic ballpark. The facility has undergone renovations over the years and has played host to the likes of Roberto Clemente and many others. One of the more "down home" and unique ballparks is Isidoro "Cholo" Garcia Stadium in the tuna port town of Mayaguez. Located within walking distance of beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, Garcia Stadium is home of the Indios, with its crazy Indian mascot, a local beer called India, the Indios dancers (on the field between innings) and a generally-pleasant neighborhood feel. Most winter-league parks, with the exception of Bithorn, seat about 10,000.
Ballpark food and drink: Comida criolla includes orange rice with vegetables, habichuelas (pork and beans), various fried and baked dishes of plantains (platano, like a banana), and the sorullo (or smaller sorullito), a sweet corn-meal fritter. Yuca is cassava root; fried (yuca frita), it's like U.S. french fries but tastier.
Ballpark atmosphere: Generally boring, except if you go see an Indios game, especially on the weekends.
Entertainment: The Indians mascot in Mayaguez is nuts, performing head-first slides atop the dugout and wearing a full Indians costume.
Puerto Rican baseball speak: Puerto Rico's broadcasters are symbolic of Puerto Rico's local color. Many exclaim "foul!" like soccer announcers scream "goal!" When a double play is successful, the hitter can be described as returning to the dugout on "Route 643" or "Route 463."
Annual tradition: Annual all-star game with the Dominican Republic.
Uniquely Puerto Rican: The Clemente Legacy: A rocky reef just offshore an unmarked site near the end of the runway of San Juan airport serves as a memorial to the late Hall of Famer. The spot is where the plane last was over land. Luis Clemente was only 5 years old when the plane went down. He was a Pirates minor-league prospect in the mid-1980s, but an arm injury hampered his development and he earned a marketing degree from the University of Puerto Rico. His brother, Roberto Jr., who is 11 months older, is a Spanish-language television analyst for the New York Yankees.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.

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