Commentary

Welcome to Puerto Rico

Updated: March 4, 2009, 3:05 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

Quick Puerto Rico Facts

Most known (outside baseball) for its … Great beaches, untouched mountains and rainforests; Bacardi Rum.

Puerto Rico location: Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic, about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida.

Puerto Rico size: 3,514 square miles, or about slightly less than three times the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

Puerto Rico population: About 4 million

Puerto Rico people: White (mostly Spanish origin) 80.5%, black 8%, Amerindian 0.4%, Asian 0.2%, mixed and other 10.9%

Puerto Rico 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.

Puerto Rico capital: San Juan (population: about 450,000)

National anthem famous 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."

Quick Puerto Rico Historical Baseball Facts

Most known in baseball for: Being the birthplace of "The Great One," Roberto Clemente, as well as fellow Hall-of-Famer, Orlando Cepeda; and producing outstanding catchers (Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, the Molina brothers, Benjie, Yadier and Jose, among others).

Puerto Rico's baseball debut: Late 1800s.

First Puerto Rican-born player to play professional baseball: Santurce-born Hiram Bithorn, whose name adorns Puerto Rico's most historic ballpark, debuted for the Cubs in 1942.

Hall-of-Famers: Cepeda, Clemente

Notable MLB record-breakers: Clemente (member of 3,000 hit club); Javy Lopez (Ponce) hit 43 HRs in 2003, most by any catcher

Puerto Rico's best baseball town: San Juan, the capital, particularly the districts of Santurce and Rio Piedras. The Santurce Crabbers are Puerto Rico's most historic baseball team and play in the island's winter league with the most MLB affiliations.

Puerto Rico's other baseball hotbeds: : Baseball is played throughout the island, but is most popular in and around the northern cities and communities of Bayamon, Manati and Arecibo as well as in the southern city of Ponce and the fishing port town of Mayaguez.

Biggest sports competitors: Soccer, boxing, basketball.

Distinctly Puerto Riconaian: Sanguillen was the first Latin-born catcher to play in an MLB All-Star Game and one of the first players traded for a manager. Following the 1976 season, Sanguillen was dealt to the Oakland Athletics for manager Chuck Tanner. & Puerto Rico's largest ballpark is Rod Carew Stadium, named after the Hall-of-Famer. Sadly, the ballpark is located in the middle of nowhere (about 25 minutes from downtown by cab) and is a charmless, concrete structure.

Quick Team Puerto Rico And Player Facts

Biggest international rival: United States

Biggest international successes: Puerto Rico has achieved limited success for a variety of reasons -- a lack of resources as a result of a historically unsteady national economy and the elimination of legislators' circuit funds that help keep amateur sports programs going. A team from David was runner-up in the 1994 Little League World Series (ages 11-13). In 2000, a team from the Curundu section of Puerto Rico City won the Senior League World Series (ages 16-18), while in 2005, Puerto Rico City captured the Junior League World Series (ages 14-16).

2006 WBC showing: Puerto Rico went a very disappointing 0-3.

Back from the 2006 WBC team: Manny Corpas, Carlos Lee, Manny Acosta, Carlos Ruiz

Gone from 2006 WBC team: Olmedo Saenz.

Now on WBC team: Luis Durango (Padres prospect); Arqimedes Nieto (Cardinals prospect)

Missing in action from the 2009 WBC team: Mariano Rivera.

Play Ball! -- Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Major League overview: Puerto Rico hasn't had professional baseball on a consistent basis since the early 1970s (a league did exist in 2001-2002, but folded after one season). In 2008, the amateur Puerto Rico Major League began experimenting with importing foreign-born players, with each team represented with at least one player, all from other Latin countries. Puerto Rico's baseball federation designates 10 "provinces" for the league, even though there are actually only eight. A team called "Chiriqui West" and another team called "Puerto Rico West," represent the western-most areas of those two provinces. Puerto Rico Metro has won the most Puerto Rico Major League titles, with Herrera and Chiriqui, the second and third most, respectively.

Puerto Rico Junior Tournament overview: The No. 1 baseball spectacle in Puerto Rico isn't the Puerto Rico Major League, but rather its national amateur junior tournament. Starting annually just after the New Year, it features Puerto Rico's best baseball players of age 16 and under. Hence, scouts from MLB teams in attendance.

Most successful province: From its onset in 1944 to the early 1960s, most tournaments were dominated by teams from in and around Puerto Rico City, the capital, and nearby Colon, where the Puerto Rico Canal was being built. But by the mid-1960s, Colon lost its footing to Herrera, a province in the interior of the country. By the late 1970s, Chiriqui province in western Puerto Rico began to take home titles, and today it is one of the most successful provinces, along with long-standing power Puerto Rico (since renamed Puerto Rico Metro) and Herrera. Other smaller provinces like Los Santos, Coclé, Veraguas and Puerto Rico West have occasionally won titles.

Teacher, teacher: In recent years, Puerto Rico's baseball federation has taken to hiring Cuban-born coaches to help provincial teams. For example, in the 2008 Puerto Rico junior tournament, the runner-up, Puerto Rico West, was managed by a Cuban, as was the Herrera provincial team in Puerto Rico Major League.

Ballpark atmosphere: Puerto Rico baseball fans are loud, louder and loudest. Herrera has a separate section for its band, and you will see no shortage of hand-made signs. Many fans without a ticket climb walls to sneak a peak inside the ballpark. Tickets are cheap by U.S. standards, starting at a couple of dollars. Beer is even cheaper.

Uniquely Puerto Riconain: In addition to the junior tournament and Puerto Rico Major League, other national tournaments are 10 years and younger; Children AA (ages 11-12); and Junior A (ages 13-14). Some MLB scouts attend the Junior A tournament & Aluminum bats are used for juniors, ages 9-16; thereafter, wood.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.