Arriving in the D.R.

Santiago, D.R.–So I arrived in the Dominican Republic for the first time ever on Thursday, and I have the following observations to log in advance of the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean Series. (known everywhere else on the planet except the U.S. as ‘Serie del Caribe.")

And "Serie del Caribe" just sounds cooler, doesn’t it?

1. I’m glad I didn’t rent a car here.

I had made a contact to pick me up from the airport that included the following phone conversation on Wednesday night: "OK, so you’re all set. There will be a guy named Fernando–he’s a little guy; he’s seriously built like a jockey–he’s like 5-foot-2–who’s going to pick you up.

"He’s going to be wearing a yellow shirt and he’s 50 (years old) but looks more like he’s 75.

Yeah, that was easy to find. I think there was a special on yellow shirts running at the Dominican equivalent of Target yesterday. And yelling out, "Hola, Fernando!" at every jockey-like person I saw was no help.

When I finally did find him, he was just the handler. The driver was younger and wearing a Miami Dolphins hat and a San Diego Chargers power-blue jersey (Chris Chambers fan maybe?). I freak out when someone else is driving my car and I’m in the passenger seat, so sitting in the back of an SUV–especially when we apparently entered a seedy area of the city and Fernando asked the driver to lock the doors–wasn’t exactly like driving through Anywhere, USA.

What’s funny is I broke out the scouting tools among scouts I know who’ve been here prior to this trip. Nearly all of the gringo scouts from the States told me I was crazy for even considering renting a car here, while the Latino contingent told me simply, "Oh, yeah . . . driving in the Dominican is no problem." After the 40-minute ride dodging traffic through potholes that would make Philadelphia jealous, I silently begged to differ.

2. How Jose Lima Broke My Heart Within Five Minutes of Landing in the D.R.

Anyone who read last year’s Caribbean Series blog knows how much I love Jose Lima. The former big league righthander helped pitch Aguilas, who’s in the Series again this year, to the finals in 2006-2007 in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

Lima pitched in Mexico after major league clubs passed on him last spring, then he went back to pitch for Aguilas this winter. Until apparently he got another offer.

"Donde esta Lima?" I asked Fernando with much more excitement in my voice for figuring out how to ask the simple question than really knowing where he was.

"Taiwan," Fernando said.

(Slipping immediately into English) "Damn! So . . . mucho dinero, huh?"

"Taiwan," he said again.

I let it go, since I couldn’t articulate a legitimate argument, but needless to say I am extremely disappointed I won’t get to see Lima Time in 2007-2008.

Have to go Bartolo Colon, I guess.

3. Aguilas/Licey Is Bigger Than Red Sox/Yankees.

It is here, anyway. It’s just awesome. But it goes beyond fans of those two teams. It seems Dominican fans, regardless of who they root for, have suddenly latched onto either club represnting the country in the four-team series that begis on Saturday.

When my flight landed here, everyone cheered for a safe trip. Then the flight attendant came over the intercom saying (in Spanish), "Was that for Aguilas?" And half the 200 passengers erupted. As that was still in full force, the "Licey! Licey! Licey!" chants began. And that was before we even de-planed.

After going through customs and getting out to meet Fernando, all you could see was a steady stream of black-and-yellow Aguilas paraphenalia everywhere. Hats, t-shirts, flags on cars–it was the works.

One more day until we see that craziness explode, and you can feel the electricity all over the city.