By Eric Edwards
January 31, 2003
MAYAGUEZ, P.R.–The ripple effect of the political unrest in Venezuela reached the shores of Puerto Rico as the Caribbean Series began without a representative from the embattled nation.
Venezuela's regular season was suspended in early December at the start of a general strike designed to oust president Hugo Chavez, and was called off more than a month later as the strike continued. A few days later, the Venezuelans informed Puerto Rican organizers that they would not send a team to the tournament, which typically features the championship team from each of the four Caribbean winter leagues.
Organizers opted to replace the Venezuelans with a second Puerto Rican team, the Caguas Criollos. The Criollos, the regular season champions, fell in six games to the Mayaguez Indios in the best-of-nine Puerto Rican League championship series.
Venezuela hasn't exactly been a powerhouse against its Caribbean rivals, last winning the tournament in 1987. Adding another Puerto Rican club means four games with the Dominicans instead of two.
“This actually plays to the intense rivalry between the two countries,” said former Puerto Rican League president Joaquin Monserrate Matienzo, who is serving as general manager of both Puerto Rican teams. “Every time we play them there it's a sellout, and the same has been true when they come here. So I'm actually optimistic about the turnout.”
The last time the series, which rotates venues between the four countries, was held in Puerto Rico was in 1999 when the Dominicans beat Puerto Rico. Just 90 miles of ocean separate the two islands, and traditionally when the teams play in Puerto Rico there are just as many Dominican fans in attendance as Puerto Ricans.
Each team is allowed up to 10 reinforcement players from the league's other teams.
The Dominican squad included shortstop Miguel Tejada, third baseman Tony Batista, outfielders Raul Mondesi, Ruben Mateo and Luis Polonia, and infielders Rafael Furcal and Neifi Perez. White Sox righthander Bartolo Colon headlined the rotation, and he was joined by Julian Tavarez. Octavio Dotel was to be the team's closer.
Mayaguez, meanwhile, was stretched thin by the defections of its imported players and the scarcity of quality reinforcements.
White Sox infielder Jose Valentin, who had four home runs in the Indians' final series victory over Caguas, including two game-winners, headlines a roster that will feature mostly players from Double-A and Triple-A. Caguas is actually in better shape. The team has three native starters–Omar Olivares, Jaime Navarro and Angel Miranda–who plan to remain with the club, and only need an outfielder or two to shore up the lineup.
“It's going to be hard filling out two rosters. It was hard enough to do it with one,” Monserrate said.