Only few days are left to finally listen the cry of Playball ! in most major league parks. No more spring training exhibition games.
Starting April 5th it is the real thing. Under the lights, the Philadelphia Phillies will open officially the 2009 season on national TV against the Atlanta Braves. For many, many years truthfully not many care about the Brotherly Love city Phils. This season Charlie Manuel’s troop is a must watch.
The Phillies will try to be the first defending champs this decade to win back to back titles. Since 00′, Major League Baseball champions includes the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, White Sox, Cardinals and twice the Red Sox. In paper, it looks the Phillies have all the tools to return to the World Series and fulfill the feast last accomplished by the 1998-2000 Bronx Bombers.
In Puerto Rico, I wonder how many really care about the Phillies and for the whole purpose the baseball upcoming season. Back at the turn of the century the list of boricuas in the Majors use to be around 50 every summer. Most were big names to their franchises and well-known for every baseball fan. Every All-Star Game was fully loaded with puertorriqueños, same as post-season time.
For the last, around two-three years, it have been follow closely the dwindling decrease of islanders in the big show.
This upcoming season the only boricuas projected to be on a regular basis in a lineup are in the American League: Mike Lowell (Red Sox), Jorge Posada, (Yankees), Mike Aviles and David de Jesus (Royals) and Alexis Rios (Blue Jays). In the National League: Felipe Lopez (D’Backs), Geovany Soto (Cubs), Ivan Rodriguez (Astros), Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado (Mets) and the brothers Molina Bengie (Giants) and Yadier (Cardinals).
Probable starters in a regular rotation this upcoming season are Javier Vazquez (Braves) and Joel Piñeiro (Cardinals). Let’s not forget new puertorrican Ian Snell (Pirates) who was nationalized with his two starts in the last World Baseball Classic. By the way, not to make the matters worse, but not even 20 more names are present in spring camps competing for a bench spot, utility role or pitching job to make in the season’s opener 25-man rosters.
The glory days are gone? Good question. No doubt, we can not take anything from the current crop. Every year there is at least one islander that excels and make all Puerto Rico proud.
Last season the man was Geovany Soto. The young catcher was the National League Rookie of the Year and selected by all major national media outlets for the same honor. Also, let not forget the excellent season of National league Gold Glovers Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina.
Hooray for the honor. However, circa 1998 it would have taken at least two more paragraphs to write the accolades of our Puerto Rican stars. That it would have included such names as Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra, Carlos Baerga, Edgar Martinez, Roberto and Sandy Alomar. It was the hey-days of Pudge Rodriguez with Texas and Carlos Delgado with Toronto. Let’s not forget that time around Carlos Beltran was just coming up in 1999 as American League Rookie of the Year. Mike Lowell was just a rookie making a name for himself with the Florida Marlins.
There is a lot of talk about the different reasons with the continuing decrease of major league caliber local talent. And for God sake let’s not start to compare with the continuous rising baseball talent from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Let be honest, Puerto Rico still is baseball country. It was seen the passion and colors in the last World Baseball Classic. True a bad ninth inning against the USA derailed a final-four appearance dream in the world tourney. However no dream should be broken in the future.
The future is now that players have to arise again. Yes, we are very proud of the legacy of Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda and hopefully future hall of famers Robbie Alomar and Edgar Martinez. However, again, we need that boom of baseball players to build up again and fill up the majors. Meanwhile, do care and enjoy the upcoming season and root for your favorite team and favorite puertorrican player.
This column was also published as a Special For The Puerto Rico Daily Sun / Commentary Column