Puerto Rican Dream
Image courtesy of Luke AlbrechtWe landed, dropped off our stuff, and headed straight for Hiram Bithorn Stadium. After raining all morning, it had gotten hot and muggy (even more than I’m used to in the Dominican Republic). The atmosphere outside the stadium was great, with music, games and beer (but no bottles of water to be found). After standing in line for 20 minuets in the heat without water, the water came in the form of a sudden downpour.
As water was coming off the stadium roof like waterfalls, we experienced the first of many examples of locals showing kindness and hospitality. The family behind us quickly opened up an umbrella and invited us under it with them. We walked together toward the gate as I translated for my father and the family.
Inside the stadium concourse the scene was similar to many stadiums around the world: concessions, games and giveaways. One thing that was different was the appearance of a some players on the concourse pregame. Both Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario came out of the clubhouse and caused a bit of a mob scene taking pictures and greeting fans. It was really cool to see the reaction of the fans, who were ecstatic to see their heroes in person, and also the players, who were obviously excited to interact with their compatriots.
The other celebrity sighting was on the other side of the concourse, where we were asked to move out of the way by security, only to see Terry Fancona getting driven through the crowd toward his clubhouse. He looked noticeably less excited to be out on the concourse with the crowds.
Once we got to our seats we realized that the Twins BP was cut short by the rain, but we did get to see Cleveland hit before the game.
Once they hit, the starting lineups were introduced. There certainly seemed to be more Cleveland fans than Minnesota, and the biggest ovations throughout the series came for Fransisco Lindor. The great majority of jerseys in the stands were Lindor jerseys, especially from the locals. There were a great many locals with the shirt or jersey of one team and the hat from another, which I think is a great example of the attitudes of most of these fans. They cheered hard for their own, Lindor being the most notable. During the second game, I sat next to an older gentleman who had to ask if Rosario and Berrios were from Puerto Rico, but was adamant that Lindor was the best shortstop in the majors.
This isn’t to say that the locals are misinformed or “bad fans,” on the contrary, they seemed to be more informed about the game than fans in the Dominican Republic or even the US. They hung on every pitch and at bat, and cheered for good baseball, whoever happened to be at the center of the play. I talked to a few different fans in depth about particular non-Puerto Rican players, and the conversations were as good, or better informed than ones I’ve had with fans in the US. Many people were in awe of Sano’s size and power, predicting home runs on every one of his at-bats. I was also told that Joe Mauer is under appreciated, and one of the best players of the last 10 years (I bet you won’t hear that in the stands at Target Field anytime soon, or maybe you will if he keeps hitting .370).
The locals also didn’t hold back their opinions and trash talk. I was told multiple times that I was cheering for the wrong team, but always with a friendly smile or laugh. It was great to see a baseball game where seemingly everyone was there to watch and experience baseball, not necessarily just to hang out outside and chat with friends over overpriced beer and food.
By the end of the first game, the stadium was fully on Cleveland's side. Seeing Lindor’s home run was a really special once in a lifetime experience, for the fans and the player. After seeing man winter league games in the DR, I was surprised at hearing him apologize for how he acted during and after his home run. This is how players play here, and what fans expect. To me, anyone who asking him to contain himself might as well ask him not to speak Spanish, or change how he plays the game entirely. Good for him for coming through during one of the most important games of his career (although I was completely unimpressed with his performance through the rest of the series).
Although the Twins didn’t look very good in Game One, it was still a great time. A big part of that for me had to do with the Twins Daily community. Before going to Puerto Rico, I talked with another community member about meeting up there, and sure enough I met and sat with Ben for the whole first game. It was great getting to know and share such a cool experience with another Twins Daily fan!
Speaking of gringo fans like ourselves, there were plenty at the game, but it’s hard to say which team had more there. If I had to say, I’d lean towards Cleveland edging out the Twins in that department. Just like my experience with the local fans, everyone was really nice and didn’t hesitate to stop and chat whenever there was a chance.
During the day before the second game, my Dad and I took the chance to check out San Juan. During our day of sight seeing in the historic Old San Juan, we learned that the power had gone down island wide. This coincided with the sound of gasoline generators powering up, with the noise filling the 400-year-old streets throughout the day.
This is when I truly felt the meaning of this series for the Puerto Rican people. Many that we talked to during that second day seemed to take the outage in stride, continuing to go about their business as best they could. I was still able to get a cold beer and people around me were still served their lunches at the local bar. The bartender said that these outages happened every once in awhile, and never lasted as long as predicted (he was right, this one lasted six hours and not the 24-48 predicted). There were still plenty of signs of damage from Maria around town; many buildings with tarps on their roofs and trees uprooted in parks. Traffic lights were intermittent at best, with cars jockeying for position to sneak across. With daily life still in disarray, people seemed genuinely proud to be able to go to a game and cheer for Lindor and Berrios. Not only were they the pride of the island, the game was something that the locals could do to forget about the power outages and other continuing issues for three (or six) hours.
After stopping at the beach and a local beer garden to sample some local craft brews, we headed to game two. This one turned out to be one of the more amazing games I’ve ever seen live. I myself was nervous for Berrios as he stepped to the mound, and after the somewhat rocky first (for his standards anyway), I was worried he might have let his nerves get the better of him. Boy, was I wrong. Watching Berrios duel another great pitcher in Corrasco for seven great innings was a sight to behold. I was actually somewhat disappointed the crowd wasn’t behind Berrios even more than they were, as he was really dealing. I was also disappointed Molitor didn’t at least send him out to get one out in the eighth and get the ovation he deserved from his home crowd.
After taking out Berrios, it seemed that the futility of both teams at the plate was the theme for the rest of the game. Seeing both teams squander chances inning after inning became frustrating, especially because I had an early flight the next morning to get back to work in the DR. But I certainly didn’t complain when Sano blasted the ball to left to tie it up in the 14th, and I didn’t complain when the Twins got out of a jam in the 15th. The walk-off in the 16th provided the perfect who’s who in a wild night of baseball. First, of course, Rosario deserved to be the winning run after being the perfect ambassador for our team in his home country and for his country in our hometown. Second, we got to see Logan Morrison, who didn’t get on base in the six previous attempts and who was hitting sub .070 get on base on a fluky play. Finally, we got to see a guy in Ryan LaMarre who has been overlooked year after year and who didn’t even start the game get his first walk-off hit.
By the end of the game, I think most fans were just hoping one of the teams could score and get it over with. I was impressed with how many people stayed for the whole thing, it being past midnight by the time the game was over, but the stadium may have been a third full by the end. Regardless, seeing Eddie get to jump around the field after the walk-off made it all worth it.
And even if the Twins would have lost that game, it would have been worth it. Worth it to add another stadium and city to my passport, to try a few new beers, and to hang out with my Dad for a couple days. But most of all to see that baseball can still be a force for good and positivity for people going through tough times, wherever they are.
- Han Joelo, drbob524, h2oface and 9 others like this