The 2011 Serie del Caribe in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
My son Jonathan and I attended the 2011 Serie del Caribe, held at Estadio Isidoro Garcia (picture above) in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. The “Caribbean World Series” features the winners of the four major Winter Leagues (Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and the Mexican Pacific League) in a double-round-robin format. This yielded double-headers on six consecutive days, February 2-7. Games started at 4pm and 8:30pm each day.
We stayed at a beach-front hotel in Rincon and made the half-hour drive to the stadium each day. Our hotel also happened to be the headquarters for several major tour groups of Mexican fans, about one hundred in all. Mexican TV broadcast live from the hotel each day, featuring a sports journalist and an author that were both well-known to the Mexican fans. Being in the midst of these fans really enhanced our experience (and taxed my limited Spanish). By a stroke of good fortune, I met a Mexican fan, Juan Antonio Jasso Rodriguez, who befriended me and was a big help throughout our stay. He is a retired mechanical engineer whose English is very good. He introduced me to many of the other Mexicans, helped me with my Spanish, and enjoyed talking baseball.
On Day One (Feb. 2), we drove in early to the stadium. The parking was free! We waited about 35 minutes in the “Express” line to pick up our passes for the six days (folks that came in later reported an hour wait in line). The stadium itself was a great venue for the games. It is only a year old and is configured with about thirty rows of grandstand seats from home to about 150 feet past each dugout. No bleachers nor outfield pavilions. The views were great throughout the park. In the tropical style, a roof covered most of the upper seats — providing protection from sun and rain showers. Seating capacity is around 10,000.
A Puerto Rican baseball dignitary threw out the first pitch each day. Day One featured Roberto Alomar, to whom the 2011 Series was dedicated upon his recent election to the Hall of Fame. Other baseball celebrities that did a first pitch were Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, “Mambo” de Leon, Mako Oliveres, and ’84 Cy Young Winner Willie Hernandez.
In another stroke of good fortune, a former SABR member, baseball writer, and Spanish professor and his wife, Lewis and Gail Rubman, had seats right next to us. Lewis was very knowledgable about Latin American baseball and culture. Their experiences and insight really enhanced our enjoyment of the Series. In addition, two young Americans — Jung Kim and his friend, from Columbus, Ohio, sat on the other side of us for the weekend games. We enjoyed their camaraderie.
The fans were very enthusiastic. Only one game was sold out (announced attendance of 11,000 on Friday night, Feb. 4), and many of the 4pm games were lightly attended. But the amount of noise generated by the fans was far in excess of their numbers. Horns, whistles, roving musicians, all other forms of noise makers, and national flags all added to the color and excitement.
Some general reflections on the baseball that we saw:
* The general strategy was to play for the single run at all times (ie, small ball). Lots of bunting. For example — in one game the team’s #3 hitter laid down a sacrifice bunt with two on and nobody out — in the bottom of the first inning!
* The runners were put in motion a lot, and generally tried to take the extra base. This generated lots of excitement, and more than a few baserunning blunders.
* There were lots of pitching changes. The clubs were allowed expanded rosters, and consequently there were plenty of pitchers. One extra-inning affair used 19 pitchers (8 and 11 from the two clubs).
* The home plate umpires seemed to call a pretty big strike zone. Probably as a result, we also noted that the base umpire never over-ruled a home plate umpire’s call. Although there were often appeals, the base umpires never “rang up” a strike.
* The “bat boys” were generally men in uniform that positioned themselves between the batting circle and home plate. They appeared to be acting as an additional coach. The Puerto Rican bat boy was a midget that wore number “1/2”.
The double-header per day format eventually became a grinding marathon for us as fans. We usually got to the the park at 3:30 and did not leave until past midnight. With a rain delay plus extra innings, one game did not finish until 3am. I can only imagine the fatigue of the players, the stadium workers, and the umpires.
Folks that we talked to said the 2011 Serie del Caribe was the most exciting in many years. Play went into the last day (Day Six – Feb. 7) with the possibility of a four-way tie for the lead! Fortunately for us, a playoff was not required as the Mexican team won it outright. It was not decided until the last game — Game #12. The final standings were:
Mexico (Yaquis de Obregon) 4-2
Puerto Rico (Criollos de Caguas) 3-3
Dominican (Toros del Este) 3-3
Venezuela (Caribes de Anzoategui) 2-4
The Serie del Caribe is a unique and really enjoyable baseball experience. I would highly recommend it to any SABR member, especially those with an interest in Latin American baseball.