Sunday, April 13, 2003

Have Expos discovered new place to call home?

Puerto Rico dates an opportunity for island

By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They will come by plane, by boat, by car, by bus and by foot. All to see the Expos.

For 20 more games this season, Montreal's loss is Latin American fans' gain during Major League's Baseball's return to the region.

"The market is greatly valued," MLB spokesman Richard Levin said. "The whole region, really, is a goldmine. It's very important to Major League Baseball."

The value of showcasing major-league games in Puerto Rico, however, goes beyond bringing baseball to avid and knowledgeable followers of native sons like Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez.

The Expos, who are owned by the league, drew a dismal 813,536 fans last season at Olympic Stadium. The hope is that the 22 games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, with its capacity of 20,000, will generate greater revenue.

These games also provide an opportunity for baseball officials to further explore Puerto Rico as a potential home for the Expos.

"That's obviously something Major League Baseball will be looking into," Levin said. "We had an opening day there a couple years ago and it was very successful.

"The people down there have been very cooperative."

A decision on relocation is expected by the All-Star break.

The Expos are likely to settle in a more accessible and feasible locale, but Puerto Rico is being considered.

Its population of nearly 4 million would rank 12th among existing major-league markets. But the island's economic health could be too big of a hurdle to clear.

"I don't know if the island is big enough to support a big-league team," said former Red Tony Perez, who has a home in Puerto Rico. "We'll have to wait and see if they can do that. But there are some doubts."

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