“I’m from Santurce,” he says. “And being back in Puerto Rico managing this team is a dream come true.”
His lineup this afternoon is a mix of young players hoping to get to the big leagues and veterans who’ve been there. Felipe Lopez, another former Nat, is playing second base.
Javier Castellano, the Crabbers’ media director, and I have seats behind the Crabbers’ dugout, which gives us a great view of the field and, in the distance, the cloud-covered mountains in El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rain forest. “We get a lot of rainouts,” says Javier, who orders a round of Medallas, the island’s favorite beer, and we settle in to watch the game.
Santurce scores first, then Caguas jumps in front. The lead swings back and forth until the Crabbers get two late-inning runs and manage a dramatic pickoff in the top of the ninth for their second win in a row.
With salsa music blaring over the PA system, Santurce players file into the cramped clubhouse to celebrate with black beans and rice. The postgame menu isn’t exactly major league, but nobody’s complaining.
GOING TO CULEBRA
The Crabbers’ next home game is in three days. That leaves plenty of time for a trip to Culebra, says Irina. According to a couple we talked to at dinner last night, the tiny island has the best beaches in Puerto Rico.
“I’ve already found a place for us to stay,” Irina says. “Right on the water.”
By noon we’re on the high-speed catamaran ferry from Fajardo that makes the trip east in less than an hour.
Culebra is a little bigger than an 18-hole golf course, with a handful of bars, restaurants and a dozen guesthouses. The main attraction, though, is its pristine beaches. The one everybody on the boat recommends is Flamenco. We check in at Villa Boheme and, despite my vote for a siesta, head straight to the beach.
Centuries ago, Culebra was a favorite hideout for Caribbean pirates who plied their trade in these waters. Today, the island could be the ultimate getaway, with Flamenco the closest thing to a deserted beach I’ve ever seen. When we arrive, the only other living creatures in sight are two chickens nesting under a palm tree.
It turns out that our host at Villa Boheme, Rico Rossy, is a retired big league ballplayer, which isn’t that unusual in Puerto Rico. Rossy, however, measures his time in the majors not in years but innings. He was a utility infielder who bounced from the Atlanta Braves to the Kansas City Royals to the Seattle Mariners. In 1999, his last pro season, he played for Santurce.
“Good defense, but I never had a chance to prove myself at the plate” is how he accounts for his .211 lifetime batting average.
Baseball was fun while it lasted, he says, as he steers his boat east toward an even smaller island, Culebrita, for a morning of swimming with sea turtles. Culebrita, population zero until the three of us drop anchor, is a mini jungle. The surrounding coral reefs, Irina reports between dives, are full of colorful marine life. I stay in the boat talking baseball with Rossy and imagining what a temptation Puerto Rico must have been for Columbus and his crew when they discovered these islands in 1493. The urge to jump ship and stay must have been hard to resist.