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Now is the Time to Bring Major League Baseball to San Juan
by George Cassidy Payne
2018-07-07 05:17:19
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Any narrative that portrays Puerto Rico as a poor, battered, and inept Commonwealth has never met someone from Puerto Rico. They are vivacious, intuitive, hardworking, and self-reliant. In the most creative and exuberant ways, Puerto Rico is home to a people who can accomplish anything that they put their minds to. They are anything but desperate.

majorl001_400With that said, it is time to finally bring Major League Baseball to San Juan. For decades the idea has been lobbed around but rarely given a fair chance. For various reasons, the vast majority of people in the baseball world do not believe that this idea can happen. Economists and international relations experts are even more skeptical. These detractors say it is too costly for teams to travel to the island. They say that the country is too poor and cannot afford to attend games. They say that there is no infrastructure, including a modern MLB stadium. They say that this is an economy that had 46 percent of its population living under the poverty line before Hurricane Maria. They say that the household median income is 19 k less than Detroit and that their collective debt exceeds 70 billion. They say that Puerto Rico does not have a corporate base that can support a team, nor the ability to secure a cable deal that will make the franchise profitable over the long run. Logistically speaking, they say that the closest city to San Juan is Miami, which is 2.5 hours by plane. Finally, they say there is too much corruption, too many vulture funds, too many municipal boards, and too few people paying taxes.

Although these are all reasonable arguments against bringing MLB to the island, if approached in the right way, every one of the skeptics’ arguments can be viewed as lucrative opportunities. As I see it, when it comes to bringing Major League Baseball to San Juan, all of the reasons not to do it actually reinforces the case for why it is a great idea.

For starters, it is indisputable that there is a wildly passionate fan base for the game in Puerto Rico. The Marlins and Reds have dismal attendance in America. That would not happen in Puerto Rico. Each night would be the hottest ticket in town. Truth be told, it would be the hottest ticket all over the Commonwealth. From the west coast to the east coast, Puerto Ricans would find a way to see their national team go up against America’s best, including numerous expatriots. The team would take on a national identity that would make each game feel like a World Cup match. Boxing, surfing, chicken fighting, and tennis are popular on the island, but there is no other entertainment that would be more fun to watch on television, attend in person, or listen to on the radio. The potential for internet streaming is immense. The fact that San Juan has less than 400,000 people irrelevant. Every game would draw Puerto Ricans from every metropolis in the region. By bus, car, train, ferry, and plane, people would come from nearby islands just to be around the action. Almost overnight, San Juan would go from being a historic and charming resort destination, to an international hub of cultural and sporting enthusiasm.

Tradition-wise, this enterprise makes perfect sense. Imported around the turn of the century by plantation owners as a leisure activity for coffee and sugarcane harvesters and slaves, beisbol quickly caught fire. Today the game has an illustrious legacy that has produced a number of legendary players including Ruben Sierra, Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, the Molina brothers, and young, contemporary superstars such as Francisco Lindor. (In fact, 25 percent of active MLB players are from the Caribbean.)

Regarding the distance problem, San Juan is closer to Houston and Arlington than Seattle is. Conceivably, the league could schedule 6 game series (instead of 3 or 4 game series) in San Juan, and then send teams to relatively nearby American cities such as Arlington, Houston, Miami, and Atlanta. The traveling involved would be no more intense than what some MLB teams already go through. Not to mention, air travel and sea travel is getting more sophisticated each year. What if there was a hoover craft that could take people from Miami to San Juan? How about a tunnel? The future is wide open for those who are not afraid to dream.

The most immediate incentives would be economic reward potential. As an addition to the current proposed Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico, this is about jobs. Stadium construction and operation jobs. Marketing and sales jobs. Tourism jobs including hotels and restaurants. Transportation jobs. Jobs for baseball players, managers, trainers and other people connected with running a professional franchise. Every franchise has a farm system that creates hundreds of jobs. Perhaps each farm team could be located in a major Puerto Rico city such as Ponce, Bayomon, and Carolina (places that already have well established professional teams). Thinking outside of the box, a Triple A team could be located in Havana or Mexico City.

This would bring thousands of good paying and stable jobs to a Commonwealth that could severely use them; it would also bring corporate investment that comes with its own safeguards, oversight procedures, and transparencies. Corporate sponsorship would not be a problem. Bacardi and Goya could be founding sponsors, and other corporations throughout Latin America and North America would inevitably jump on the opportunity to open up new markets. Telemundo and ESPN could provide the necessary cable deal.

And let’s not lose sight of the symbolic power behind this venture. The plan would help MLB expand the game in a way that is more global than Toronto and Montreal. For the first time, the baseball season would truly be about reaching the World Series.

Politically, this would be an incredible boost to U.S.-Puerto Rico relations, which have been fractured by both historical and current abuses. Moving forward with confidence and goodwill, the back-and-fourth commerce, travel, cultural exchange, diplomatic cooperation, and free-market ingenuity could make this one of the most daring and satisfying joint projects between these two nations ever carried out. At the risk of hyperbole, I believe that it has the potential to be one of the most dynamic federal-private-commonwealth partnerships ever devised.

Of course, this may require the U.S. government and Major League Baseball to subsidize the building of a stadium, lend the use of technology and building materials for other infrastructure projects, and open up access to other American resources including lines of credit, scientific and technological research, and savvy advisers with media experience. It may mean that the U.S. government and Major League Baseball will need to subsidize tickets, parking, food, and even hotel packages for fans all over the island and beyond. So be it. That’s what makes it a Marshall Plan. The point is to spend an astronomical amount of money in order to achieve astronomical profits – and not just in terms of capital gain. The potential that this plan has to make the whole cultural ecology of the western hemisphere more self- sufficient, self-determined, and exciting to partner with is worth almost any price tag.

George Payne is an independent writer and adjunct professor of philosophy at the State University of New York (SUNY).

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