Baseball is a truly American sport. But don't look to theExpos in America's big leagues to prove the point. Thebaseball team, which is currently based in Montreal,Canada, will try to improve its attendance and profits thisyear by playing 22 of its 81 "home" games in, of all places,San Juan, Puerto Rico. Canada's loss is Puerto Rico's gainâ€”San Juan is now big league.
SUN, SEA, AND BASEBALL
Why are the Expos heading forthe sun, sea, and sand of PuertoRico? They need a little more companyinside their stadium when theyplay home games. Last season, theyattracted a lamentable 812,000-plusfans to Montreal's Olympic stadiumâ€”such a sorry annual figure that, in2004, the franchise will probably besold to the Washington, DC, area orPortland, Ore.
When the team's owners beganscanning the hemisphere for hungryaudiences of baseball fans looking fortop-quality play, San Juan became anobvious choice. There are 4-millionpeople in Puerto Rico, all closeenough to drive into town for agame, and 1.5 million people in SanJuan. More to the point, they knowtheir .
Winter ball, which is played inPuerto Rico between the months ofOctober and March (ie, between theAmerican World Series and springtraining), is a longtime Puerto Ricantradition. Many of the island's bestyoung players end up in theAmerican majors. For the severalPuerto Rican players on the Exposroster, it's a dream come true: achance to play meaningful gamesbefore all their hometown family,friends, and neighbors.
San Juan's fans will not only see strut their stuff, they'll alsowelcome the world champion CaliforniaAngels to their Puerto Ricoballpark, plus the New York Mets,Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds,Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, andChicago Cubs. It's a summer-long,big league fiesta that will keep and sales in the grandstandhigh throughout the season.
GRAND SLAM ATTRACTIONS
Suddenly in the big leagues, SanJuan is a city that is changing by theday. It's the oldest city in the WesternHemisphere, and now, increasingly,the newest. A huge hole downtown isto become a spacious, new conventioncenter by 2005, which will bringlarge conclaves to the island. Upscalevisitors tend to gravitate toward thenew, 414-room Ritz-Carlton Hotel,Spa & Casino (787-253-1700; www.ritzcarlton.com/hotels/san_juan) andsome of the older casino-hotelsstrung out along Condado Beach.
The hottest hotel in town is the2-year-old Water Club (787-728-3666), which is unabashedly a cloneof the chic South Beach Miami boutiquehotels. Two always-busy nightclubs,1 in its lobby and 1 on its roof,sandwich 84 postmodern rooms.Adult toys are everywhere, includingwater pistols filled with tequila left onthe pillows and gumball machines inthe halls. Of course, for the morelaidback traveler, there's the sedate ElConvento (787-723-9020), whichdates back to 1646, when Carmelitesisters were housed there. Its luxurious58 rooms and suites have earned5 stars from the major guidebooks.
Wherever you eat in San Juan,expect the waitresses to be JenniferLopez look-alikes and the waitersgroomed like Ricky Martin. PuertoRicans never miss the chance to tellvisitors that their local beauties havewon 5 Miss Universe and MissWorld crowns. The best place to seelocal beauties dancing to the latestsalsa rhythms is the Wyndham elSan Juan Hotel & Casino (787-721-5100; www.wyndham.com/hotels/SJUES/main.wnt), where the seethingBabylon dance floor is edged bya wraparound balcony.
San Juan's foodies rave about theSoFo districtâ€”the Old City sectionsouth of Calle Fortaleza. Here thestreets are paved with blue-hued cobblestones,which came over fromSpain as ballast in old sailing galleons.And they're lined by restaurantslike Aguaviva (787-722-0665),where the "mahi mango seviche" hasearned rave reviews, and the DivinoBocadito (787-977-0042; www.divinobocadito.com), which boasts avariety of tapas to accompany itschilled pitchers of crimson sangria.
The US dollar is the local currency,and just about everyoneunderstands English. For freebrochures and tour information,call toll-free 800-874-1230, 800-815-7391, 800-223-6530, or visitwww.gotopuertorico.com.