Red Sox, ALCS Astros game provides 'proud moment' for Puerto Rico

HOUSTON – During a lull in the sixth round of American League Championship Series Game 1 Friday , as the referees settled a game, Housto...


HOUSTON – During a lull in the sixth round of American League Championship Series Game 1 Friday, as the referees settled a game, Houston Astros wide receiver Martín Maldonado returned to his position behind the plate. While waiting for his turn at bat, Boston Red Sox wide receiver Christian Vázquez slapped Maldonado on the chest and threw his arm around him.

Although they are rivals in search of a place in the World Series, they are close friends. But so do several others on the Astros and Red Sox. The Connection: Maldonado, 35, and Vázquez, 31, are from Puerto Rico, whose population of over three million is well represented in this game.

The manager of the Red Sox is Alex Cora, from Caguas, PR. The stars of Houston’s 5-4 win in Game 1 were also Puerto Rican: The Carlos Correa Astros shortstop, who broke the blast of the go-ahead, and Red Sox center fielder Kiké Hernández, who clubbed two home runs. After two more hits in a 9-5 win over Boston in Game 2, Hernández hit an impressive 0.500 (16 for 32) in the playoffs. Three coaches were also born there: Red Sox first goal coach Ramón Vázquez; Astros bench coach Joe Espada; and Astros hitting coach Alex Cintrón.

“It’s super cool,” Christian Vázquez said in Spanish, “and I’m so happy to play a series with a lot of Puerto Ricans.”

A total of eight players and coaches on the field and in the canoes of this 2018 ALCS rematch were born in Puerto Rico. This does not include Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo, born in Florida and of Puerto Rican descent. That also doesn’t include Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, a San Juan native who took a moment standing in the visitors’ dugout at Minute Maid Park to understand its significance.

“It’s a huge proud moment for his return to Puerto Rico,” he said, adding that he had heard from so many family and friends on the island afterwards. Red Sox upset seeded Tampa Bay Rays in the previous round.

“It’s one of the funniest things: you get congratulatory messages from the family, but mostly from Kiké and Christian and Arroyo and Alex,” he continued. “They are so proud to be on this stage. And I’m sure it’s the same for all Puerto Ricans involved.

Baseball is part of the fabric of Puerto Rico. It produced the fourth-largest group of players born outside the continental United States (18) on the 2021 opening day rosters, according to Major League Baseball figures, behind the Dominican Republic (98), Venezuela (64) and Cuba (19), which have larger populations.

Five players of Puerto Rican descent are in the Baseball Hall of Fame: first baseman Orlando Cepeda, second baseman Roberto Alomar, wide receiver Ivan Rodriguez, designated hitter Edgar Martinez and outfielder Roberto Clemente, who is considered one of the greatest players of all time, regardless of his background, and was the first Latin American player inducted into the Hall, in 1973.

Since 1989, when the MLB began including Puerto Rico, a Commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year draft – rather than continuing to allow amateurs to sign as free agents, as they do in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela – many indicated this as a reason for the shrinking pipeline. The number, however, has recently increased: 20 Puerto Rican-born players were part of the opening day squads in 2020, the highest total since 2011.

“We didn’t make the adjustment about the draft,” said Cora, 45, who was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the University of Miami in the third round of the 1996 draft. “C ‘ is the main thing. People can say it’s the obstacle for us not to produce more players, but the draft has always been there. We need to do a better job of preparing our student-athletes – speaking of high school kids – to be ready for scholarships in Division I schools. And if we do that, then the draft is working to our advantage, not isn’t it? “

Considering the number of Puerto Ricans in MLB, having so many showdowns in this round meant a lot to the players and coaches, as well as their families and fans. Hernández, 30, said everyone was supportive, “but nobody misses the playoffs in Puerto Rico.”

“There are going to be a lot of people back home watching this show, there are going to be a lot of full restaurants,” said Espada, 46, who was born in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. “And at home too. My parents live there.

When Hernández was with the Dodgers, he was often the only Puerto Rican on the roster. His team fell in the World Series at the 2017 Astros now tainted, which presented Carlos beltran, Correa, Cora and Cintrón. And in 2018, the Hernández team lost the World Series again, this time to the Red Sox, led by Christian Vázquez and Cora.

Now in Boston with Cora and the others, Hernández shone as an everyday player, and he joked that he was happy to have the Puerto Rican advantage. “I feel good to be on the Puerto Rican side and to have the support of Puerto Rico, not just for me as a player but for the team I belong to,” said Hernández, who ultimately won a World Series ring last year with the Crooks.

“The streak before was a lot of Cubans,” added Correa, 27, referring to the Astros’ last playoff round against the Chicago White Sox, which had seven Cuban-born players. “This series is a lot of Boricuas.”

While the diversity on the pitch isn’t always reflected in leadership roles in the major leagues – Cora was one of four Latino managers in baseball during the 2021 season, and the Detroit Tigers’ Al Avila is the only Latino. running a baseball operations department – Romero said he liked that several Puerto Ricans in the series weren’t just players.

“We have a manager, bench coaches involved, first base coaches,” said Romero, whose father played for the Red Sox in the 1980s. “It shows that it goes beyond the playing field and that these guys are talented enough to be successful in other areas.”

Espada said Puerto Ricans on both sides take the meaning of the series “very seriously”. While most Puerto Ricans on both teams know each other well – in fact, most Puerto Ricans in baseball do – Espada said they won’t talk or text a lot until the end of the season. series.

Before it started, Correa and Cora were sending each other congratulatory messages. And when Cora was out of baseball last year serving a suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing plan, Espada was monitoring him via text.

Keeping a certain distance could be more difficult for Christian Vázquez and Maldonado, who are particularly close. They play at the same position and were teammates on the Indios de Mayagüez in a Puerto Rican winter league. And Vázquez said they keep in frequent contact over a text channel with all Puerto Rican major league receivers. Other active major league receivers on the island include Yadier Molina of St. Louis, Victor Caratini of San Diego and Roberto Perez of Cleveland.

“You wish them the best,” Vázquez said of his Puerto Rican counterparts on the Astros, “but at the end of the day you want to win.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Red Sox, ALCS Astros game provides 'proud moment' for Puerto Rico
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