‘Peo­ple are still suf­fer­ing’

MLB re­turns to San Juan, months af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria rav­aged the city

The Progress-Index - - SPORT TICKER - By Tim Reynolds

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hi­ram Bithorn’s statue is no longer stand­ing. The sta­dium bear­ing his name is ready to bus­tle again.

That’s an apt way to show how things are right now in Puerto Rico, which is about to host its most sig­nif­i­cant sport­ing events since Hur­ri­cane Maria dra­mat­i­cally rav­aged the is­lands seven months ago. Ma­jor League Base­ball re­turns Tues­day to San Juan, with Cleveland and Min­nesota open­ing a two-game se­ries that many hope will re­mind the rest of the world that re­cov­ery from the storm is far from over.

“I hate to say it, but this is a great plat­form, so peo­ple can see the re­al­ity,” said Bos­ton Red Sox man­ager Alex Cora, a na­tive Puerto Ri­can and some­one who bought tick­ets to In­di­ans-Twins for his fam­ily — and wishes it was his team play­ing in San Juan this week. “We’re much bet­ter than six, seven months ago, when­ever it was. But we’ve still got work to do.”

The ev­i­dence of that is ev­ery­where in San Juan, and only be­comes more preva­lent as one ven­tures into more re­mote ar­eas of the is­lands.

Blue tarps still cover count­less roofs that were dam­aged. Many elec­tronic signs along ma­jor high­ways aren’t work­ing, traf­fic lights re­main out even in some of San Juan’s more up­scale ar­eas, and around the air­port there are tow­er­ing palm trees that no longer stand straight — they’re curved, yet an­other re­minder of the wind that lashed into them.

Bithorn, the first Puerto Ri­can to play in the ma­jors, was com­mem­o­rated by a statue out­side the sta­dium where the Twins and In­di­ans will play. The statue blew over in the storm, land­ing face-first on the con­crete. The mas­sive base of the statue is still there, but the bronze replica of Bithorn in uni­form is nowhere to be found.

“Peo­ple are still suf­fer­ing over there,” Hous­ton Astros star short­stop Car­los Cor­rea, who hails from Puerto Rico, said Sun­day. “And to be able to bring base­ball, the sport that we love the most, back to my home­town — it’s go­ing to be amaz­ing. A lot of peo­ple are look­ing for­ward to it. I’m pretty sure it’s sold out al­ready and it’s go­ing to be a lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for a lot of kids who can’t travel to the United States to watch a big league game.”

Maria was the third-costli­est hur­ri­cane in U.S. history, hitting Puerto Rico as a high-end Cat­e­gory 4 storm on Sept. 20. It ar­rived with 155 mph winds, barely be­low the thresh­old for Cat­e­gory 5 sta­tus. Hur­ri­canes weaken over land, when they’re not draw­ing en­ergy from warm wa­ter to fuel their wrath, but wind speeds when Maria was done with her path across the is­land were merely down to about 110 mph.

Maria was blamed for 65 deaths in Puerto Rico. But that fig­ure is way too low to be fully ac­cu­rate; even the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter, in its re­cently re­leased re­port on the storm, said it “should be noted that hun­dreds of ad­di­tional in­di­rect deaths in Puerto Rico may even­tu­ally be at­trib­uted to Maria’s af­ter­math pend­ing the re­sults of an of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment re­view.”

As far as the cost, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands alone Maria is es­ti­mated to have caused up to $115 bil­lion in dam­age.

“There are thou­sands of peo­ple still with noth­ing over there,” Cor­rea said. “No house. No roof. No power. No food. No wa­ter. And we still need to help.”

A pair of base­ball games won’t fix all the is­sues, of course.

But the mere sense of nor­malcy, in ab­nor­mal times, will help.

“We have a chance to have in­flu­ence,” Twins man­ager Paul Moli­tor said. “Some of it is re­source, some of it is just, you put your words and your pres­ence there and it brings sig­nif­i­cance to the ef­forts that are on­go­ing. So MLB, the Twins and the In­di­ans have all done a good job of co­or­di­nat­ing as many things as we can dur­ing the course of those three days with­out de­tract­ing from the fact that we’re there to play base­ball.”

The Twins, the In­di­ans, MLB of­fi­cials and Base­ball Hall of Famers — some, like Roberto Alo­mar, are from Puerto Rico; some, like Cal Rip­ken Jr., are not — will be across the is­land this week. Clin­ics for kids will be held. Money will be raised and dis­trib­uted. Sup­plies will be left be­hind. Twins em­ploy­ees are plan­ning to aid work­ers try­ing to re­store wa­ter and power. In­di­ans CEO Paul Dolan will help plant na­tive trees to re­place some those that were de­stroyed.

And then for 18 in­nings or so on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, the 18,000 fans at Hi­ram Bithorn Sta­dium will get to cheer again.

“It’s al­ways good to have a re­minder that we have work to do,” Cora said. “Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize it. There’s peo­ple in the moun­tains that have no wa­ter, no power. It’s been like six, seven months. That’s tough. Some­times (in the U.S.) we com­plain that we don’t have power for three days and we’re go­ing nuts. Imag­ine hav­ing that.”

“I hate to say it, but this is a great plat­form, so peo­ple can see the re­al­ity. We’re much bet­ter than six, seven months ago, when­ever it was. But we’ve still got work to do.” Bos­ton Red Sox man­ager Alex Cora

FILE PHOTO] [CAR­LOS GIUSTI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Homes in the Can­tera area of San Juan, Puerto Rico, are cov­ered with FEMA tarps, while build­ings from the Hato Rey area stand in the back­ground. Ma­jor league base­ball re­turns to Puerto Rico when the Cleveland In­di­ans and Min­nesota Twins face off in a...

PRESS] [CHARLES KRUPA/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED

Bos­ton Red Sox man­ager Alex Cora calls back to­ward his dugout dur­ing the third in­ning of Wed­nes­day’s game against the New York Yan­kees at Fen­way Park in Bos­ton.

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