If WBC Is Irrelevant, Puerto Rico Missed The Memo
Fans in the States may be mostly ambivalent about the World Baseball Classic but that's not the case in many other countries.
Wise Guides was fortunate to be able to witness this first hand when we took in the game between Puerto Rico and the Netherlands in San Juan.
A boisterous and colorful home crowd cheered Puerto Rico to victory, and it was impossible not to be swept up in the moment.
In actuality we didn't resist, because it was all so much fun.
The crowd settles in at Hiram Bithorn Stadium at the start of the Puerto Rico-Netherlands game
The final game of Pool D in San Juan pitted host Puerto Rico against the upstart Dutch, who had upset the Dominican Republic the night before.
Opening pitch was scheduled for 5 p.m., and that's what was printed on the front of the ticket, but it came about 30 minutes late. And that was a good thing, because many fans were fighting the traffic outside and the long lines at Will Call.
We stood in line for close to a half hour to pick up our tickets, and were pleasantly surprised to find the game had just gotten underway as we settled into our seats. It was a gorgeous evening, with temperatures in the low 70s and a mild breeze.
A standing room only crowd cheers on the home team
While there were groups of empty seats as the game got underway the stadium soon filled up, with many fans standing on the narrow concourse behind the grandstand.
The announced crowd was 19,501, well over the capacity of around 18,500. Fans were quickly energized when Puerto Rico nailed a Dutch runner at the plate in the top of the first and the home team scored a run in the bottom half of the inning to go up 1-0.
The game may have lacked some significance as both teams had already qualified for the WBC's next round and were simply playing for seeding, but you never would have known it from watching the crowd.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan
The ballpark is named for Hiram Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican to break into the Major Leagues when he did so with the Cubs in 1942. It's located in the heart of San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital and largest city, next to the Plaza Las Americas and the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
While the unique zig-zag roof gives it a modern look, the park actually opened in 1962 and it lacks the amenities of newer stadiums as well as any real charm. The playing surface is Field Turf, which is somewhat odd (and to baseball traditionalists, annoying) considering the park's Tropical locale.
The intimacy of the place—there are no truly bad seats because it's so small— and the exuberance of the fans, however, makes up for anything the park lacks physically.
Coors Light and Pina Coladas for all
You read that correctly, $3 for a beer. But it comes with a couple of caveats.
First, it's poured into a cup from a 10-ounce can, which for some strange reason is ubiquitous in Puerto Rico.
Second, it's Coors Light, which has a slightly fuller taste than tap water. But they're one of the WBC's main sponsors and, hey, at $3 a pop we weren't complaining...we were drinking.
Buy two and you've got 20 ounces of brew for $6, which is what you'd pay (at least) for a 12-ounce beer at a park in the States. Beers were easy to come by between the many concession stands and vendors hawking them from plastic tubs they held on their shoulders.
You could also get Pina Coladas, appropriate for the location. The food offerings were uninspiring, mostly the standard hot dogs, pop corn, fries and chicken tenders. There were bags of salty plantain chips that went well with a dog and a beer.
The park was built in 1962 and it showed.
For a Cubs fan used to the atrocious facilities at Wrigley Field (which we love otherwise) it was almost comforting to see that there are other fans out there who still have to wait in absurdly long lines to pee in disgusting restrooms... 'almost comforting' because then we too had to wait in that same line to pee in that same bathroom.
These men aren't even close to the front, although the line did move fairly quickly. Bithorn Stadium is almost 50 years old and it shows in many ways.
Dark clouds over Bithorn Stadium
Green mountains in the distance provide a beautiful backdrop to the park, but dark clouds rolled in as the game wore on, and at one point it began to drizzle.
It just as quickly stopped, however, and had no affect on the game. The fans, too, seemed unconcerned and didn't run for cover, obviously accustomed to the changeable weather of the Tropics.
Fans make noise as Puerto Rico shuts down the Netherlands
The crowd was into the game throughout and roared to its feet several times as Puerto Rico built a 5-0 lead and killed scoring chances by the Dutch.
Fans blew whistles, beat on drums and cow bells, did a variation of the Ole chant heard at futbol matches and performed The Wave. They also waved Puerto Rican flags and slapped thunder sticks together.
It made for a raucous and colorful scene, more akin maybe to an American football game than what you'd experience inside a ballpark in the States.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium
One last look at Hiram Bithorn Stadium after Puerto Rico closed out its 5-0 win.
The party atmosphere continued after the final out as the Puerto Rican team remained on the field and several players draped themselves in the national flag, and danced to music blasted over the loud speakers.
It was the perfect ending to a festive evening at the ballpark. We grabbed a cab and headed to the Old San Juan neighborhood for dinner, happy to have experienced the ballpark and having gained newfound respect for the WBC and what it means to fans in this island nation.