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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayagüez will host Carolina in winter baseball opener

2023-24 season to be dedicated to Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League President Juan A. Flores Galarza

By The Star Staff

Under the motto “The Future Is on the Field” with the aim of highlighting new talent in the island’s ballparks and in commemoration of its 85th anniversary, the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League of Puerto Rico (LBPRC by its Spanish initials) will open its 2023-2024 season on Friday, Nov. 3 at Isidoro García Stadium in Mayagüez, where the defending champion Mayagüez Indians will host the runner-up Carolina Giants.

The LBPRC’s main goal is to motivate Puerto Rican baseball lovers to visit the island’s parks to enjoy family entertainment in a healthy environment.

“We have the participation of six teams and 40 games will be played in the regular series, where the best four teams will go to the postseason,” LBPRC President Juan A. Flores Galarza said in a press release. “It will consist of two best-of-seven semifinals for and the grand final for the best of nine games. We encourage everyone to visit the parks to witness a season that promises to be extremely close.”

Carlos Mercado Santiago, executive director of the Tourism Company, stated that “we value the function of sports tourism as one of the indisputable pillars of the tourism industry, both locally and globally.”

“For this reason, at the Puerto Rico Tourism Company we are proud to contribute to the strengthening of the sector by participating in the celebration of such relevant events, such as the 2023-24 season of the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League,” he said. “This has proven to be an effective tool for the growth of sport and the economic development of Puerto Rico.”

Season dedicated to Orlando Cepeda

The 2023-24 season will be dedicated to Baseball Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. Throughout his 13 seasons with the Cangrejeros de Santurce, Cepeda forged one of the most outstanding performances in the history of the winter league.

He is one of six players to be named Most Valuable Player twice (1958-1959 and 1961-1962); was the batting champion in 1958-59 (.362); the leader in hits in 1957-58 (72); the home run leader in 1957-58 (13) and 1961-62 (19); the leader in RBIs in 1957-58 (45) and 1961-62 (53); the leader in runs scored in 1957-58 (49) and 1958-59 (49); the leader in slugging percentage in 1957-58 (.571), 1958-59 (.623) and 1961-62 (.600); and led the league in doubles in 1958-59 (15).

Additionally, Cepeda hit for the cycle (vs. Ponce on Nov. 19, 1957) and is the only Puerto Rican to hit .300+ in his career and .500+ in slugging percentage. He ranks second in career slugging (.544); fifth place in batting (.323) and ninth place in home runs (89).

Cepeda and his father, Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda, form the first father-son duo to win batting championships in Puerto Rican baseball.

Cepeda has been inducted into 17 halls of fame, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1993, he was awarded the Pedrín Zorrilla Award, and in 2013, he was named one of the 75 greatest players in the history of the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League.

WAPA Deportes will broadcast winter baseball

For the fourth consecutive year, winter baseball will be televised by WAPA Deportes, which will broadcast 12 regular season games beginning with the season opener between Mayagüez and Carolina. Among the dates to be televised, the first weekend will feature the opening game (Nov. 3), the Santurce Crabbers vs. the Carolina Giants (Nov. 4) and the Caguas Criollos vs. the Santurce Crabbers (Nov. 5).

In addition, the channel will broadcast all postseason games including the final series, which will determine the team that will represent Puerto Rico in the 2024 Caribbean Series at LoanDepot Park in Miami.

Two new voices will call the games on WAPA Deportes – Javier Sabath and sports journalist José Encarnación – two young talents who are expected to appeal to the youth audience.

LBPRC modernizes to connect new generations

Among the new features is LBPRC’s own mobile application (app) based on the Major League Baseball model whereby fans can follow their favorite teams, watch all the games with simultaneous updates and check on statistics and news. It is expected that the purchase of tickets for winter league season games can be made via the app at some point during the season.

Likewise, all regular season games will be streamed through the platform and will be free of charge for residents of Puerto Rico. With this technology, all fans of Puerto Rican baseball who live outside the island will now also be able to connect with the winter league.

Children 12 & under continue to enter for free in all parks

To continue attracting fans to the stadiums and offer a healthy and entertaining environment, the LBPRC and its teams have scheduled special activities to promote family enjoyment inside and outside of the action on the field.

Children 12 years old or younger will enter all parks free of charge accompanied by an adult with a paid ticket. In turn, every Sunday, children will be able to enjoy running the bases at the end of the games.

Another initiative will be the celebration of “Roberto Clemente Day,” scheduled for Dec. 21, where players will wear the number 21 on their uniforms in honor of the immortal Hall of Famer. Fifty years after his death, Clemente remains one of the most revered figures in Puerto Rico and a Latin American icon.

More Hall of Fame inductions

For the second straight year, the LBPRC will hold inductions to the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame (SFBPP), which was inactive for 26 years and was revived last year with the purpose of preserving the rich and extensive history of the winter league.

A date for a press conference will be announced soon and the event is expected to take place during December. The SFBPP was established in 1991 by a group of athletes led by Rafael Costas and held four inductions during the period from 1991 to 1996, where 44 baseball figures were inducted.

New names for yearly awards

As part of the plan to reposition and renew the league, it was determined to change the names of the six performance awards to recognize and celebrate some of the most dominant players and leaders with the greatest impact in the history of the LBPRC. Jorge Colón-Delgado, who serves as the league’s historian, has worked during the past few months with the investigation to choose with precise data the candidates for said tribute.

The Most Valuable Player honor will now be called the José “Cheo” Cruz award because of Cruz’s impressive winter league record and because he always played in Puerto Rico even though he was a regular in the Major Leagues with the Houston Astros.

The Rookie of the Year will be renamed the Luis “Canena” Márquez award. Márquez was a recipient of this award and had a spectacular career ranking among the best 10 players in all offensive areas, after earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1944-45.

The Import Player of the Year award will be called the Willard Brown award. Brown, a National Baseball Hall of Famer, was the greatest winter league hitter of all time, the only player to win two triple batting crowns, in 1947-48 and 1949-50; and the only one to win three batting championships, in 1946 -47 (.390), 1947-48 (.432) and 1949-50 (.353), among many other achievements.

The Pitcher of the Year will be named the Juan “Terín” Pizarro award, after the winter league’s lifetime leader in strikeouts, ERA, and shutouts who also won the Triple Crown, among many other feats.

The Reliever of the Year award will now be the Luis “Mambo” de León award, after a player who had a consistent commitment to the winter league, excelling as a starting pitcher and reliever in both the island league and the Caribbean Series.

The Manager of the Year will become the Mako Oliveras award, after the winningest manager in the history of the league with eight championships and two Caribbean series titles.

Meanwhile, a new institutional award will be presented for the first time, the “Luis Rodríguez Olmo” Presidential Award, which will be awarded to the player who, at the discretion of the league president with the endorsement of the board of directors, has demonstrated a continuous and faithful commitment to the LBPRC as a worthy ambassador.

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