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Major League Baseball in San Juan as a 21st Century Marshall Plan

Op/Ed By George Payne –


georgeThe people of Puerto Rico are rich. The name itself means “Rich Port City,” and it is inspired by John the Baptist. Any narrative that portrays Puerto Rico as a poor, battered, and destroyed Commonwealth has never met someone from Puerto Rico. They are boisterous, determined, and proud. In the most creative and exuberant ways, Puerto Rico is home to a people who can accomplish anything that they put their minds to. They are anything but desperate. What they have never needed before and will never need in the future is for Americans (white Americans especially) to tell them what to do, how to live, and what it means to be successful.

With that preface, in this brief essay I aim to introduce something akin to a modern Marshall Plan for the hurricane-ravished island. Although the idea that I will present is hardly new, the way that this idea should be properly implemented requires a method that has never been seriously considered. It is not a Marshall Plan where rich white Americans give unilateral charity to a hobbled people. This is a Marshall Plan that respects and honors everything beautiful about those who make the island what it is – a place alive with dance, music, painting, food, family, and zest for life. It is also a 21st century Marshall Plan that has a goal of making fortunes for the Caribbean and United States alike. It is a Marshall Plan that is based on relationships, common sense opportunism, and the sheer pleasure of doing something never tried before.

The plan is to finally bring Major League Baseball to San Juan. For decades the idea has been tossed around, but never given a chance. For numerous reasons many people in the baseball world do not believe that it can happen. Economists are even more skeptical. They say it is too costly for teams to travel to the island. They say that the country is too poor and cannot afford to attend games. They say that there is no infrastructure, including a modern MLB stadium. They say that this is an economy that had 46 percent of its population living under the poverty line before Hurricane Maria. They say that the household median income is 19 k less than Detroit. They say that Puerto Rico does not have a corporate base that can support a team; nor do they have the ability to secure a cable deal that will make the franchise profitable over the long run. Logistically speaking, they say that the closest city to San Juan is Miami, which is 2.5 hours by plane. That is farther than the Seattle Mariners. The most isolated city in MLB today, is from Oakland.

These are all reasonable points. But the point of a Marshall Plan is to think big. The point is to take enormous obstacles and turn them into positive aspirations. Every one of the skeptics’ points can be transformed into hugely lucrative opportunities, if approached in the right way. When it comes to bringing Major League Baseball to San Juan, all of the reasons not to do it actually reinforce the case for why it is a great idea.

For starters, there is a gigantic and wildly passionate fan base for the game. The Marlins and Reds have dismal attendance in America. That would not happen in Puerto Rico. Each night would be the hottest ticket in town. It would actually be the hottest ticket all over the Commonwealth; from the west coast to the east coast, Puerto Ricans would find a way to see their national team go up against America’s best, including numerous expatriots. The team would take on a national identity that would make each game feel like a World Cup final. There is no other entertainment on the island that would be more fun to watch on television, attend in person, or listen to on the radio. And don’t even get me started about the potential for internet streaming access. The fact that San Juan has less than 400,000 people is irrelevant. Every game would draw Puerto Ricans from every major metropolis-by bus, car, train, and plane. People would come from nearby islands just to be around the action. San Juan would immediately become an international hub of cultural and sporting enthusiasm.

Tradition-wise, this enterprise makes perfect sense. Just look at the legacy of great players who have come from this part of the world. Names such as Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, the Molina brothers, and today’s generation of superstars, players such as Francisco Lindor, who may be the game’s best all-around player. In fact, 25 percent of active MLB players are from the Caribbean.

Regarding distance, San Juan is closer to Houston and Arlington than Seattle is. It’s only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami. Conceivably, the league could schedule 6 game series (instead of 4 of 4) in San Juan, and then send teams to Arlington, Houston, Miami, and Atlanta. The traveling would not be more intense than what some MLB teams experience today. Plus, air travel technology is getting more sophisticated each year.

The real incentive is economical. As a Marshall Plan, this is ultimately about jobs. Stadium construction and operation jobs. Marketing and sales jobs. Tourism jobs including hotels and restaurants. Transportation jobs. Jobs for baseball players, managers, trainers and others. Don’t forget, every franchise has a farm system that produces lots of jobs. Each farm team could be located in a major Puerto Rico city such as Ponce or Bayamon, or perhaps a Triple A team could be located in Havana or Mexico City, whatever it takes to further endorse professional baseball south of America.

If successful, this new Marshall Plan would bring thousands of good paying and stable jobs, as well as corporate investment to the Commonwealth. Bacardi and Goya could be major founding sponsors, and other corporations would inevitably want to open up new markets in a once cash-strapped environment. Needless to say, Telemundo could provide the cable deal.

Moreover, the plan could also help the MLB expand the game for the first time in a way that is more global and culturally impacting than Toronto and Montreal. For the first time, the baseball season would truly be about reaching the World Series.

Politically, the entire venture could be an incredible boost to U.S.-Puerto Rico relations. The back-and-fourth commerce, travel, cultural exchange, diplomatic cooperation, and free-market ingenuity could be one of the most daring and satisfying projects of the last 100 years, at least since the reconstruction of Europe after WWII. It has the potential to be one of the most dynamic federal-private-commonwealth partnerships ever devised.

Of course, this may require the U.S. government and Major League Baseball to subsidize the building of a stadium, the use of technology and building materials, and access to other American resources. It may mean that the U.S. government and Major League Baseball will need to subsidize tickets, parking fees, food, and even hotel packages for fans. But, so be it. That’s what makes it a Marshall Plan. The point is to spend an astronomical amount of money in order to achieve astronomical profits – and not just in terms of capital gain. The potential that this plan has to make the whole economy of the Western Hemisphere more robust is absolutely stunning.

(George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, residential family counselor, social justice activist, and adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY. He lives and works in Rochester, NY.)

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