Chronological Tour: Stop 266

A Home Away from Home

Home plate entrance and ticket windows at Estadio Hiram Bithorn, Sep-2003.

A good view of the seating bowl and unusual roof, from the third-base grandstand.

The field during the national anthem ceremony.

Quick Facts: Rating: 3 baseballs
Major League Baseball has had its eyes on the possibility of placing a team on the island of Puerto Rico for quite some time. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War of 1898 and has enjoyed the status of a freely associated independent state since 1952. With the number of professional players who come from the Greater Antilles and the passion the islands have for the game, San Juan – Puerto Rico’s capital – would be a logical place to go.

The 2001 season opened with a game between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays at Estadio Hiram Bithorn, a facility named for the first Puerto Rican to play in Major League Baseball. When the Montréal Expos found themselves without an owner in 2002, the commissioner agreed to allow the Expos to play 22 games of their 2003 and 2004 home schedules at the Bithorn. MLB returns here for three Florida Marlins games during the 2010 season.

Architecturally, the Bithorn is unusual. The first thing a fan might notice will be the zigzag roof – which is even more zigzagged once you're in the seating bowl, as the inside diameter is shorter. The second may well be the light towers, which are tilted inward. The seating bowl itself is not that different: ten rows of palcos (box seats), followed by a cross aisle and general admission seating above it. For the Expos’ series, about two-thirds of the seats above the cross aisle were sold as reserved seating.

The biggest trouble I observed with the park is that certain of its facilities appear inferior. The numbers on the main scoreboard are a bit too small to see, with the exception of the ones for the count, outs, batter, and average – and often the numbers for the batter’s average are inaccurate. The video board is erratic, and a matrix board under the main scoreboard is completely inactive. The sound system is muffled, which makes it very difficult to understand the names of players entering the game – important when their names often don’t appear on the matrix board. Finally, the announcement of starting lineups is a very low priority; in fact, the Expos’ starters were announced in defensive order, not in batting order.

Another complaint I had about the Expos games was that ticket sales were being handled by an independent contractor called Ticketpop, who imposed a $3 service charge on each ticket even if it was purchased at the box office. And the ticket prices were high enough; the minimum price for a seat in the seating bowl rather than in the bleachers was $25 ($28 including the service charge). Fortunately, parking was free, and plentiful if one included the Plaza de los Americas shopping mall across the street. In addition, concession prices were quite reasonable, with bottled water going for $2, for example.

In all, this is a functional minor league park that needs a lot of work, or needs to be completely abandoned in favor of a new facility, if Major League Baseball is to move in permanently. Ironically, even the Puerto Rico fall/winter league found itself without a team at the Bithorn after the 2004 season; the 2007 Serie del Caribe was held at Clemente Stadium in Carolina, about 10 miles to the east.

Game # Date League Level Result
646 Sat 6-Sep-2003 National MLB Florida 14, MONTRÉAL 4
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