Over the decades, Puerto Rico has made an indelible imprint on the history of Major League Baseball, but a quick glance at any current team roster leaves no doubt that Boricuas’ dominance has been eclipsed. These days, nearby countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and even Cuba are fielding more players, and Puerto Rico briefly lost its famed winter league due to shrinking attendance a few years back.
Island officials attribute this dwindling representation to a change in MLB rules that instated the draft in Puerto Rico back in 1990. Prior to that, Puerto Rican players could enter as free agents like their counterparts in DR and Venezuela, which incentivized pro teams to set up academies and develop homegrown talent on the island. Now, Puerto Rican peloteros are thrown into a highly competitive nationwide draft system that simply isn’t cost-effective for talent development.
The numbers are revealing – in 1989, 47 Puerto Rican players were signed in the Major Leagues. In recent years it’s been closer to 15. But Boricuas aren’t about to sit back and watch their dominance slip away, and just this week several new initiatives were rolled out that may set the island up for a renaissance of the bat-and-ball.
For starters, the MLB announced together with the Major League Baseball Player’s Association that they’ve committed $5 million dollars toward the support and creation of baseball development programs on the island, and they’ll be bringing regular season play to local stadiums to satisfy Boricuas’ hunger for high-level play.
To boot, the central mountain town of Comerío has just inaugurated Puerto Rico’s first public baseball high school, which will provide specialized training and development for 73 local players in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico – Bayamón. The school will stand alongside private programs in the towns of Gurabo, Florida, and Ceiba, and standout players will have further development options with the UPR-Bayamón’s university league team los Vaqueros.
With so much new attention being given to local talent, one can only hope this is the start of a new era in Puerto Rican baseball. But whatever the ultimate outcome of these initiatives, it’s further proof that even through adversity, Boricuas are fighting to shape their own destiny.