Major League Baseball in San Juan as a 21st Century Marshall Plan
The people of Puerto Rico are rich. The name itself means “Rich Port City.” Any narrative that portrays Puerto Rico as a poor, battered, and inept Commonwealth has never met someone from Puerto Rico. They are vivacious, intuitive, hardworking, and self-reliant. 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 manifesto 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 Americans give unilateral charity to a desolated population of victims. 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, love of 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 mutual awareness, fostering 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 by journalists, corporate executives, sports pundits, and international relations buffs; but it is rarely given a fair chance by any of them. For various reasons, the vast majority of people in the baseball world do not believe that this idea can actually happen. Economists are even more skeptical. These detractors 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 and that their collective debt exceeds 70 billion. They say that Puerto Rico does not have a corporate base that can support a team; nor 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, which is farther than the Seattle Mariners (the most isolated city in MLB today) is from Oakland. And they say there is too much corruption, too many vulture funds, too many municipal boards, and too few people paying taxes.
Although these are all reasonable points to make, the point of a Marshall Plan is to think big. The point is to take enormous obstacles and turn them into exciting possibilities. If approached in the right way, every one of the skeptics’ counterarguments can be viewed and transformed into lucrative opportunities. As I see it, when it comes to bringing Major League Baseball to San Juan, all of the reasons not to do it actually reinforces the case for why it is a great idea. After-all, this is not about more resorts, more mega projects with parking lots, and more ecological destruction. Bringing MLB to Puerto Rico is about rewriting the story of exploitation, providing more representation to the citizens of this beautiful island, and opening up revenue streams that are in accordance with the desires of most people choosing to live there.
For starters, it is indisputable that there is a 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. Truth be told, it would 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 match. Yes, boxing, surfing, chicken fighting, and tennis are popular on the island, but there is no other entertainment that would be more fun to watch on television, attend in person, or listen to on the radio. Don’t even get me started about the potential for internet streaming. This remarkable fandom makes the fact that San Juan has less than 400,000 people irrelevant. Every game would draw Puerto Ricans from every metropolis in the region. By bus, car, train, ferry, and plane, people would come from nearby islands just to be around the action. Almost overnight, San Juan would go from being a historic and charming resort town, to an an international hub of cultural and sporting enthusiasm.
Tradition-wise, this enterprise makes perfect sense. Imported around the turn of the century by plantation owners as a leisure activity for coffee and sugarcane harvesters, beisbol quickly caught fire. Today the game has an illustrious legacy that has produced a number of legendary players including Ruben Sierra, Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, the Molina brothers, and young, contemporary superstars 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. As mentioned, it’s only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami. Conceivably, the league could schedule 6 game series (instead of 3 or 4 game series) in San Juan, and then send teams to relatively nearby American cities such as Arlington, Houston, Miami, and Atlanta. If planned wisely, the traveling involved would not be more intense than what some MLB teams already experience. Not to mention, air travel and sea travel is getting more sophisticated each year. What if there was a hoover craft that could take people from Miami to San Juan? What if there is a tunnel built? The future is wide open for those who are not afraid to dream.
The immediate incentives are obviously based on economic reward potential. 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 other people connected with running a professional franchise. Don’t forget, every franchise has a farm system that produces more jobs. Each farm team could be located in a major Puerto Rico city such as Ponce, Bayomon, and Carolina (places that already have well established teams), 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 to a Commonwealth that could severely use them; it would also bring corporate investment that comes with its own safeguards, oversight procedures, and transparencies. Corporate sponsorship would not be a problem. Bacardi and Goya could be founding sponsors, and other corporations throughout Latin America and North America would inevitably jump on the opportunity to open up new markets. Telemundo and ESPN could provide the necessary cable deal.
And let’s not lose sight of the symbolic power behind this venture. The plan would help MLB expand the game in a way that is more global than Toronto and Montreal. For the first time, the baseball season would truly be about reaching the World Series.
Politically, this would be an incredible boost to U.S.-Puerto Rico relations, which have been fractured by both historical and current abuses. Moving forward with confidence and goodwill, the back-and-fourth commerce, travel, cultural exchange, diplomatic cooperation, and free-market ingenuity could make this one of the most daring and satisfying joint projects between these two nations ever carried out. At the risk of hyperbole, I believe that 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, lend the use of technology and building materials for other infrastructure projects, and open up access to other American resources including lines of credit, scientific and technological research, and savvy advisers with media experience. It may mean that the U.S. government and Major League Baseball will need to subsidize tickets, parking, food, and even hotel packages for fans all over the island and beyond. 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 cultural ecology of the western hemisphere more self sufficient, self-determined, and exciting to partner with is worth almost any price tag.
(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.)