After three consecutive “snow-outs” in chilly Minneapolis, the Minnesota Twins will happily move on to warmer weather for a pair of regular season games in Puerto Rico. Hiram Bithorn Stadium will host its first Major League action since 2010 when the New York Mets and Florida Marlins did battle in a 3-game set. The stadium’s namesake, Hiram Bithorn, was the first Puerto Rican-born player in MLB history, and this week’s contests will fittingly see four of the game’s stars return home. And after a Zika scare relocated a series intended to honor Roberto Clemente in 2016 and Hurricane Maria caused significant damage to the stadium last September, it seems that nearly everyone is excited to see baseball return to a place where it’s so near and dear to the local crowd.
Global “showcase” games have become more and more common in Major League Baseball in the last few seasons, including exhibition games in Japan and Cuba, as well as regular season games in Japan and Australia. And fans should get used to it, as it’s already been announced that the Dodgers and Padres will play a series in Mexico in May as part of an ongoing drive for expansion expressed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Purists may hate to see their favorite teams away from their home ballpark, but it’s simply good for the game to reach a more global audience. In fact, with all of the rules changes that are attempting to speed the game up to make it more relatable to young fans that may or may not be interested regardless, it’s nice to see the Commissioner’s office do something that will almost certainly grow MLB popularity and audience size without tarnishing the rules of the game. Don’t get me wrong, changes have to be made to keep baseball alive and current, but perhaps expanding to an international audience is the most effective method of doing so that maintains the overall integrity of the game.
With specific regard to the Twins, it’ll be interesting to see how Jose Berrios, a native of Puerto Rico, handles pitching in front of his home crowd. The Twins have subsequently adjusted their rotation after the snow-outs and subsequent off day to allow Berrios the opportunity, but it comes at the expense of Lance Lynn, who is still yet to leave a real impression of the kind of pitcher he is on Twins fans. Lynn will only have pitched once in 10 days, and although it’s early in the season, it is a bit unusual to see a player without injury receive so much rest. Of course, Lynn has likely thrown side sessions or even a simulated game to stay within in his routine, but it is worth noting how much time off he’s had when it’s time for his next start.
Aside from Berrios, left fielder Eddie Rosario, who spent much of this past offseason in his hometown supporting relief efforts for a devastated city of Guayama, will also have a chance to show off in a rather emotional return, as will a pair of Indians, including shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher Roberto Perez. Out of the lengthy 162-game schedule, there’s no doubt that there’s room in the future for more international games for all 30 clubs. Don’t be surprised to see even more regular season games outside the U.S. and Canada in the near future, baseball fans.