Puerto Rican Sports Stars On The Rise

It might be the crack of the bat, the pounding of leather gloves and feet against canvas, or the swoosh of the racket or a netted basketball. There’s some nail-biter of a baseball game, a ferocious basketball battle, or a world class tennis duel going on.

By Peter Martin
« Back

 

 

Whatever sport you’re watching, chances are a star from Puerto Rico is in the middle of it. They don’t call Puerto Rico the All Star Island for nothing. At any place or anytime in the world of professional sports, there is likely to be a Puerto Rico athletic star in the middle of the action.  

So if you are at a club or restaurant, and you see a bunch of screaming boricuas around some televised sports event; feel free to join the impassioned crowd of spectators, who will alternately erupt in gleeful cheers and then slap their hands against their foreheads in disbelief. You don’t have to root for the local team; it’s just so much more fun if you do.

Advertisement

Puerto Ricans have made their marks in everything from baseball to boxing to basketball for decades, and a whole new generation of stars is keeping this small island’s name proudly in the big leagues. And their fan base, in turn, is among the world’s most passionate and loyal.

Since the days of Roberto Clemente, a dominating contingent of Puerto Rican players has excelled in Major League Baseball: Carlos Baerga, Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Juan Gonzalez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and many more. 

Puerto Rico basketball players have also made their mark on the world stage. Carlos Arroyo led the infamous victory of Puerto Rico over the U.S. Dream Team during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and is still a star in Europe. Jose Juan Barea, meanwhile, was an integral part of the Dallas Mavericks team that was world champs in 2011 and plays for the team this season.

Island fans also love their boxing, and there is always a handful of Puerto Rican boxers vying for glory to become the world’s best. Miguel Cotto is the reigning champ of Puerto Ricans, following in the footsteps of the likes of Felix “Tito” Trinidad, Hector “Macho” Camacho, Wilfredo Gomez, and Wilfredo Benitez.

Watching a fight involving a local boxer at a public venue in Puerto Rico is one of the most thrilling experiences in spectator sports. You’ll know when one is going on. Only Christmas Eve rivals a big boxing event for the amount of house parties it sparks in neighborhoods across the island. And nothing but a fight involving a Puerto Rican warrior can explain the screaming and applause that rings through the air around midnight, followed by music and laughter, when things go Puerto Rico’s way. 

Puerto Ricans also excel in track and field events, from running hurdles to wrestling, and are now making their marks in the National Football League, such as wide-receiver Victor Cruz’s big role in the New York Giants Super bowl victory in January 2012. 

Cruz is as known for his salsa dancing victory celebrations as he is for his touchdown catches. And Puerto Rico sports stars going all the way back to Clemente are larger than life personalities, or exceptional persons known for the acts outside their sports as for those within athletic competition. Some like Cruz, and the late boxer Camacho, are as much showmen as sports superstars, and others like Clemente, Delgado, and Beltran, are known for their good deeds and charitable work and commitment to giving back to the communities where they were born.

In Puerto Rico, just when sports fans are mourning the retirement of one of their sports heroes, another one seems to be always born. Puerto Rico’s new generation of sports stars are gracefully accepting the baton of glory from past heroes.

Sports events in Puerto Rico are spectator extravaganzas, where food, drink, and music are also part of the experience. So go ahead and join the fiesta wherever you find one surrounding a large television.  Chances are you will see one of these new stars in action, and like the locals, become a lifelong fan! 

Carlos Correa 
If there is anyone destined for sports superstardom, the humble and soft-spoken, hard-working, and incredibly talented Carlos Correa seems to be it. 

Correa began making history even before entering the big leagues, becoming the first Puerto Rican ever in 2012 to become the No. 1 overall draft pick in Major League Baseball when the Houston Astros saw their future in him.

That future is now; after Correa got the call from Houston last June that he was coming to play in the Big Leagues. He made his mark immediately, hitting in his first game and homering in his second. In fact, he wound up his first month with five homers and 15 RBIs, which he accomplished before his 21st birthday. 

The tall shortstop has been unstoppable since then. Although he only played two thirds of the season, he hit 22 home runs, the most by any MLB shortstop, scored 52 runs, and posted 68 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. He also immediately became one of the best fielding short stops in the game. It’s no wonder his American League baseball players voted him the Rookie of the Year. Sports writers credit Correa’s role as the No. 3 hitter and solid fielder for getting the Astros into the post-season sooner than expected, from the time Correa first played for them. In fact, the future for Correa and his team are extremely bright.  

Correa, at 6 foot 4 and 190 pounds, may be a natural born athlete, but he learned all about baseball and the value of hard work from his parents, while growing up in Santa Isabel’s Barrio Velazquez in Isabela, a humble, flood-prone neighborhood. Teammates say Correa has “incredible poise” and an incredible skill set for being just 21, and has impressed veterans on the team all year. Former coaches, meanwhile, laud his incredible work ethic. 

The shortstop told the island’s current crop of major league hopefuls this year that they can make it, if he can, into the MLB but they would have to work hard to get there. Getting drafted into the MLB is not the end, he said, but the beginning. “If you want success, you have to work for it,” Correa said. 

Correa has already proved what he can do during a fantastic 2015 debut season in the MLB; now his fans are wondering how far this future star can go.

Felix Verdejo
Felix Verdejo Sanchez, a young undefeated lightweight, has racked up an impressive 18-0 record with 13 knockouts since going professional in 2012, following an solid performance in the Olympic Games.  

With both skill and power and charisma, he is already striking comparisons to Trinidad and is seen as the likely successor to Cotto’s reign as Puerto Ricco’s top boxer, which is drawing to a close after a decade on top. 

The biggest sign that Verdejo has arrived was last year’s headline fight at New York’s Madison Square Garden last June on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in the Big Apple, in which he dominated Ivan Najera in a 10-round unanimous decision, knocking down his previously undefeated challenger in the fifth and sixth rounds. 

For Puerto Rican boxers, the Garden is like their home court because of the huge New York City fan base, and no time is this more so than on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade. However, the event is also a big deal back on the island, with Puerto Ricans tuned in across the island, having home parties or gathering broadcasts of the fight at bars and clubs, sports coliseums, and public plazas, where they are shown.

Cotto fought several of his championships at the Garden on the eve of the Parade, mowing down Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah, and Joshua Clottey, among others.

Verdejo’s takeover of the spot means he is about to jump from promising newcomer to world class champion. 

Verdejo knocked out undefeated Lauro Alcantar in 21 seconds, the first of seven victories in 2014, six by knockout.  Commenting on Verdejo’s dominance, Top Rank chief executive Bob Arum has said that Verdejo’s skill, personality, and ring management “ brings a new dimension to the sport,” while former boxing champ Roy Jones Jr. praised his “powerful arsenal” that includes every kind of punch you can imagine. He’s expected to go for a title shot this year. 

Jose Orlando Berrios
While many Puerto Rico natives have made their mark in the MLB, only a handful, including sensational Minnesota Twins prospect Jose Orlando Berrios, are pitchers. 

Berrios has been burning it up in the minor leagues since being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of 2012, working his way up through the different classes and finishing up the 2015 season at the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, with incredible success, striking out a dozen batters in one of his last appearances. He was among a host of late season drafts being considered to be called up, but he will assuredly make his big league debut in 2016 after an impressive run. Berrios also pitched for the Puerto Rico National Team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. 

Berrios is sure to be a key member of Puerto Rico’s 2017 national team, along Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and other members of the current crop of rising baseball stars. Berrios has played practically all positions in baseball, and listed himself as a pitcher when a mentor said it would increase his chances of being drafted.

Afficionados say both his passion for the game and his sheer baseball talent are the real deal.

Francisco Lindor 
Francisco Lindor is another hot Puerto Rican MLB shortstop who debuted in the 2015 season, this time for the Cleveland Indians. In fact, he was called up in June 2015, the same month that the other Puerto Rican short stop sensation was called up by the Houston Astros. Lindor also matched strong fielding skills with strong hitting, getting a .313 season average along in his rookie year. 

Lindor was drafted into the MLB 2011 but has also played in the Puerto Rico winter league, most notably with the Cangrejeros de Santurce, a storied San Juan-based baseball franchise.

Adriana Diaz 
Adriana Diaz has made her mark on the sports world stage at the tender age of 14, as much for her prowess at table tennis as for the poise beyond her years she has shown in representing Puerto Rico in international competitions. 

Diaz is considered one of the 10 best youthful players in the world, and she won two gold medals, a silver and bronze at the 2014 Central American & Caribbean Games. She has played the sport since age five, with both her parents, who are experts at the game, and professional trainers and coaches. Ping Pong is a family affair, with sister Melanie also a skilled table tennis player with a bright future. 

Diaz has also struck a chord with the public, with a local newspaper selecting her personality of the year in 2014. Her achievements are helping to start a ping pong craze in her native island. 

Monica Puig
Tennis star Monica Puig is arguably the most well-traveled of the new crop of Puerto Rico sports starts, and her impassioned play and magnetic personality make her the greatest ambassador in the world for her island home of Puerto Rico. 

Puerto Ricans are also infected with so-called “Pica Power” whenever Puig plays tennis, whether it’s in Casablanca, Key Biscayne, or Singapore. Known as Pica for her hard work ethic, Puig is a major star on the island, with her appearances in major matches heavily followed on the island.

Puig has won seven single titles in international competition, and her world ranking has been as high as 41. Off the court, Puig is also a dog lover who loves going to the beach and just chilling out with her family at home. 

Puerto Rico has produced countless sports stars through the years but there are plenty of dedicated young athletes rising through the ranks soon making a name for them and taking the world by storm.






Advertisement
PUERTO RICO: The authority in medical tourism

PUERTO RICO: The authority in medical tourism

The island is the Caribbean paradise for those who need to heal..
Read more »

 

Must try bites that will make you crave in Puerto Rico

Must try bites that will make you crave in Puerto Rico

There is so much to crave in Puerto Rico's traditional cuisine - outstanding flavor at the right price, often in unmatched mountainside, or beachfront ambiance.
Read more »