Since 2013, the Caribbean Series has introduced numerous changes to the event. These include switching from a strict six-game round-robin format to a three-part tournament with a semifinal and final round, and welcoming countries that were not part of the first 44 years of the series’ Second Stage (1970-present), after the 10-year hiatus following the First Stage (1949-60).
The 62nd Caribbean Series, to be held Saturday through next Friday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has more changes in store. One country will be making its series debut, while another will be absent for the first time in seven years. Another novelty will be the format of three games per day in the qualifying round.
Here are five things to know about the 2020 Caribbean Series between the winter ball champions of Puerto Rico (Cangrejeros de Santurce), the Dominican Republic (Toros del Este), Mexico (Tomateros de Culiacán), Venezuela (Cardenales de Lara), Panama (Astronautas de Chiquirí) and Colombia (Vaqueros de Montería).
New blood in the tournament
One year after Panama’s debut in the Second Stage (it had been a staple of the First Stage from 1949-60), Colombia will follow in its neighbor’s footsteps as a guest participant (not a full member of the Confederation) in the series.
Following several years of attempting to break into the Caribbean Series (and long term, form part of the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation), Colombia will field a team in the tournament for the first time it its history. The Vaqueros de Montería, champions of the Colombian Professional Baseball League, are managed by Ozney Guillén -- son of former Major League manager Ozzie Guillén. The younger Guillén managed the Tri-City ValleyCats (Class A Short-Season) in the Astros’ Minor League system last year.
“The participation of Colombia in the 62nd Caribbean Series is a great achievement, not only for the Caribbean Baseball Confederation, but for the Colombian League,” said Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, president of the Confederation.
Cuba absent for the first time in six years
It was because of Cuba not playing in this year’s tournament that a spot opened up for Colombia. According to the Confederation, problems securing visas on time for the Cuban delegation is the reason that the country will miss the event for the first time in seven years.
Cuba was a powerhouse of the tournament in its First Stage, but since its return as a guest participant, the country’s teams have produced mixed results.
In 2015, its champion, Pinar del Río, won the tournament in San Juan, but only after winning the semifinal and final following a 1-3 record in the qualifying stage. In total, Cuban teams have a 13-17 mark in Caribbean Series play since their return in 2014, with two championship games played and one title.
Despite Cuba not participating in this year’s tournament, the Confederation has not ruled out the possibility of its returning to the event next year in Mazatlán, Mexico.
Three games per day in qualifying round
For the first time, there will be three games per day in the five-day qualifying round. With six teams in a format that includes one-game semifinals and a championship game, the Confederation chose this path in order to condense the qualifying round into five days.
According to Puello Herrera, the three-game format is here to stay.
“It’s a challenge to play three games per day, but I think that it’s beneficial because with the inclusion of new teams, we’re giving the event an international magnitude,” he said. “We’re establishing conditions that will be part of the next few Caribbean Series.”
Celebrating Puerto Rico’s 1995 “Dream Team”
As in 2015 -- the last time the Caribbean Series was held at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium -- Puerto Rico’s 1995 “Dream Team” will be honored on Saturday, the tournament’s opening day.
The San Juan Senators represented Puerto Rico that year with a squad consisting of future Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and Edgar Martínez, among many other Major League stars. The Senators cruised to a 6-0 record to sweep the tournament.
Many of that team’s players are expected to be on hand Saturday for the ceremony.
“It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get together again 10, 12 players of that quality we had,” said Carlos Delgado, who was just starting his Major League career at the time and was a catcher on the Dream Team. “I was like a little kid in a toy store that year, with that ‘modest’ team.
“I was just trying to make the Major Leagues and when I’d go in that clubhouse, I’d see Roberto Alomar, Juan González, Rubén Sierra, Carlos Baerga, Carmelo Martínez. I said, ‘I want to be like them.’”
Hall of Fame, Classes of 2019 and 2020
When the 2019 Caribbean Series was moved at the last minute from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to Panama City, the event’s Hall of Fame ceremony was cancelled. Therefore, Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel, Baudilio “Bo” Díaz and Luis Sojo, last year’s scheduled inductees, will have their plaques dedicated this year in San Juan. They will be joined in the Hall of Fame by fellow new members Armando Ríos, Julio “Tato” Valera, Roberto Vargas, James “Buster” Clarkson and Bob Thurmanson.
Ríos was a staple of Puerto Rican teams in the Caribbean Series in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, helping the island win the 2000 event in Santo Domingo with Cangrejeros de Santurce. Valera was also a big part of the 2000 Puerto Rican club, after distinguishing himself on the mound for the Indios de Mayagüez in 1998 in Venezuela.
Vargas, Clarkson and Thurmanson played key roles for Puerto Rican teams in the 1950s, when the island captured four Caribbean Series titles.