SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The island's heroes stood side by side in front of the pitcher's mound and spirit of Puerto Rico was on display in front of a sold-out crowd at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Tuesday.The thunderous applause confirmed it.:: Puerto Rico Series coverage ::Before the first pitch
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The island's heroes stood side by side in front of the pitcher's mound and spirit of Puerto Rico was on display in front of a sold-out crowd at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Tuesday.
The thunderous applause confirmed it.
:: Puerto Rico Series coverage ::
Before the first pitch was delivered in the Puerto Rico Series between the Twins and Indians, eight citizen responders who went above and beyond to help their communities in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria were escorted on the field by eight Puerto Rican baseball legends.
Together, Carlos Delgado, Roberto Alomar, Alex Rios, Javier Vazquez, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Vidro, Carlos Baerga and Bernie Williams along with their eight heroic counterparts highlighted an emotional ceremony that touched on the heart of the island and its passion for sport and community.
"This is a celebration of Puerto Rico," Carlos Beltran said. "There are people out there helping others in an incredible way that nobody knows about and they are making a difference. That's what we are all trying to do, find a way to make a difference and it doesn't matter how you do it and who you are. It gives me a lot of pride to know there are so many good people in Puerto Rico."
Beltran, a Puerto Rico native who won the Roberto Clemente Award for his community service in 2013, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Williams later played the national anthem on his guitar and Pedrito Guzman played "La Borinquena," the anthem of Puerto Rico, also on his guitar.
Puerto Rican musician Pedro Capo is scheduled to perform "La Borinquena" before Game 2 of the series Wednesday. Recording artist Daddy Yankee is on tap to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"There's a lot of history and tradition in this stadium and it's an honor to be part of something with such magnitude and represents our island," Beltran said. "Puerto Rico deserves to be happy and this event brings joy."
The Puerto Rico Series marks the first regular-season games played in Puerto Rico since the Mets and the Marlins held a three-game series at the historic ballpark in June 2010. The Blue Jays and Rangers opened the regular season in '01 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, and the Montreal Expos played a portion of their home schedule at the park in '03 and '04.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium also played host to World Baseball Classic rounds in 2006, '09, and '13.
On Tuesday, the stadium provided a platform for a different type of Puerto Rican hero.
"I never thought the work we did would land us here," said Javier Maldonado, a police officer in Utuado. "We suffered a lot, but we came together as a community. The hurricane was very powerful and it destroyed a lot of homes. I saw tragic things I never wanted to see, but people needed help and that's what we did."
Margarita Castillo, who prepared hot meals and provided water and other supplies to people in need immediately after the hurricane hit, was just as happy to meet her fellow citizens as she was to shake hands with the baseball legends.
"There are so many people that have helped us, the people that have worked hard and the people that have donated supplies," Castillo said. "They are not here right now, but we represent them, too. We didn't do it for recognition, but it's really great to be on the field with our sports heroes because we are all a part of Puerto Rico."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.