SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Roberto Perez dreamed of playing in Hiram Bithorn Stadium when he was a kid. The Indians catcher grew up in Mayaguez, on the western coast of Puerto Rico, and he never had the opportunity to travel across the island to take the field at San
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Roberto Perez dreamed of playing in Hiram Bithorn Stadium when he was a kid. The Indians catcher grew up in Mayaguez, on the western coast of Puerto Rico, and he never had the opportunity to travel across the island to take the field at San Juan's famous ballpark in his youth.
"That's the big league stadium. That's what we called it," Perez said. "The Dream Team used to play there. Great baseball players have played there."
On Monday night, the lights of Hiram Bithorn Stadium came on, and a group of aspiring big leaguers took the field on the eve of the 2018 Puerto Rico Series between the Indians and Twins. In royal blue was RBI Aguadilla and in black-and-yellow uniforms was RBI Carolina, a pair of 17-and-up teams from Puerto Rico's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria -- which knocked out power for more than 3 million people after it made landfall on Sept. 20 last fall and has left sections of the United States territory severely damaged seven months later -- the game gave the young men on the field another chance to dream.
"This is a good opportunity for the players," said Eddie Rodriguez, the director of Puerto Rico's RBI program, "because tomorrow they might be the shortstop. When they play today, they are thinking about 'Francisco Lindor's going to play tomorrow at this same position.' Today, they are there. It's very important for them. It's very good."
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Indians and Twins will face each other in a pair of regular-season games. Perez and Lindor, who is a native of Gurabo, will take the field for Cleveland. Puerto Rican-born players Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios will be on the other side with Minnesota.
During Monday's off-day, Lindor visited his former grammar school and Rosario went to Guayama for an appearance at his former high school. The Indians' players announced that they donated a postseason share from last season to hurricane-relief efforts in the communities of both Lindor and Perez. Both teams are also involved in a variety of other programs this week.
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"That's very important," Rodriguez said. "We need the people to talk to the guys, to the players and everybody, because the hurricane was terrible here. So that's very important for the people here."
Javier Candelario, a coach for RBI Aguadilla, echoed that sentiment, noting that the players involved in Monday's game also come from low-income situations.
"This type of program focuses on the communities that have struggled," Candelario said through an interpreter. "And after Hurricane Maria, these kids need something that will inspire them. Being here is like the perfect situation for them."
And after they have a chance to taste the big league dream under Hiram Bithorn's lights, they can watch the Major Leaguers take the same field over the next two days.
"We're very thankful to have been invited to be here today," Candelario said, "especially being the opening act for these Major League games. We've been working very hard with all these kids, and there's a lot of really talented kids, so we hope they're inspired by it."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.