In baseball-mad Puerto Rico, Subway Series is a hometown affair

Take a Latin love of baseball. Throw in deep ties to New York City. Add local pride in Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. And you've got a place in the Caribbean that is very definitely a part of it - the "Serie del Subway," that is - and utterly mad about the Yankees.

Take a Latin love of baseball. Throw in deep ties to New York City. Add local pride in Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. And you've got a place in the Caribbean that is very definitely a part of it - the "Serie del Subway," that is - and utterly mad about the Yankees.

San Juan institutions like Coach's and Dunbar's went berserk on Saturday night as fans glued to large-screen TVs watched Jose Vizcaino knock in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th innings to give the Yankees a 4-3 victory in game one of the World Series.

Elated by the success of what many consider the hometown team, people stomped on bar stools and screamed their delight. "Let's go Yankees!" they roared.

It's been this way here throughout this remarkable post-season as the Yankees clawed their way to their third straight World Series - matched each step of the way by the National League Champion Mets.

"We took him down!" screamed Angel Aden, jumping up and down at the sixth inning, when one of the New York Mets ran toward home plate and the Yankees drew him out. The whole bar at Coach's erupted.

"People get crazy for the Yankees," Aden, who's sporting a Bernie Williams jersey, shouted over the uproar to a reporter. "The Yankees are from New York, I am from New York, a lot of Puerto Ricans are from New York and the Yankees are New York."

It's the first Subway Series since 1956, a time when this now-prosperous place was poor and Puerto Ricans were emigrating en masse to New York City - creating, despite their sometimes rocky absorption into the United States, a certain bond.

"San Juan and New York, New York and Juan, it's the same thing!" bubbled Jose Perez on the night the Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners, ignoring some 2,000 miles of ocean that separate the two. Raucous "Sanjuaneros" banged on the bar shouting "Subway Series!"

"You have 2 million Puerto Ricans living in New York, essentially three generations, all with close ties to home," said Luis Alberto Ferre, editor of the mass-circulation El Nueva Dia daily. But with all due respect to the Mets, the local favorites are the Yanks, said Ferre, himself a Boston University graduate who roots for the Red Sox.

"We've certainly increased our coverage of this series ... because of the Puerto Rican players," Ferre said. Williams and Posada are "loved here ... They come down here, they do work in the community, they show they are still part of Puerto Rico."

El Nuevo Dia and other papers on the island of 4 million people - as well as radio and TV - seemed to follow every move and utterance of the two this week.

"We are very proud of what (Posada and Williams) are doing there," said Ricardo Alegria, director of the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture. "Puerto Rico is such a small island (and) we have been able to participate in the sport with many athletes in the big leagues."

Indeed, many non-Yankee Puerto Ricans are stars too - including Ivan Rodriguez, last season's American League Most Valuable Player, and Carlos Beltran, the American League Rookie of the Year.

And the Latin phenomenon is far broader, with about a quarter of major leaguers hailing from Latin America, where in many countries - like Yankee closer Mariano Rivera's Panama - kids see it as a way out of poverty.

Perhaps the most remarkable contribution is made by the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean country of 9 million that provides almost half the Latins in the majors, including superstars like Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa and Boston ace Pedro Martinez.

Apart from Puerto Rico, Latin American players aren't subject to baseball's amateur draft and so can be signed at 16. The Latin presence could grow even greater: More than 3,000 Little League teams play in 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries, alongside many less formal leagues.

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