2018-04-18 23:12:03
Puerto Rico’s Imbalance of Power: Stadium Lights Glow, Homes Do Not

23:12, April 18 168 0

SAN JUAN, P.R. — The Major League Baseball games this week between the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians here had dual goals: to affirm the Puerto Rican government’s position that island was open for business again after the devastation of Hurricane Maria seven months ago, and to showcase this American territory’s unique relationship with baseball.

And then lights across the island went out again.

The second and final game went on — the mayor of San Juan promised it would — but sitting in the stands on Wednesday, it was hard to miss the disparity: running on generators earlier in the day, Estadio Hiram Bithorn, the storied stadium where the games were played, was back on the power grid by game time, while across the highway, apartment buildings and businesses disappeared in the dark, save for a few lit windows.

Rather than anger, several people in and around the stadium, accustomed to months at home without electricity and perhaps feeling a bit of the baseball fever that the games have engendered, shrugged at the imbalance of power.

“We’ll see what the government’s priorities are,” said Sylma León, 60, who lives in the Eleanor Roosevelt neighborhood across from the stadium, where a sellout crowd of 19,537 people gathered. She was one of nearly 1.5 million customers of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to lose power on Wednesday morning when a crew working to help restore power in Puerto Rico accidentally knocked out electricity.

León does not have a generator at her home, nor does she consider herself a baseball fan. But she watched some of Tuesday’s game anyway, a 6-1 win by the Indians in which star shortstop Francisco Lindor, a Puerto Rican native, energized the crowd with a home run and demonstrative play. As she has during past failures, León planned to use candles and flashlights on Wednesday night.

“I guess I can’t watch,” she said.

In the stands, an ardent baseball fan, Leo Del Valle, 54, a warehouse supervisor from Caguas, said it felt unfair that the game went on while many like him did not have power at home.

“At least if there’s no light, it’s better here watching a game and getting my mind off things,” he said. “I love baseball.”

When power first went out in the late morning, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of San Juan, who worked with Major League Baseball to bring the games here, wrote on Twitter that emergency systems at the stadium were operating and “the game will GO ON. Nothing will stop us.” Generators would power the stadium, and extra security and lights would illuminate the parking lot.

By around 5:30 p.m., the electric company said power had returned to parts of the island, including major hospitals, the airport in San Juan and the stadium. By 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, service had been restored to 334,000 customers.

Inside and immediately outside the stadium, there was a veneer of normalcy. A band played in the first floor concourse. Fans stood in line to buy food and drinks. They cheered, used noisemakers and danced in the aisles. Television and stadium personnel scurried about as they had the night before as well.

But Major League Baseball and the broadcasters for the games, Fox and ESPN, had made a contingency plan to have generators in case the power went out. And another emergency generator arrived an hour before first pitch.

“Our ability to produce and televise the game wasn’t impacted,” an ESPN spokesman said.

The push to ensure the game went off reflected a determination to not let a crisis interfere with the notion the island was recovering. It also reflected a strong desire to showcase the resurgence of Puerto Ricans in professional and international baseball.

The success of the Puerto Rican national team in the World Baseball Classic and the popularity of young players such as Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, José Berríos and Lindor suggest a return to the heyday of the 1990s. This season, 19 Puerto Rican-born players filled opening day rosters — the most since 2011.

These M.L.B. games were the first hosted on the island since 2010. The stadium, which suffered moderate damage from Hurricane Maria, was repaired. And the cancellation of the 2016 regular season series between the Miami Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates because of concerns about the Zika virus was a sore spot for some.

Before Tuesday’s game, Carlos Beltrán, who retired after winning a World Series with the Houston Astros last season, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He was flanked by former and current Puerto Rican baseball players, including Carlos Delgado, a former star for the Mets and Toronto Blue Jays; José Vidro, who played primarily for the Montreal Expos, which played 43 games at Hiram Bithorn from 2003 to 2004; Juan González, who won the 1996 and 1998 American League Most Valuable Player Awards for the Texas Rangers. Bernie Williams, the former Yankees great, performed the national anthem on his guitar.

“Hopefully we can be an inspiration for those young kids and give people something to be happy about,” said the Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario, a Puerto Rican native.

Four hours before the first pitch on Wednesday, Rubén Jiménez was setting up displays of Puerto Rican baseball caps to sell a block away from the stadium. He was at home in Bayamón loading his truck up in the morning when the power went out. He proceeded anyway.

“We’re used to this,” said Jiménez, who went two and half months without power at him home after Maria hit. “This power system is really old. It needs to change, if not, it’ll continue to like this.”

Jiménez admitted that it might be odd to play a game while many do not have power, but he knew he benefited from the decision to play as scheduled.

“This is how I make a living,” he said.

Sitting in the top row of the stands, Salvador Berrocales, 67, and his wife, Maribel Bahamundi, 50, came to the game because the tickets were a gift, and no power failure was going to stop them. With the power restored to the stadium, Bahamundi said she understood how canceling the game could have further undermined confidence in the government.

For her, the game was a needed distraction. “This helps me forget about the light outages,” Bahamundi said.

But after the game, she and her husband faced a long, dark drive home: it is a two-hour trip to their home in Sabana Grande, in the southwestern region of the island. It was back to the real world for many of Puerto Rico’s baseball fans.