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"Igor," Roberto Alomar, Javier Vázquez Secure 2004 Major League Seasons

By Gabrielle Paese

January 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Four down, one to go.

Javier Lopez, Javier Vazquez and now Juan "Igor" Gonzalez and Roberto Alomar have all signed major league contracts for next season. Now, just one of Puerto Rico's superstars remains in contractual limbo -- catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.

Lopez signed early in December with the Baltimore Orioles while Javier Vazquez inked a $45 million, four-year deal with the New York Yankees that makes the 27-year-old right-hander the highest-paid Puerto Rican pitcher in history. Vazquez finished last season with a 13-12 record and a 3.24 ERA for the Montreal (and sometimes San Juan) Expos. Vazquez got a $2 million signing bonus and will earn $8.5 million this season.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, reached a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals for $4.5 million with an option for 2005. Despite nagging injuries that have shortened his seasons, the three-time All-Star has a .296 career batting average with 429 home runs and 1,387 RBIs. Gonzalez has hit 40 or more home runs in five seasons and he led the American League with 43 homers in 1992 and 46 in 1993. In his injury-shortened 2003 season, in just 82 games, Gonzalez batted .294, hit 24 homers and drove in 70 runs.

Future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar also secured his future this week, signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly worth $1.5 million. It's a step down for the second baseman as he heads into his 16th major league season. Alomar closed out 2003 with the Chicago White Sox for $8 million on the final year of a contract initially negotiated with the New York Mets. Alomar's numbers in 2003 reflected his unhappiness in New York and, subsequently, Chicago. The 35-year-old Salinas native batted .262 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 73 games for the Mets last season before being traded to the White Sox, where he hit .253 in 67 games.

Puerto Rico a longshot at Olympic Volleyball Qualifier

After losing to Mexico in the opener of this week's Olympic Men's Volleyball Qualifier at Caguas' Hector Sola Bezares Arena, Puerto Rico's volleyball team scored an upset victory over Canada in four sets Monday. The United States and Cuba are also competing in the tournament. There's only one outright qualifying spot available at this tournament, and it goes to the winner. The United States (should they not win here) and Canada are also eligible for consolation bracket play with a chance to battle back for one final spot to Athens. The two countries are accorded consolation bracket because of their 1-2 ranking in the NORCECA (North, Central American and Caribbean) region.

Puerto Rico lost to Mexico, 22-25, 25-16, 23-25, 25-22, 13-15 in the opener. Both Mexico and Puerto Rico are playing in Olympic qualifying for the first time in history. Puerto Rico also dropped its game versus Cuba, 25-18, 17-25, 25-19, 25-23.

Tito back in the gym?

Tito reportedly returned to the gym this week in his quest to get in shape for what is said to be a return to the ring in March of this year.

In December, Trinidad confirmed that he's interested in a comeback, that news alone creates an exciting panorama for Puerto Rican boxing fans. Other local fighters with fistic action on the horizon: John Ruiz and Fres Oquendo, who are also reportedly planning to fight against each other in March. That contest is currently under negotiation for Puerto Rico's Roberto Clemente Coliseum.

Alexis Rios WL MVP

Caguas outfielder Alexis Rios was voted Most Valuable Player of the Puerto Rican winter league this week by local baseball writers. Rios' election was unanimous, as expected, and caps off a stellar 2003 campaign that included Eastern League MVP honors with the Toronto Blue Jays' AA affiliate. In his first full winter league season (there was some initial confusion as to whether he was eligible for Rookie honors; he wasn't but received five votes anyway), Rios led the regular season in hitting (.348), home runs (12, tied with Raul Gonzalez) and RBI (30). He scored 36 runs and played in 40 regular season games. Thus far in the post-season he has been a key part of Caguas' offense.

Ponce's José "Cheo" Cruz earned Manager of the Year honors, Carolina's Dicky González received Pitcher of the Year honors and San Juan's Oreste Marrero garnered Comeback Player of the Year. Carolina lefty Miguel Martínez earned the Rookie of the Year title.

Ivan Calderón's murder remains unsolved

Police are still investigating the murder of former Major Leaguer Ivan Calderón, who was shot in the back on Dec. 27 in his hometown of Loíza, Puerto Rico. According to police reports, Calderon was shot on Dec. 27, 2003 around 8 p.m. at "El Trompo" bar in Loiza, a few blocks from the El Cabo community where he owned a home. Several killings have already been logged at the bar this year alone, police said.

Calderón, 41, was shot six times in the back and once in the head, while he was facing the counter of the bar. During Calderon's 10-year major league career he played with five teams, finishing up with the Montreal Expos.

Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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