Low point for Colon baseball

by Eric Jackson

The national junior baseball tournament, an event that far more NCAA programs’ scouts need to attend, begins January 8. It was mid-December when it was confirmed that Colon, whose provincial baseball program was in trouble along with those of Veraguas and the Darien, would be allowed to participate after all.

We have known for some months, on the other hand, that for the first time Colon won’t have a team in the “major” national tournament. Colon has won that tournament eight times, including four in a row from 1956 through 1959.

The partial reprieve that lets Colon’ teenagers play is better than a total disqualification, but the rule that had to be waived was about the organization of youth leagues in the province. It seems that some of the problems that got Colon, Veraguas and the Darien in trouble with the national federation were merely matters of lackadaisical documentation, while substance of other complaints is of baseball programs not being carried out despite commitments that they would be.

Across Panama and especially in Colon our sports traditions are hurting for resources. Part of it is the national economy, which though it has pulled out of the tailspin of a few years ago is still weak and sluggish. Part of it is the elimination of legislators’ circuit funds, which though abused by some solons were more often used to keep amateur sports programs going. In any case, sports programs that should be developed and maintained and used to be, are now being neglected and underfunded.

And Colon was called on the carpet by the federation for being unable to show that it had met the requirements for youth baseball development in the province. Whatever the excuses or explanations, that’s not a good situation.

Now that Colon’s junior team will be allowed to play, there are questions about whether their home field, Roberto Mariano Bula Stadium in Colon, will be usable. The lighting there is an abomination, the outfield is a dangerously uneven surface on which to run, there’s no sound system, sanitary systems are inadequate and the old ball park seems to be crumbling under the tropical elements. The question that’s being reasonably asked is not whether the city’s customary baseball headquarters is a good place to play, but whether it’s a safe place to play.

Some folks would be glad to see Mariano Bula give way for Colon Free Zone expansion. Indeed, under the Torrijos-Carter Treaties Panama received at least two ball fields in Colon province that were better venues than the old Colon stadium --- one at Fort Davis and the other at the old Cristobal High, and it would seem that Colon might do better to start from scratch on the site of one of the old fields at Davis or Gulick.

It may be premature to talk about building a new stadium when the baseball federation, the province and INDE can’t maintain the present one. Yet the sale of the land where the current stadium sits --- located, as it is, close to the Colon Free Zone --- could generate all the necessary funds to put a new stadium in a place where there’s enough parking, still within city limits, but a few miles removed from the city center. Even if it’s a little early to talk about Colon’s baseball renaissance, it can’t hurt to think about how its baseball woes might be left behind, rather than just barely being managed as they are now.

Colon’s baseball woes can be solved by a relatively little amount of money. They should be. Considering the ranks of Panamanians who have gone abroad to play professional baseball, where those people came from and the relative populations of the provinces, Colon’s role as a baseball hotbed can’t be denied. When one also knows that Colon’s high school kids are more likely to speak English than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, it would be even more reason for an American college scout to see the members of this particular team.

But then the college scouts may not be able to bear seeing Colon baseball --- like the local economy in which it exists --- at such a terrible low point as it is now.

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