TORONTO – Dangerous storms are a fact of life in the Caribbean, which is why Luis Rivera’s home in Caguas, Puerto Rico is equipped with a water tank and power generators.
“You need to be prepared,” he says.
Still, the Toronto Blue Jays third base coach endured many anxious moments in recent days as Hurricane Irma tore through eastern neighbours such as Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands before a shift north spared Puerto Rico the system’s full wrath. Rivera’s wife, son, daughter and members of their extended family endured some strong rains and wind, but no damage of any sort.
“We are blessed, man, I’m telling you, very blessed in Puerto Rico, the Dominican, also,” Rivera said Friday. “That could have destroyed the islands in the same way.”
The Blue Jays were similarly fortunate in the Dominican Republic, where their complex emerged from Irma’s passing unscathed, and they’re now hoping for more good luck for their facilities in Dunedin, Fla., with Irma approaching the state as a Category 4 hurricane that’s reached wind speeds of 250 km/h.
Charlie Wilson, the club’s director of minor-league operations, and Blake Bentley, the team’s co-ordinator, Latin America operations, worked to ensure both sites were stocked with water, fuel and non-perishables for any players, employees or family members in need.
The Blue Jays pushed back the start of the their fall instructional league in Florida by a week, at least, while catcher Russell Martin and second baseman Devon Travis both left Dunedin and were en route to Toronto to continue their rehab with the team.
Meanwhile, closer Roberto Osuna was flying in his family from Mexico, which was struck in the south by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake that triggered Tsunami warnings. There was no damage in the northwest of the country where Osuna and his family are based.
With Hurricane Jose also approaching the Caribbean, the Blue Jays are on multiple fronts being stretched well beyond baseball.
“You think about what we can control to help, try to take the lead on it and do what we can to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be to support anyone that might be in need,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “We don’t know those numbers could potentially be, but we’ve put together things that we thought would be helpful in an effort to be proactive whether it’s one person in need, or 15 people in need.”
Atkins, who was raised in Miami, has lived through several hurricanes and many others that weakened into tropical storms by the time they reached land. The most severe was Andrew, which struck land as a Category 5 hurricane in 1992 and caused $26.5 billion in damage. (A brand new spring training facility in Homestead, Fla., for the Cleveland Indians was among the destruction, and the team ended up in Winter Haven, Fla., instead.)
Just 19 at the time and about to head out to Wake Forest, Atkins and his mother hid in a bathtub while Andrew tore pieces off the roof from their townhouse.
At this point, it’s unclear with how much force Irma will strike the Tampa area, with the Florida Keys due to bear the initial brunt of it. A secondary consideration at the moment is that widespread damage in Dunedin and the surrounding environs could impact or even scuttle the Blue Jays’ work with local governments on a new spring training facility.
Atkins and the rest of the organization are closely following Irma’s path, but given how unpredictably storms can move, “the magnitude is what we focused on.”
“Like they’re saying all over the news,” he continued, “you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
That’s what Rivera did this week.
Given that hurricane season tends to come during the latter part of baseball season, he usually isn’t home when a storm hits Puerto Rico. But he was there in 1998 when Hurricane Georges blew through.
“The sound of the wind is hard – it’s scary,” he said. “If you look through the window you see a lot of things flying. But that didn’t happen this time.”