Displaced Puerto Rican players find a haven in nearby Caribbean winter leagues

Jovan Rosa found a spot in Mexico's winter league after Hurricane María disrupted Puerto Rico's season. Mayos de Navojoa

Read the Spanish-language version of this story here.

MEXICO CITY -- After the crushing damage dealt by Hurricane Maria to Puerto Rico in September, the island’s fabled winter baseball league was in danger of being canceled for the 2017-18 season.

An abridged, one-month season was eventually agreed upon, with several notable changes in effect, including games played exclusively in daylight because of a lack of electricity. Starting extra innings with runners on base to accelerate scoring was approved. Two teams on the western portion of the island -- Aguadilla and Mayagüez -- were combined. The Criollos de Caguas could not play in their stadium which was directly in the path of the eye of the storm and was wrecked. Instead Caguas played in the nearby town of Gurabo, at the small confines of a Double-A park. The Criollos went on to win the championship and will represent Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series, which starts Feb. 2 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Even with the season ultimately taking place, 17 Puerto Rican players, according to the Puerto Rican players’ association, opted to play in other Caribbean and Mexico winter leagues. That includes Jovan Rosa; the 22nd-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2006 landed with the Mayos de Navojoa -- runner-up in Mexico’s Pacific League final series against the Tomateros de Culiacán.

“Nearly my whole family is still in Puerto Rico,” Rosa said. “Conditions are still not what we would want them to be; almost none of them have electricity or other basic services and it really pains me. I came to Mexico without knowing what to expect, but the reception I’ve gotten has been amazing. I’ll never forget my time with Navojoa.”

Although Rosa resides in Connecticut, he had played last season with Aguadilla, the team that still held his rights for this season, and was keen to return to Puerto Rico this season.

Rosa said the heavy emotions he has felt by forgoing time in Puerto Rico have been calmed by his time in Navojoa, a city of just 157,729 inhabitants in northwestern Mexico.

Navojoa has won two Mexican Pacific League titles since its founding, the most recent one coming in 2000. Despite the team’s modest success, it has boasted numerous notable players in its history, including Rickey Henderson, Kevin Youkilis and local hero Fernando Valenzuela.

“I’ve never experienced the type of reception or the type of love people here have for their team,” Rosa said. “It’s amazing. The stadium here may be small [a capacity of 11,500], but fans make it feel a lot bigger and more imposing.”

Although Rosa is looking forward to visiting his relatives in Puerto Rico, the idea of extending his stay in Mexico professionally is alluring.

“There are still many necessities people have in Puerto Rico that were caused by the hurricane, and it pains me,” Rosa said. “I want to help however I can. As a baseball player, I feel I can do that the most if I’m in Mexico. I’d prefer to be here and provide.”

Read more on the Caribbean Series/Serie del Caribe here.