Welcome to Panama

Quick facts

Location: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica
Size: 30,193 square miles, or slightly smaller than South Carolina
Population: 3 million
People: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, White 10%, Amerindian 6%
Language: Spanish
Government: Constitutional democracy
Capital: Panama City (population: 766,000), situated on the Pacific side of the country

Baseball (and other interesting) notes
Most known for: Producing Rod Carew, Manny Sanguillen and one nasty Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera; the Panama Canal; Dictator Manuel Noriega and the U.S. invasion that sent the wacko drug runner to the slammer; some cool Van Halen song.
Quotable: "I get a kick out of watching a team defense me. A player moves two steps in one direction and I hit it two steps the other way. It goes right by his glove and I laugh," Rod Carew.
Famous national anthem verse: "You see, roaring at your feet, two oceans, which give direction to your noble mission."
Panama baseball's U.S. debut: Early 1900s. Backing Panamanian independence in 1903, also the first year of the World Series, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt crafted a treaty that gave America the right to build the canal and create a 10-mile wide Canal Zone of what amounted to sovereign American territory surrounding the waterway. Those born here would be considered as native-born U.S. citizens. Construction of a lock canal began a year later and America's cultural stamp has been in the country ever since -- including baseball. Ancestors of blacks of West Indian descent provided most of the labor in digging the canal, and America maintained ownership over the canal until 1999. "America's Pastime" became "Panama's Pastime."
Panama's baseball hotbeds: Panama City and Colon
First Panamanian-born player to play Major League Baseball: Pat Scantlebury (1956, Cincinnati, born in Gatun).
U.S.-born players currently signed to MLB organizations: 67 (approx.), Mariano Rivera (Panama City); Carlos Lee (Aguadulce).
Ones to watch in the future: Manny Acosta (Braves); Albenis Castillo (Dodgers).
MLB record breakers: Manny Sanguillen, first Latin born catcher to play in All-Star Game; Rod Carew, the only Panamanian to collect more than 3,000 hits.
MLB Hall of Famers: Carew. Born in Gatun aboard a train within the Panama Canal Zone, Carew spent mornings, afternoons and evenings of his upbringing in Panama's favorable environs hitting wads of paper taped into a ball. When he was a teenager his mother moved the family to New York City, not far from the old Polo Grounds and near Yankee Stadium, to live with Carew's godmother. During his extraordinary career, the 18-time All-Star won seven batting titles, including four straight from 1972-1975, joining Ty Cobb as the only other player to do so in the American League. In 1977, Carew's .388 batting average was the highest since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
Panama's baseball weather: Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May).,br>
Biggest sports competitors: Baseball and boxing, with soccer and basketball growing in popularity.
Only in Panama: A physical link between North and South America, with the Continental Divide squeezed to its narrowest point in the hemisphere. ... There once was a great infield hit master named Rod Carew, long before anyone had heard the name Ichiro. The infielder was the best bunter of his generation, legging out 27 of 35 bunt attempts for hits in 1972 alone. ... Was there a "Manny Being Manny" before there were "Manny Being Manny" T-shirts -- his name was Manny Sanguillen. ... Was there an "Omar" before there was "Nomaaah" -- speedy leadoff man Omar Moreno, that is. ... Did baseball have its first true "Pirates of the Caribbean" in Panamanians Sanguillen, Moreno and Rennie Stennett (Members of the "We Are Family" 1979 World Series Champion Bucs). ... Did the late Pirates scout Howie Haak not only bring Sanguillen, Stennett and Moreno to Pittsburgh, but also Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente of Puerto Rico. ... Born in Guarare, Panama, Roberto Duran is arguably one of the best boxers of all time. In a career that spanned five decades, Duran is one of only four fighters to hold four different world titles: lightweight (1972-79), welterweight (1980), junior middleweight (1983) and middleweight (1989-90).

Amateur and international competition
Panamanians playing organized baseball: 20,000
Amateur highlights: Little League World Series (2001, Curundu Little League, Panama City, and 2004 David Doleguita Little League, Chiriqui); hosted '04 Olympic qualifier in 2003, celebrating the 100th anniversary of its country (and also the World Series). Panama thrice hosted the Caribbean World Series, in 1952, 1956 and 1960, but has been unable to sustain professional baseball since and hasn't participated in the series in decades. A four-team Panama Winter League, with the backing of Major League Baseball, tried a few years ago to achieve success but failed after only one season.
Biggest international rival: U.S.
Wood/aluminumum bat rules: Aluminum bats are used for juniors, 9-16; wood thereafter
Other important notes: Annual junior national junior tournament every January draw scouts.
Historic firsts: First year of Panama's baseball federation was 1944. ... Sanguillen became one of the first players to be traded for a manager. Following the 1976 season, Sanguillen was dealt to the Oakland Athletics for manager Chuck Tanner. Sanguillen played just one season in Oakland before returning to the Pirates in a separate April 1978 trade. Sanguillen even got to play for the manager he was traded for. In fact, Tanner and Sanguillen were members of the Pirates "We are Family" team that won the 1979 World Series. ... On Jan. 19, 2004, Panama's National Stadium, located in Panama City, was renamed Rod Carew Stadium. The ballpark sits in a bowl surrounded by small hills in a part of the former Canal Zone, seating about 25,000 fans.
Contact information: Estadio Nacional, Ave. Cerro Patacón,
Kilómetro 3, Apartado 9664, Zona 4, Panamá 10741
Tel: (+507) 230 4524; (+507) 230 4525
Fax: (+507) 230 5399

E-mail: fedebeis@cwpanama.net

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.