World Baseball Classic: 2006, 2009, 2013
This single-deck stadium has been the home of the Santurce Crabbers for many years, but there is some confusion owing to the relocation and renaming of Puerto Rican pro teams in recent years, like a game of musical chairs. It first played host to a major league game when the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers opened their 2001 season here. It thus became the fourth stadium outside the "Lower 48" and Canada to host a big league game since 1996, when MLB began an international promotion of the sport. In preparation for this showcase event, new lights and other amenities were installed. More recently, it served as the site of three games between the New York Mets and Florida Marlins ("home away from home") in June 2010. (See Anomalous Stadiums.)
The most distinctive design feature is the huge amount of foul territory and the broad sweep of the grandstand, which is even broader than Candlestick Park. Even fans in box seats are very far from the infield. Also, the roof is "corrugated" in a zig-zag fashion much like the pavilion roof at Dodger Stadium. As in other baseball stadiums in the Caribbean region, the light towers above the grandstand are tilted toward the field. (The same is true of Estadio Dennis Martinez in Nicaragua.) There is a row of luxury boxes and press boxes at the top of the back rows, stretching from first base to third base. From the players' point of view, the extremely short outfield dimensions provide a strong bias in favor of batters. In 1995 the original grass field was replaced with Astroturf, which is cheaper to maintain but is extremely hot in the summer.
The stadium namesake, Hiram Bithorn, was the first Major League player from Puerto Rico, pitching for the Chicago Cubs in 1942, 1943 (his best year), and 1946, with three years of service in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. In 1947 he played for the Chicago White Sox, but was taken out after only two innings because of a sore arm, and that turned out to be the end of his MLB career. He later played in the Mexican winter league, and at the end of 1951 he was shot by a Mexican policeman in disputed circumstances. It was a brief, tragic career, but he inspired many other greats from Puerto Rico such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Bernie Williams, and Carlos Delgado.
In December 2002 MLB officials announced that the Montreal Expos would play 22 of their "home" games in Puerto Rico during the 2003 season. This was a long-shot venture aimed at finding out whether there was enough potential fan and sponsor support on the island to sustain a major league franchise. New bleachers were installed in both right and left field, and the outfield fences were moved back 10-20 feet, to approximate the outfield dimensions at Olympic Stadium, the Expos' real home. (NOTE: Lowry states that the distances down the line in 2004 were 318 feet, but they are currently marked at 325 feet.) Also, a new "Field Turf" surface (which looks less artificial) was installed, along with other enhancements intended to bring this ballpark up to major league standards. At first folks in Puerto Rico responded eagerly, and many of the Expos' early games in their tropical "home away from home" were sold out, or nearly so. Attendance dwindled after a few months, however. After tentative negotiations with concerned parties from the Washington area broke down during the summer of 2003, MLB announced that the Expos would play 22 more "home" games in Puerto Rico during the 2004 season. This put enormous strain on the Expos players, who logged many thousands of extra airline miles and lost many nights' sleep. In spite of promotional efforts, attendance continued to lag in 2004, dashing hopes that the San Juan city government or the commonwealth government of Puerto Rico might pay for a fancy new stadium. With no acceptable alternative home cities, and the option of "contracting" the money-losing franchise precluded by judges, MLB had little choice but to approve the relocation of the Expos to Washington at the end of the 2004 season. Thus were born the Washington Nationals!
Since the Expos' days came to an end, Hiram Bithorn Stadium has hosted the World Baseball Classic in all three years: 2006, 2009, and 2013. One improvement made for the most recent WBC is the addition of four rows of box seats extending outward from the dugouts. This reduced the vast foul territory from about 43,700 to about 38,700 square feet.