SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The storylines are all in place. Leones del Escogido are seeking to maintain the Dominican Republic's customary home advantage. Cangrejeros de Santurce will try to pick things up exactly where they left off in Santo Domingo 16 years ago. Tigres de Aragua from Venezuela and Cuba's Tigres de Ciego de Ávila are hoping to make history for their respective nations. And Venados de Mazatlán are going all out for Mexico's fourth title in six years and the second international title in the team's history.
All is ready at Santo Domingo's Quisqueya Stadium Juan Marichal -- at least on the field of play -- at the start of the 58th edition of the Caribbean Series, professional baseball's oldest champions tournament.
This year's event is dedicated to former pitcher Juan Marichal, whose name was added by congressional law to the island's main stadium. Marichal, who threw the ceremonial opening pitch on Monday, was an Escogido legend and is one of only two Dominicans who have been elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown --the other being Pedro Martínez-- for their performances in the majors.
"In regard to the competitive side, we're ready to try and bring further glory to Escogido and to Dominican baseball," said Luis Rojas Alou, manager of the Dominican champions. "I have a stronger team than the one that won the domestic league, but in baseball that's not so critical.'
Luis Rojas Alou is the son of the great Felipe Alou, who starred for Leones as a player and later added four titles as manager, and the brother of Moisés Alou, the general manager who has masterminded this current Leones dynasty that has won four national titles and two Caribbean Series in seven years.
The Dominican Republic, which leads the way in Caribbean Series victories with 19, has emerged victorious the past three times it hosted the championship (2004, 2008 and 2012). Leones won the title in 2012 and secured their fourth individual championship crown.
Santurce, with five titles, is the most successful team from Puerto Rico -- which, with 14 titles, is the second most successful national team in the tournament -- and was the last visiting team to win the tournament in the Dominican Republic. Cangrejeros won the 2000 edition in Santo Domingo in what was the last victory for a Puerto Rican team in the so-called Latin American World Series.
Mazatlan, representing the Mexican Pacific League for the ninth time in their history, have won the tournament only once -- in 2005 on home turf. Aragua, won one title (2009) in their four previous visits to the tournament, and are looking to become the first Venezuelan League team to lift the trophy in the Dominican Republic.
Ciego de Avila are making their debut in the Caribbean Series and have the enormous responsibility of retaining the crown won by Pinar del Rio in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last year. Cuba, returned to the event in 2014 after a 54-year absence, and has won eight titles in 14 appearances.
On this occasion, the teams will play a round robin from Monday to Friday, before the top four teams contest the semifinals on Saturday for a place in the final which is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Between the doubleheader on Wednesday there will be a home run derby featuring some Latino baseball stars, including retired Dominican slugger Vladimir Guerrero, who will enter the Cooperstown ballot for the first time in December.
"It's a tremendous honor for me to participate in this great celebration of baseball," said Guerrero, a nine-time All-Star during his 16-year career in the majors.
All the preliminary matches and the home run contest will be broadcast on ESPN Deportes TV and ESPN Deportes Radio, while the final is scheduled to be aired by ESPNNEWS and ESPN Deportes Radio in the United States.
In the hours before the opening match, workers were putting the finishing touches to some areas of Quisqueya Stadium Juan Marichal, which were given a facelift for the Caribbean Series.
"Everything will be on time, we're not concerned," said Gary Bautista, the engineer in charge of the project.
"The Dominican Republic is experienced when it comes to hosting the Caribbean Series," said Fausto Severino, CEO of the Santo Domingo 2016 Organizing Committee. "On the first day, it's to be expected that people are disoriented, but as the hours go by things will settle down. We will have a great event here in Santo Domingo."
Not even the host country, the overwhelming tournament favorite, is comfortable.
"It's a short series and it's baseball. That makes the unpredictable even less predictable," said Dominican Republic's Luis Rojas Alou.