Puerto Rican players eager to help after Maria

Puerto Rican players eager to help after Maria

The view outside of Ricardo Valero's downtown San Juan apartment window is forever altered, shattered by Hurricane Maria, one of the strongest storms to hit Puerto Rico in almost 90 years.

Torrential rain and damaging winds touched down on the island Wednesday and toppled trees, power lines and phone towers in and around Valera's neighborhood and beyond. The storm unleashed flooding, destroyed homes and left the 3.5 million U.S. citizens who live there without electricity and phone service.

"San Juan and Puerto Rico is devastated, but at least my family and I are still alive," said Valera, who works as the media director for Puerto Rico's professional baseball league and is able to communicate via the sporadic internet in his apartment building. "We have survived hurricanes in the past and we are going to recover once again."

Maria is the worst storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, when the San Felipe Segundo hurricane devastated the island. Maria's ferocity has stirred a call to action among some of the island's biggest names. Puerto Rican Major Leaguers like Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Cubs catcher Rene Rivera and former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada began raising money for hurricane relief hours after the storm touched down. Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez and Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran are exploring ways to help Puerto Rico rebuild through their foundations.

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"Bottom line is I want to help," Molina said prior to the Cardinals' game Thursday at Great American Ball Park. "Everybody is affected. There is no power, no food, no water. … It's a tough situation. They were hit pretty hard. They need help down there."

Molina and his wife, Wanda, set up a GoFundMe page Thursday with a goal of $1 million. The campaign earned $20,000 in donations in its first seven hours.

Posada's relief fundraiser, called the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund, launched Wednesday and raised nearly $80,000 in less than 24 hours. His wife, Laura, launched the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization, the family said.

"I couldn't look at the television and the images coming from the island anymore," Laura said. "I didn't need to see anything more to know that it's a catastrophe and there's devastation. I can't even imagine being there with children or not having a home for them. We grew up there. Our first son was born there. Both of our parents are still there. My first instinct was to create relief fund."

The Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund will be accepting bottled water and non-perishable goods from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at 1125 Northwest 29th Street on Saturday in Doral, Fla.

"The island is in chaos and complete devastation," Posada said. "We are hoping for the best. We know we can help so we are."

The Rivera family started a GoFundMe page called Ayudando a Puerto Rico, which translates to Helping Puerto Rico, earlier this month after Hurricane Irma impacted the island. On Thursday, the catcher was able to talk briefly to his mother.

"They're fine. They're in the house," Rivera said. "[I could talk] only for a little bit because phone service was coming and going. They're trying to fix it. They're trying to fix the towers. I just talked to her for a little bit and they're fine."

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Mariners closer Edwin Diaz said he finally got word that his parents and numerous relatives were safe on Wednesday. His cousin drove 30 minutes to find one of the few spots on the island with cell phone service.

Diaz and fellow reliever Emilio Pagan, who was born in South Carolina but has family in Puerto Rico, plan to raise funds to send supplies to the island.

"Everybody is fine, but I still haven't talked to my father or mother yet," Diaz said. "My cousin said my house is still good. There's some damage to my grandma's house, but nothing too bad. I tried to text them today, but nobody is responding, so it's tough."

Former Major League pitcher Javier Vazquez, now an executive with the Major League Baseball Players Association, said he downloaded a scanner app to his phone to monitor the situation in his hometown of Ponce.

"I talked to Dad on Wednesday at 8 a.m., but I have not been able to reach anyone else," he said. "It's tough to not know how they are doing, but at the same time, I know they are safe, but not knowing what they are dealing with is the toughest."

But many others, like Astros translator Alex Cintron, have not been able to reach anybody back home. They wait anxiously, hoping and praying for good news.

"I haven't had any communication at all with my mom or dad or family members or friends, nobody," the former Major League infielder said. "It's been like two days and we haven't heard anything. ... It's kind of concerning a little bit. A couple of other guys on the team feel the same way.

"It's draining. I wake up and just wonder if somebody's on their phone and start texting a lot of people or email them. You try to go on Facebook, you try to go on Twitter, see if somebody is going live. It hasn't happened yet."

As for Valera, there are reminders of Maria -- broken glass and some flooding -- inside his apartment, but he remains optimistic. He heard the statue of Puerto Rican baseball legend Hiram Bithorn that stood outside of the historic stadium is face-first in the cement. He's hopeful it will be fixed and games will be played there this winter.

He saw Los Pinos, the 24-hour Puerto Rican restaurant across the street, open late Thursday afternoon with the help of generators and knew it was a good sign.

"For everyone watching, we will be back," Valero said. "If you have any doubts, go watch some videos of the World Baseball Classic and the spirit of 'Team Rubio.' That is us. We are resilient."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.