Baseball Games in Venezuela (part 2)

I wrote in part one about the atmosphere around Venezuela and how it is different than America, now I want to talk about how the game is different and the same down here. When I thought about how I wanted to word this blog post, I kept reverting back to the movie Hoosiers, when the kids from Hickory, IN find themselves in the state title game. The coach has them come out to the court and measure basket, the distance from the free throw line and as well as a few others and all the measurements come out the same, and that’s what I felt like down here. When I got here, I didn’t quite know what to expect and I don’t know what I was expecting. Seventy foot mound distance? Hundred foot base paths? Or was there going to be a field at all? But that is the greatest thing about baseball, and sport in general. No matter when you go, no matter what corner of the globe you are in it doesn’t change. The equipment, players, coaches, and fans might but the basic rules of the game will forever remain the same.

The biggest difference I have noticed down here in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League is that game times are usually around the three to four-hour mark every game. I don’t know what people are talking about but man are there a lot of mound visits down here! I think I counted a total of 26 in a regulation nine inning game between both teams, it seemed like there was one every three pitches! Like I said, I got no idea what they were talking about but man it must have been important to not forget! The other major difference I have seen is the crowd! The crowd is a mix between a world cup soccer game and a good college football rivalry what I mean by that is there is every type of noise maker that has ever been produced at the game, combine that with the occasional vuvuzela blasting away you get some serious noise reverberating off these concrete stadiums. Then if that wasn’t enough you got the chanting and a drum line in the stands, that the college football side. It seems every time has a few chants that the fans love to yell every 4.6 seconds and then the fans for the other team will retaliate with theirs, although sometimes you really can’t understand what they are saying because for one they are in Spanish and too there are usually fifteen to twenty noise makers clogging my ears drums at any given moment. If you want to see examples of the noises during the games click the links. The first one is in Caracas before the start of the game, and the 2nd video is during a game at home in Margarita.

I can honestly say that these are some of the most passionate fans I have ever seen! Yankees/Red Sox try Leones vs  Magallanes there is a reason, which you will see in the videos that there are about thirty police officers on the field during ANY down time at all. I have heard stories of calls being over turned and people throwing glass bottles on the field the same way King Leonides was bombarded with arrows in 300! People do not come to baseball games to sit and chat and hang out with their friends, they stay locked in to every single pitch of every batter, it seems like they are more in tune with the game sometimes than the players in the dugout are. For the most part from what I have seen the fans are very passionate about the sport but things don’t get too out of hand, although I did see a few fights in the stands in Caracas.

The similarities in the game will always be there, although I have never been to the big leagues this is the most intimidating crowd and environment that I have been in on a baseball field, but I think it will be a good thing in the long run for me because if I am one of the fortunate few to make it to the greatest stage I know I will be better prepared.

The players down here are pretty good, you are allowed about 8 “imports” as they call us from the United States and usually those are guys from affiliated ball, we are sprinkled in with the Venezuelans that are in affiliated ball, and some who play in Italy, Mexico, and Japan. It seems to me that every team has an “older guy” that has been around for a while. Although I mentioned before that the games seem to last forever, with the mix of competition down here of some old, some young, sprinkled in with a few savvy vets I think there is no better place for me to be now to help me make my big league push in 2012.


Until next time!


My First Baseball Card

“I’ll trade you one Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and this guy, I don’t know who he is but the card looks cool, for your Nolan Ryan’s.” I had these conversations countless times with my friends in their rooms, on front porches, or wherever else we could find to sprawl out our massive allotment of baseball cards each weekend. My allowance, much like every other kid in America was spent on baseball cards. I would look forward to the weekend because that’s when I knew I would be able to go with my dad to a baseball card convention. We would spend all day, just him and I, passing through countless hundreds of vendors and their cards, looking in amazement. For every Mantle, Ruth, DiMaggio, and Williams card I saw there were countless cards that looked neat but were stuffed in the $1 bin. I would spend countless hours scouring through those bins looking for the Nolan Ryan gem that I was hoping they mistakenly put in the bin. Even to this day I am an avid collector of Nolan Ryan cards.

You see, growing up I was, and still am a big Nolan Ryan collector. There was something about him, the way he attacked batters, the way he pitched, I was him in countless pickup games with my friends. I didn’t care about any other card until two days ago. Two days ago Topps released a series of cards called “2011 Bowman Chrome” and if you happen to get yourself a box or a pack and open it, you just might come across card #BCP127. You might not recognize the name, its not going to be worth $100 in Beckett, but that card right there signifies one of the proudest moments in my baseball career. That card, number BCP127 is the first rookie card of yours truly, Ryan Tatusko.

I had no idea I was going to be in this particular set of cards, and as a matter of fact I found out through an email. Someone posted on my twitter account that they “found a Ryan Tatusko card in the wild.” As you can assume, I was as confused as ever because I knew I didn’t have any cards out (besides the ones that each individual minor league team comes out with), and unless you knew someone close to me or my mother (who I think owns 50 of every card I’ve got), there was a very slim chance you were coming across my card, and why would you want one anyway? I did a little digging and to my astonishment I was a part of this 2011 Bowman Chrome series.

I don’t know what the selection process is for these cards, or who decides what players go on or if it’s just a joke to put me on card, but I am one of the extremely lucky few who are forever immortalized in cardboard. I saw the card for the first time, and I have to admit the first thing I thought of was “Wow, I got to get a better autograph, that thing is terrible.” But I have to admit its one of the coolest feelings as a baseball player. I know the “prospect” guys sign baseball card deals right away and sign 1000-2500 cards and they put them in sets. But everyone who gets drafted doesn’t necessarily get a “legit” baseball card. Like I said, everyone gets immortalized in a team set, but not everyone gets put on a Topps, Bowman, Fleer, or Leaf card. I never thought in a million years, I would have been given the opportunity to be collected.

I know the Ryan Tatusko card market isn’t surging with interest, and I am most likely bound for the 3-ring binders, coffee cans, and the as the throw-in for almost every kid in America, but I still hold solace that maybe one kid might say “Hey that one looks kind of cool, throw that one in and we have a deal.”

Another very cool factor is that for some reason Bowman decided to issue limited editions of my card as well. It’s the same picture, but the border around the card is different. I’ve seen the normal base one which is white then there is blue, purple, red, and green edged cards and then other cards that are completely yellow, green, and super reflective and they even released the printing plates which I do believe they only release one of. Its crazy for me to think that there is a limited edition card floating around that only one of is made. So if you are reading this right now and you buy a box of Bowman Chrome and you pull a card that is a 1/1 of me, I am sorry it couldn’t be someone worth more (ha ha). Also to the man that pulled the super refractor of me that is also a 1/1, again I’m sorry it wasn’t someone more important, but if you’re ever looking to get rid of it you know where to look (ha-ha).

It’s been pretty neat to see people direct message me on twitter or talk to me on message boards about pulling my card out of packs, to which again I apologize :) . The coolest story I have found so far, is a man who messaged me saying that he lives in my hometown and he frequents a card shop that my father and I used to go too all the time when I was a kid. In that shop he bought a few packs of the cards and out popped a Ryan Tatusko orange bordered card that was numbered /25. That was a very big “whoa” moment for me that one of my cards made it all the way back to my hometown, out of all the places in the world.

So here I am now, just smiling as I see random people messaging me saying they pulled my card out of their pack. Although I am currently in Venezuela playing winter ball for the Margarita Bravos if anyone reading this pulls me out of a pack and wants an autograph please don’t hesitate to ask me on TwitterFacebook or the various message boards I frequent. I would be happy to give you an address you can send them too once I get back.

To the little kid who now sits in his room and his front porch trading with his friend dreaming of one day being on a baseball card, I say to you never lose that dream because if no-one believed they could do it, all those coffee cans, 3-ring binders and tire spokes would be empty and a passion of millions of kids and grown ups around the world would be lost.

Its More Than a Game

This blog is actually going to be in two parts, I want to separate between what the country is like from a cultural aspect and the what it is like from a baseball perspective. I have been in Venezuela for about a week now, and I must admit that when I first landed I couldn’t have been more lost. I stepped out of the gates of the Caracas airport with my luggage in tow and all I could do was stare I don’t know exactly what I was staring at where it was the barrage of motor scooters that were whipping by us at a feverish pace, or if it was the majestic scenery with cloud covered mountain tops or if I was just staring into blank space comprehending where I was right at that second. Whatever was going through my mind all I could do was let out a certain girl school giggle and say “are you kidding me?” but in an awe-struck sort of way. (Link to pictures of Venezuela scenery)

We sat in the terminal, each of the four of us incomplete silence as we had visions of what this journey was going to be like ahead of us. Was it going to be what we expected? But what did I expect? Did I expect Maui with a baseball field with plush grass and the locals showering us everywhere we went or did I expect us to be in a barren wasteland where the people would mug us as quick as look at us. After touching down in Margarita and getting our bearings about us, we headed straight to the field for the first practice of our winter ball career. Driving through the streets, each one of us stared out that van window in awe with what we were seeing, no matter how much we tried to prepare yourself for the sights and the sounds we still sat there dumb-founded. We flew down the street honking our horn as passer-byes as motor scooters went wherever they wanted weaving in and out of traffic and even going down the median. I’ve seen fire jugglers in the median during red lights, people selling lottery tickets and other various items such as ice cream, rope, and sandwiches.

Pulling up to the field, I would be remiss to say that I wasn’t impressed with it. It was a massive concrete structure that holds about 15,000 people and we immediately headed to the in the clubhouse to claim our little share of locker room space. We were immediately greeted by our Latin American teammates, with “hellos” “Que Paso’s” “Que lo Ques” and “How you doin’s?” We got out to the field and was immediately greeted with the intense head and profuse sweating humidity. This is a funny thing this game of baseball, once we stepped on that field is didn’t matter where we all came from whether we played Independent ball, or were a big name prospect, or just a guy trying to create a name for yourself we put on that Bravos jersey and instanteously this sweet, harsh, yet satisfying game made us all instant family.

We all stay in the same hotel, and the Latin American’s all know we don’t speak much English but we all try, and I have noticed that if you try to talk Spanish the people will smile at you say “AHHH Americano” and be willing to take their time with you as we try and piece-meal our sentences together spliced with the occasional “Como se Dice?” (How do you say?) Every time we have been eating and another Latin family member sees us struggling with things they immediately come over and help us an order for us or translate. It’s like there is an unspoken bond that is between us that says “Hey, we know you guys help us when we are in the states playing ball now you understand how we feel and we will help you.” Our prides wouldn’t let us ask for this help, but it goes without saying that we would do anything for each other.

Having played our first game today against a sold out crowd in Caracas, you got a feeling of the pride and passion that the fans and players have for this game, it is both mind numbing and heart melting. Every time there was a run scored, a runner went from 1st to 3rd or a great play is made there was a thunderous uproar that would occur that would register on any rector scale. You can tell there is much more at stake here that going to the Caribbean world series, this is about winning for your town, proving you’re the best against your countrymen, this is the big leagues and you are a star no matter what team you are on. What I find the most fascinating is that people around the island of Margarita know the baseball players, and when over 6 foot tall white guys walk around they know why exactly we are there. I think I have taken more pictures with people in the last week than I have ever in my 4.5 years in the minor leagues.

So as I sit here and watch the lights of the shanty towns lining the sheer rock cliffs of Caracas, I can’t help but reflect if I truly understand what I am doing here, why I have been blessed with this incredible opportunity. Down here there is nothing else but these games, this is a matter of pride, this is a matter of bragging rights, or being able to say “We are better than you.” and tomorrow I take the first step in a journey of this season. I toe the rubber for the first time this season, tonight, and I will be  in one of the most competitive seasons I have ever been a part of aside from stateside baseball. All these games are Game 7 of the world series, and tonight I own the hill.

Reflections of 2011/Hopes for 2012

It’s a weird thing, silence. On one hand it can take you to places of your brain that you haven’t explored in an extremely long time, which could have positive and negative qualities depending on the mindset you are in. On the other hand it can force you to reflect on what you think the future holds for you, and imagining circumstances that life might come at you with, you just seem lose yourself in thought with no recollection of how or why you got there, you just did.

As I sit on yet another hotel bed, just like the countless ones I have before in my career, listening to the sound of jets taking off from the airport I can’t help but imagine what this step in my baseball journey is going to be like. What are the fans like? Is this just like MiLB? Or maybe is this what the big leagues are like? How is the competition? How am I going to handle being a starter again? Are we going to be good? Am I going to be good? Will I master what the Nationals want me to work on? These are just a few of the countless questions that are floating in my head, and as each one pops up in my brain seemingly from nowhere I am again trying to figure out this crazy journey we are all on called “life”.

Starting out in pro ball I never knew that opportunities like this were possible, I knew that some guys went overseas trying to hold on to the last moments of their career as long as possible but I knew nothing of the winter ball opportunities that are available to us until this year when I got to AAA. When I was first approached about the possibility of playing I balked heavily at it because I was un-aware of how things were handled down in these various leagues but after learning more about them I grew more and more anxious about wanting to play. When I heard the scout for the Bravos de los Margarita was in the stands to watch me play for a possible recommendation it felt like I was in college all over again with the scouts watching my every move, I was a little nervous.

Luckily for me things worked out and here I am now. This year was filled with incredible swings for me, the first half of the season I struggled extremely badly with some adjustments I was trying to make to my pitching style and my numbers showed it. After a promotion to AAA, things started to turn around. It’s a crazy thing this game is, people judge you by numbers and by what you are producing as it is very hard to see the work and the sweat and the struggles that occur daily in the mechanics work to try to find that exact fit. I had amazing coached and coordinators who helped me along and adapted suggestions to my pitching style, and in the second half things clicked for me a lot better than they did for me in the first half.

The best piece of advice I received while I was playing was when someone told me to “grade you from the second half on, forget the first half that never happened. Your season begins in the second half. Everyone has to have their worst season ever and best season ever just don’t constantly beat your own record for the worst.” I took that to heart and made the second half the beginning of my season and I think it worked as my numbers were a big turnaround” I really learned a lot about myself this year as a pitcher from all my struggles. I truly learned that no matter how low you get, no matter how many times you get hit hard there is a chance to redeem yourself. I believe you learn the most when you are at your lowest point, and as ballplayer I got there this year and that’s when revelations hit me and I started making that turn. My grandma had a great quote that she always lived by and she said “Everything happens for a reason”. And I truly believe my struggles happened to me to learn, and boy did I.

Now that being said, its brings me again to this point sitting on a bed in another chain hotel listening to those planes thinking of what this experience holds in store for me (which I should know already you can never actually know exactly what life has in store for you, that’s the fun of it). But I know what I need to work on, which for me is attacking hitters and staying in favorable counts. When I walk people, things snowball on me and big innings happen when I feel like I am in control of things and I am constantly getting ahead is when I am at my greatest. My goal in Venezuela is to reduce my walks and attack hitters, and be more pitch efficient. Since the team in Margarita and Washington both decided that I could be a starter for the winter ball team I really want to try to be as efficient as possible with my pitches, and throw as many innings as I can.

I learned many things this year in the bullpen which I know will help me in the long run with being a pitcher, starting has always been my comfort zone but being in the bullpen really helped me expand my talents and to sit and learn from the guys who have been in the big leagues in the bullpen. I know that going down to Venezuela will just add to my arsenal for when I get to make my MLB debut. I sit and look at guys on TV who were fast tracked to the big leagues in a whole lot less time that it has taken me, but the path that has so far been laid out for me has been filled with turns, trades, bumps, and pitfalls but in the end as long as that gold is at the end of my path it is all worth it in the end. I know age (26) works against me, but that’s ok because one day when I toe the rubber of a big league mound, even for just one batter it was all worth it in the end.

I will continue to update my blog with videos, pictures, and various insights as I am in Venezuela. I am extremely grateful that you readers are along on this journey with me and I hope you continue to come back and read my blog. I thank you all so very much, the next time you read this blog I will be with my new team. I thank you all for joining me, here’s to the next step in the journey.

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