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.