In light of the recent events that have transpired, there was a lot of interest regarding winter ball in Venezuela. I hope that I can clear some things up for people and shed some light about what it is like off the field. I am only speaking from a vantage point being with the Margarita Bravos and what it is like for us on Margarita Island and traveling to the mainland when we have to go on the “road.” What it is like for us might not necessarily be true of other teams, as I have not had extensive conversations with friends on other teams or have traveled with them.
Before I got down to Margarita Island, I was told that it was the safest place in Venezuela, and when I landed I had a few doubts, but through the past few week, the island has grown on me and done nothing but solidify its holding as the safest place in Venezuela. The team (Margarita Bravos) puts all of its American players in “five star resort.” Now it might not be five stars, but let me assure you it is every bit of four stars pushing five based on American standards. We are about fifteen to twenty minutes away from the downtown area and field, pushed off in a remote section of the island. In order to get into the hotel one must pass through a gate that has a security guard standing at it 24 hours a day and they radio in to make sure you have a reservation to pass through. Once you are inside the sprawling property, there are multiple hotel towers that we can stay at. The property has about 4 private pools, 4 restaurants, a private beach, along with spa and workout area inside the property.
When it is time to leave and head to the field, we have a designated driver that takes the Americans and coaches everywhere. You cannot miss this van, it has our team name emblazoned on the all sides of it and the driver has been with the team for multiple years so he is very much connected with the team and trusted. When we want to go off the of the hotel to go to the mall or get something to eat off the property, the hotel helps us find cab companies that are trusted with the hotel and are known for quality service, they really do take care of us down here. There are about eight or nine of us “gringos” down here on the team and whenever one person wants to do something, we ask around to see if a group of us want to go, I cannot remember a time when anyone has ever traveled alone anywhere at anytime! The hotel truly makes you forget where you are at since the facilities are so nice where we are staying; we are truly spoiled!
The Venezuelan guys really try and make you feel comfortable, I am always being asked how I am doing, if I am feeling all right or if my girlfriend is in need of anything. The guys understand how they felt when they played affiliated ball for the first time in the United States so my teammates truly go out of their way to make sure that we all feel safe and secure at all times. When we have to leave to go on the road, we always fly due to the fact that we are on an island. We have flown commercial a few times, but most of the time we take a chartered plane to make sure that it is extra safe. We always travel with a few plain-clothes security guards, a traveling secretary and an assistant general manager along with our own clubhouse guys. The security guards are constantly with us off the field and in the dugout just in case anything happens. With them, each team provides stadium security on the field during pitching changes, in between innings, and overall through the game. They also offer protection walking to the buses, guard the clubhouse doors, and make sure no crazed fan gets near the field or dugout.
We have been almost everywhere, and from just talking with some of the guys you distinguish the safer cities from the not so safe ones. There is no secret down here that Caracas can be dangerous if you are out on your own or out after dark, you just have to have your wits about you. Whenever we travel off the island, the team makes sure we stay in nice hotels that either has room service 24/7 or has a safe restaurant within walking distance. 90% of the cities are fine to go out in with a group of guys during the day, and there is usually a mall nearby that you can walk too that has American comfort food or any other Venezuelan food you might want that day.
Food carts are usually your cheapest options down here, and when you are interested in going to one there is no shortage of teammates willing to help you with picking out the right one (possible food poisoning) or picking out the right food and translating. Caracas is in a class of its own, there is a bit of nervousness with the guys when we go there, and when we play them we only play 1 game and leave that night to head to the next opponent and stay there, we stayed in Caracas one night and we legitimately stayed in the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at outside of Vegas.
As far as what has transpired in Valencia, we play Aragua all the time during the year, and I have nothing but positive things to say about the city, stadium, and its fans. I have flown into Valencia to play in the minor league game when I was strengthening my arm for starts and I loved the airport as well. Whatever that is transpiring in Valencia is an extreme, isolated incident. I pray for him and for his family, although I have never met him we are all family in this game, especially in the Nationals organization.
I can legitimately say that on the island and off I have never had one second of fear about where we are or how the team is handling things. The LVBP and Margarita Bravos are first class institutions, and I know first hand they do everything they can to protect their players, spouses and coaches.
Everyone down here is following the story as it transpires, and we wish nothing but best for outcome. From me personally, I offer all my thoughts and prayers, as I could never imagine this happening.
I hope this blog shed a little light on the security and the efforts that the LVBP and Margarita Bravos go through to make sure their players are the safest they can be.