- It starts in the backyard… Learning to throw. Learning to catch. Discovering baseball’s spontaneity, and realizing it’s more than just a game.
October 9th 2014, baseball amazed me once again. If you’ve ever seen an American baseball game in person or on television, you know it’s the greatest game on earth. BUT, it doesn’t mean that adding some flair to the National Pastime is a bad thing.
The recipe for Venezuelan Baseball: You start by adding a 4-minute national anthem. Followed by a splash of pre-game fireworks. Mix up a batch of on-field dancers. Stir in a mascot with a fire extinguisher. Just a sprinkle of horns and drums. Topped off with a gleaming giant trophy on display behind home plate. And WALLAH, the most unforgettable taste of baseball you’ve ever experienced!
“Fanaticos“ or fans, are loco! The huge crowds cheer the entire game, every pitch, every swing, every play. Which is exhilarating for players, but not for umpires. Make a bad call in the Big Leagues, and umpires get booed. Make a bad (or good) call in Venezuela, and umpires get booed… followed by bottle caps, ice, and crumpled up Dorito bags.
In-between innings may be more eye-opening than the actual games. Risqué music videos on the jumbo-tron encourage the random “dance-offs” in the crowd. Their version of the kiss-cam (“El Momentooooo Del Beso!”) and other promotions are hilariously funny! However, I cannot share these details since my blog is rated PG to PG-13. (lo siento) (okay, one involves spouses, a sippy cup, and a beer)
Like most fan bases, the fanaticos love to get autographs. But I had several “firsts” when it came to signing autographs in Venezuela. During my first game, I signed a pillow, a cell phone case, a headband, a shoe, and a baby wearing overalls, all before the 5th inning! And maybe it was my incredible mustache (or bigote) that seemed to resemble Freddie Mercury, or just the culture, but people love to take photos with players. (and it’s all fun and games till your taxi driver’s taking a selfie while driving through an intersection)
“It’s all about winning.” This can be said to sum up Major League Baseball. But in the Minor Leagues, winning isn’t always priority. The Minors exists to develop players and prepare them for the Bigs. Competing in this atmosphere for most of my career has starved me from the fierce excitement of WIN at all costs. Sometimes it’s hard to show that ferocity while developing. Doing so, can sometimes be interpreted as frustration, or selfishness. In Venezuela, it’s about winning.
Ever feel like you can pick up a car? That’s the adrenaline I had on that October day in Venezuela. With thousands of fanaticos screaming, and the game on the line, I took the mound. 8th inning, two outs, and somehow four guys were on base. After taking the ball from Manager Eddie Perez, I threw 7 warm-up pitches as hard as I could. The crowd was deafening, “PONCHE! PONCHE! PONCHE!” (or “STRIKE-OUT!”). And that’s what I did. When the batter stepped in, it was 3 curveballs, and 3 swings and misses!
I couldn’t control my EXCITEMENT! [FIST PUMP!] My whole career I tried to keep a tight lid on my emotional outbursts on the field good or bad. But that intense excitement was always in there. And it took me 3 airplanes, a crazy taxi, and a bigote to let it out. The atmosphere Venezuelan baseball creates, is perfectly designed to bring to the surface the uninhibited emotions of this amazing game!
On Deck… “Winterball: The Trophy”
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!”