The Venezuelan Professional Baseball League’s (LVBP) bet for the 71st season is a simple yet risky one: go all out to bring in as many big names as possible to weather the economic storm. The year’s league is star studded. And yet, for the first time since I can remember, there’s been no buzz around the start of the baseball season.
Daunting echoes of silence replaced the roar of screaming fans in the stands.
The real sign that the league is in trouble is in the stands. With ticket prices way up and people’s pocket books way down, ticket sales tanked. And what’s more depressing than an empty stadium?
Daunting echoes of silence replaced the roar of screaming fans in the stands. Just over 19,600 people went to Opening Day at all venues, a dramatic drop from the 32,500 of last season. Already during the 2015/16 tournament attendance dropped a worrying 26,5%.
This is strange. Baseball owns Venezuela. Ask anyone on the street “por quién vas tú?”— and they’ll know you’re asking about their baseball team. This stuff is ingrained. The committed fanbase that packs stadiums nationwide is one of the strongest selling points the LVPB has. The environment, the noise, the intensity with which games are followed.
Even if you aren’t a Tiburones fan, you love their Samba! And what’s not to love? Fans playing drums, cymbals, trumpets and the sort throughout an entire baseball game, sending everybody on their feet whenever a batter strikes out or sends the ball soaring high in the sky. It’s a quintessential criollo affair: celebrar por celebrar.
This year, the rosters of all eight teams are jampacked with the best talent money can buy.
This year, the rosters of all eight teams are jampacked with the best talent money can buy. Players like 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, shoo-in American League batting title contender José Altuve, as well as fan-favorites Félix Hernández, Pedro Sandoval, Johan Santana and Rougned Odor will show up.
The money’s there only for the professional players, but the number of foreign umpires was reduced from six to four, and our Under-18 national baseball team will have to skip the Panamerican Championship, because they can’t afford air travel. Sacrilege.
This season can be more than just a preamble to the Baseball World Classic set to start on March, 2017, in which Venezuela is a contender for the title. It could well be the beginning of the end of Venezuelan baseball’s glory days.