Photo: Panorama retrieved

In Coche, in Southwest Caracas, shoemaker Javier González offers to take in baseball cleats and repair them for free so kids can play ball. It’s a heroic gesture on behalf of aspiring ball players at a time when solidarity has become the only way to keep going. But even as community supporters like Mr. González try to keep Venezuela’s proud tradition of Little League baseball going, the reality for many young prospects is that baseball is a luxury fewer and fewer people can afford.

“Little League baseball players can only get what they need—socks, cups, jumpsuits, shoes, caps, shirts, uniforms, vitamins, proteins and daily training—through great sacrifice,” says Yuli Cáceres, whose son has played in a junior league baseball academy since he was three years old.

“That’s why many have abandoned the sport,” she continues. “Because it’s never been harder to get the supplies they need. How do you pay for the daily bus fares to the field? You just can’t.” Yuli isn’t sure if she’ll be able to keep her son in training, given the hardship she faces.

The baseball academies that were once expected to steer high-performing prospects to big league scouting agencies are now resourceless and hopeless amidst the crisis.

Venezuela’s golden baseball years once resulted in an all-time record of 77 Venezuelans playing on Major League Baseball (MLB), but the baseball academies that were once expected to steer high-performing prospects to big league scouting agencies are now resourceless and hopeless amidst the crisis. Who would’ve thought that the dream of becoming a Major League player would become another hope ruined by the revolution?

A baseball ball can cost Bs.S. 600, a third of the minimum wage. The shoes cost as much as $60, almost eight minimum wages. A cap stands between Bs.S. 1,500 and Bs.S. 2,000, and a uniform can’t be found below Bs.S. 10,000 and Bs.S. 15,000.

Deivis Acosta, trainer for a division located in Casalta, in Western Caracas, admits that the crisis affects baseball from many perspectives: the prices of supplies, the maintenance of facilities and the training and nutrition of child baseball players.

The crisis affects baseball from many perspectives: the prices of supplies, the maintenance of facilities and the training and nutrition of child baseball players.

Acosta is part of the Casalta League, and in order to keep his school afloat, he pays for almost everything and works with his own hands to minimize operational costs and preserve the facilities: “This way, parents aren’t forced to pay as much. We also give money to parents who are thinking of pulling their children out because they can’t pay for the bus rides. We cover the costs for the poorest children so they don’t leave. That’s what a team stands for.”

The academy located in the stadium of Mampote, Guarenas, Miranda State, is also going through tough times. There’s no public transport in the area, and it’s hard for players to attend training or to play in other stadiums.

“My son made the trip from Caracas to Los Teques everyday to go to the EBP academy. We have no money to spare, but we made sacrifices to find cash and make his lunch because he’s no longer getting proteins in the academy. He couldn’t stay there overnight because the trainers favor players who live in other States, further away. Besides, talent scouts aren’t coming either because of the same problems with transport and food. Finally, my son had to quit,” said Iris Blanco.

Her son had to leave for Colombia to find training there, because his dream is to be signed by a team in the United States.

In fact, Little League trainer Melvin Pellín said that they had four categories last year and now they’re only working for a single category of 15 kids. “Before, we had 18 players per category, but due to the crisis they’d rather go to other divisions, leave the sport, or even the country.”  

Even the championships’ dynamic has changed due to the current situation.

Óscar Izaguirre, head of the League and member of the Baseball Federation, says that the competition system has been modified: they used to play 16 matches, but now they play eight to reduce costs. If a division used to have eight or seven categories, now it may have only five. Those divisions used to work with pre-junior and junior, but had to pick only one to keep going. “You can see it clearly in the countryside. Even the championships’ dynamic has changed due to the current situation.”

On the other hand, international agencies are no longer coming to the country. They’d rather take other talents from divisions in Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Iris Blanco’s son, who is in Medellín, confirms that migration is an important deal for the Venezuelan baseball industry: “Lots of players are coming here. However, the agents can’t take them to the U.S. because they have no ID documents.”

Izaguirre is aware of the obstacles to overcome the crisis. “Everything has changed so much: schools have shut down and prospectors are no longer coming to national championships for evaluation, because they’d rather handle and organize their prospects through internal leagues.”

Nothing’s easy to pay for in an inflationary process which dampens children’s passion and blocks their dreams of signing a contract with a Major League team.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. It may sound callous, but it would be a good idea to sit down these kids and in a very rudimentary way explain to them why there is no money for them to play. Nothing fancy, just a basic diagram so they learn and understand what socialism does for you.

    • They have long heard that all these problems are due to the “Guerra Economica”. Many believe it, even after they leave the country.

    • A quick synopsis of Socialism would include that every young boy is a potential major leaguer, and it is patently unfair for a young, gifted Venezuelan lad to use such skills in a manner that would lift him out of his despair and into a life of achievement and success.

      “Ernesto! It isn’t fair that you are such a good fielder. Drop the ball next time, and let fat little Eduardo make it to first base! For Bolivar! For Chavez! For the Revolution!”

      • I played for Santo Tomas de Villanueva, Tigres de Prados del Este, Panteras de Alto Prado before I came back to the States. My skill levels were quite superior upon my return.

        • For years, my family has been vacationing in the DR (Playa del Carmen) and our rental sits right across a road to a vacant lot where young boys play beisbol all day, every day. My son (14 at the time) used to be a pretty good ball player for a local Minnesota traveling team (pitching, first base). Big. Strong. Great fielder. Hits the ball hard and far. So he would go over and to play with these kids.

          Long story short: My kid couldn’t carry the jockstrap of any one of those DR kids. Guapo Jr. couldn’t hit their pitches. He couldn’t strike them out. He looked like some huge dopey kid playing against a bunch of professional baseball players. And every single one of them were out there playing in the hope that someone (a scout) would see them play and take them away to some development league.

          THAT is the level of play I witnessed in the DR. What a horrible shame that Venezuela ball players aren’t getting an opportunity to advance in a sport that so many Venezuelans dominate in.

          • When were you there last?

            As a tourist in 1987, I loved it. Spent two weeks driving all over the non-Haiti part of the island. Santo Domingo to Puerta Plata, and then east.

            I’ve come to learn that development exploded after my first and only visit. Not saying this helped the poor or populace as a whole, but that gorgeous mansions and investments poured in shortly thereafter.

          • @Ira:

            Last winter we went to Aruba to see the wife’s childhood friends, but the winter before we went to DR. Gorgeous country, and great people. (95% of them… they are struggling with criminality now) We used to stay in La Romana, but now we VRBO near Punta Cana. Gated community.

          • The DR was the first place to welcome Jews escaping Hitler.

            1938!!!

            And they all clustered in Sosua, near Puerta Plata.

  2. In comparison with baseball, for playing basketball even less equipment is needed: sneakers and a ball; and we often see kids with broken or tight shoes, finally leaving the courts.

  3. So one out of 5 million Venezuelans isn’t going to make it to the major leagues this year…let’s consider 6 do so each year…and this is a problem?

    It’s the same in the states, where every other black kid thinks he’s going to get an NBA contract. No emphasis on other career opportunities.

    And that’s the real story here. The lack of any OTHER career opportunities.

    Professional baseball is a pipe dream for 99.999999999% of kids who dream it. Although it is indeed, nice to dream.

    Does CC advocate the Cuban model? Whereas although so many of their players defected, the dictatorship still supported baseball on the backs, blood, suffering and deaths of the people as a whole?

    I will never understand CC, and I fully expect this post to be deleted.

    • I see it differently. So many of these kids have the skills, but you need more than skills to take it to the next level. Resources are needed. The cream has to be found, and nurtured and taken to the next level. Then those “best of the best” kids are culled from the herd. Not everyone makes it, but the kids who have the skills and the desire are given the opportunity. As you mentioned, not every inner city black kid is going to excel, but with the resources, the best ones will.

      I mentioned above that my son played baseball with some DR kids years ago. Every year, we would bring over old cleats, mitts and gear, and these kids LOVED it. A whole suitcase crammed full. Some of these kids never had seen a pair of cleats or a catchers mask, or worn a glove not stitched together with twine. God they were happy. But not one of them, no matter how skilled will make it to The Bigs if they aren’t tutored and mentored and taught by people who can help them.

      Resources. That is what is breaking my heart about Venezuela. So much bounty has God given one country, and Karl Marx is f*cking it up for everyone.

    • I think you’re missing the point of the story. Whether 6 or 12 “make it”, there are 9 players on a team. The ones who don’t “make it” are benefiting from playing a sport as opposed to a video game or getting into trouble in some form or another. Never mind the physical benefits.

      I wish the article had pointed out how PDVSA did give money to the pro league amidst the disaster. Not so much PAN, more CIRCENSES in this case.

  4. As a kid in Caracas we played sandlot baseball just about every day. Slept with a ball in a mitt under the bed to “acostumbrarlo”. One year, we burned our Christmas trees (after Reyes, of course) and fashioned bats out of the remainders of the trunks. Not that we couldn’t buy bats, we were so into it!

    Our “field” was an inclined patch of dirt and stone in the middle of our neighborhood “park” . Hitting the long ass slide at the top of CF was an automatic home run. Third base line was a gully that became a stream when raining ( rain did not stop the games, mostly).If the park was busy, we played stick ball or chapita.

    To join a Criollitos team was a mark of status. Playing against other “streets” that had Criollito players meant going up a notch. As a foreigner I couldn’t join, but some of my pals did.

    The success of the body of work that the Criollitos can lay claim to is impressive not for the quality of players but for the number of kids whose lives were impacted in a positive way. What a shame it’s come to this.

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