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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