How the Red Sox Saved Me from the Venezuelan Dictatorship

A bittersweet account—and instruction manual—about experiencing a demonstration in extreme heat and risk of violent death, from a baseball-loving protester in apocalyptic Maracaibo.

Photo: EFE retrieved

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a massive protest in a place where a repressive regime reigns supreme, but let me tell you, it’s not as fun as it sounds. 

I’ve never been a big demonstrator, but everyone eventually reaches the enough is enough stage, and it’s not like I have a lot going on, so it’s something to do.

It was the last day of April. I got to Avenida 5 de Julio, one of the main arteries in Maracaibo, before noon. Right off the bat, the sheer size of the crowd was astounding; tens of thousands, including a good number of senior citizens and whole families with small children. Immediately, something rubbed me the wrong way. I felt out of place, like Tom Waits at Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards. 

People run in every direction with screams and despair, the sound of society’s fabric shattering into crumbles.

I’m not down at all with the collective chanting. For how long can you shout “freeeeedom – freeeeeeedom” before it gets weird? I visited Fenway Park in the 90s, and although I was beside myself, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to join in the “Let’s-go-Red-Sox!” cheering, even though I very much wanted the Red Sox to “go.” The whole deal seems a bit cultish to me, I feel that if I join, I’m one step closer to drinking a weird Kool-Aid while waiting for the alien spaceship to come to Earth.

Then I found that there’s something about it that I very much enjoyed. When the chanting stops, after about 17 seconds of “freedom – freedom,” there’s an awkward silence, an uncomfortable golden pause like all of a sudden there are ten thousand people riding an elevator. The only thing you can hear then is my out-of-place laughter.

So, anyway, we’re walking and they’re chanting and time goes by, so I decide to reach the front of the crowd. I figure that there were too many of us against a small barricade of no more than 20 National Guards, and they wouldn’t dare to do anything. 

But dare they did.   

All of a sudden, the guards are shooting tear gas at us. I can’t believe it, especially considering the demography of those on site, but all hell breaks loose. People run in every direction with screams and despair, the sound of society’s fabric shattering into crumbles. Then, I feel it burn.

Tear gas feels like when shampoo finds its way into your eyes, but your entire face is one big eye that can’t be closed. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Procter & Gamble in the weapons manufacturing business; in fact, I think we should get our best reporters to look into that.

With all the shouting and the panic, and the excruciating pain from the gas, I’m down on my knees, right on the pavement, and I think this is my last misadventure when the unexpected happens. 

One never knows what might save your life when you find yourself in a tight spot.

I look up and, believe it or not, it’s none other than Sandy León. Yes, that Sandy León, catcher of our beloved 2018 World Champions Boston Red Sox. Okay, he’s not there in the flesh, it was a huge billboard, but even though he’s a local hero, I think to myself that “this can’t be the last image I see in my life, Sandy León promoting an unknown shipping company, no way.” 

I tell you, folks, if at the moment I had looked up to find an image of Ted Williams or even Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, I would have made peace and let myself go where the rivers all run dry. But it was good ol’ Sandy and the prospect of seeing a better day (and one more ballgame at least) what gave me the second wind that ultimately allowed these lines to be written.

One never knows what might save your life when you find yourself in a tight spot. If my knees had bent a couple of blocks back or forward, maybe Sandy wouldn’t have shown up to let my brain kickstart a new beginning. Location and timing saved the day once more, let’s hope I have a couple of those lucky breaks left within me, because conflict, in this town, isn’t ending anytime soon.