Baseball's Coming Home
Venezuelan baseball is promising to bring all the sports-related joys that football has deprived us from. We'll see..
Two massive wins to get things going. Venezuela is ready to step up to the plate and take a swing at, finally, living up to its expectations at the World Baseball Series: nuestra World Cup.
The Athletic put it best: Venezuela has the quality to field a stellar roster every single time the World Baseball Series comes round, but we have little to show for it. A lack of sense of purpose and a seemingly perennial clash of egos in the locker room made it hard to keep a star-packed team motivated and engaged—especially with the Major League a few weeks away.
This time around, though, many of the curses that have plagued Venezuela previously have vanished as a newer generation of players and a much better version of the WBC have been promoted to the limelight.
La Vinotinto has ramped up morale as well.
For the first time in some time, attendance to the local LVBP league increased, and the Caribbean Series was hosted in Venezuela, with domestic champions Leones del Caracas finishing as runner-ups in a top-notch performance only bested in the final game by the Dominican Republic—favorites to win the WBC right up to the Vinotinto’s 5-1 victory.
It’s been a while since the country felt this beisbolero. And with the sport’s international managing board, the WBSC, deadfast at making baseball a permanent Olympic fixture, things seemed to align for our national sport after years of neglect, decline and what seemed like a lost cause.
Political turmoil and chavista animosity against the United States made it impossible for Major League Baseball’s grassroots and scouting operations to function in Venezuela, much to the delight of Colombian ball (which benefited from the arrival of Venezuelan newcomers).
The economic crisis and mass exodus of millions of Venezuelans led to a period of stagnation and decline in the quality of pelota caliente being played in the LVBP, as well as the number of prospects joining the MLB. Only a short-lived burst in purchasing power in 2022 helped bring back to life the league, and the fantastic form of several of the now National Players increased not only interest, but hope in the possibility that it’s finally Venezuela’s turn to shine.
A measly appearance in semifinals in 2009 is all the Vinotinto squad has to show for its long lineage of top-tier names in baseball’s finest tournaments. The expectations are high and, for once, not paired with dread of imminent failure—a feeling their football counterpart tend to make unavoidable. And rightfully so: They’ve managed to obtain two convincing victories against top dogs Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, holding on to the first place in Group D with a firm grip.
The mood among players is chipper, with egos not getting in the way, but complementing each other. It’s Miguel Cabrera’s last chance to adding this achievement to his astonishing career, Acuña Jr.’s time to prove himself as the best Venezuelan on the diamond, for José Altuve to ratify his All Star status, and for béisbol to jump back to the driver’s seat in Venezuelan sports.
Both wins so far, against the two heftier rivals and favorites to progress past the group stage, were great shows of force and talent, marveling those keeping an eye on how the team has been evolving. Playing their pool in Miami, a second home to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans that fled their home country, the old English football adage feels like an eerily positive prophecy for us: It feels like it’s coming home.
The one rock in the road, two title contenders as the opening games, ended up bolstering the already confident mood in the dugout. Now they face 2017’s Cinderella story, Israel, who finished 6th, and a Nicaraguan team that, albeit small in demographics, are ranked 17th in the World Ranking, as well as having beat the Mets by 2-0 before the WBC began play.
Beating the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico has tilted the odds in the favor of the Vinotinto, now among main favorites to win the coveted first world title. The roar from the crowd in the stands and the tambor music playing in dugout will keep on lasting as long as the party on the field goes on.
Mano, tengo fe.
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