Latin Link: President Chavez praises Venezuelan players
The 2012 World Series was too brief and anticlimactic, and I know most fans consider it a distant memory. I don’t have a problem with the outcome. The San Francisco Giants played amazing baseball, and I’m man enough to admit that my prediction was a bit flawed. In case you missed the news, though, the event provided a backdrop for some international political showmanship.
With the election on everyone’s mind, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney were frequently asked which team they favored in the Fall Classic. For reasons not worth discussing, both camps had sympathetic leanings toward the Detroit Tigers, and even Jay Leno was drawn into the hype.
Let’s face it. Neither Obama nor Romney can be considered avid fans of our national pastime. But Hugo Chavez, who recently won another term to govern Venezuela, is a student of the game. His childhood dream was to become a major league pitcher, and at age 57, he still likes to throw around the pelota. So, Chavez was quick to point out that this year’s tournament was a virtual marquee of Venezuelan stars. While native sons Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante played well for the Tigers, they were outclassed by Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco of the Giants. Either way, it was a win-win situation for the president, and he wanted everyone to hear about all the success.
“Next year, Obama, you’re going to have to play the World Series in Venezuela,” quipped Chavez, “because there’s Venezuelans all over the place.”
Now, my friend Hugo is known to use some salty language toward America and its leaders, but his republic’s success on the ball diamond have put him in a playful mood.
“What would the major leagues do without Venezuelans?” he questioned. “They’d get bored.”
After game two, Chavez got emotional about Sandoval’s three bombs that left the yard.
“Pablo is going down in history,” he tweeted. “Long live Venezuela.”
It’s true Venezuela has the potential to catch up with the Dominican Republic in numbers for Latino supremacy in the game. Unfortunately, most big league organizations have shut down their academies during the 14 years Chavez has been in power. The number of clubs still operating in Venezuela have dropped from a high of 21 in 2002 to only four teams. Furthermore, an “extreme fatigue” rule has been created among major league executives to discourage Venezuelans with high-dollar contracts from playing winter ball in their home country. There are currently 57 players on that list.
General managers cite complicated currency controls and security issues as huge problems in Venezuela. And who can blame them? Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in Latin America, and the country is leading the hemisphere in kidnappings for ransom. Chavez privately admits that measures must be taken to halt violent crime, although he continues to provide free weapons to the poor in certain sections of Caracas. Publicly, he plays the blame game, accusing neighboring Colombia for most of the violence.
The bottom line is Chavez needs to clean house in Venezuela and create a better climate for his country’s most popular sport. Youth fields are numerous, but are little more than sun-cracked garbage dumps. Where is all the oil money to improve these sites? And where is the security to protect notable professional players when they return home to enjoy life and spend their money? If these athletes are urged by their American employer to not play in the offseason, it deprives Venezuelan fans the enjoyment of watching their heroes in action.
Congratulations on the World Series, President Chavez, but now it’s time to quit joking around. There’s a lot of work to be done if baseball is to prosper on Venezuelan soil. You have six more years to roll up your sleeves and get it done.