Moon Over Maracaibo

On the shore of Lake Maracaibo, just a glance from the Hotel El Paseo Best Western, sits a small baseball field—ringed by security fences and seven light towers, it could almost double as a prison yard. It is well protected and the best illuminated surface for blocks around. The grass is threadbare, an old green carpet partially worn through. You wouldn’t think that being near a salty lake with a portal to the Atlantic Ocean helps the grass grow too much.
Palms stand sentry over the spectator-less stand. The lake brisas (breezes) pick up and whip the trees into a sultry dance. It almost feels cold—in fact, inside this hotel, like much of Maracaibo, it’s freakin’ freezing. Carlos says the Venezuelan joke is, what’s the coldest place in the country? Maracaibo, because everything is air-conditioned.
It was here in Maracaibo the major-league dreams of Venezuela were launched, for this is the seat of the family Aparicio. Luis Aparicio Sr (“El Grande”) was a star shortstop before his son went off to a major league career in el norte and parlayed 18 American League seasons in Chicago, Baltimore and Boston into a place in the US Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
How many of these kids know the Aparicio story? They come one by one, two by two, toting shoulder bags filled with bats and balls.
I sit alone at first in the stand hoping that someone will comment on my Aparicio jersey. Not much chance of that. Sometimes you can try too hard.
Our friend Nando joins Carlos and I in the stand and we talk about the game being played tonight by some fairly serious employees of the local companies. Softball is huge now in Venezuela—companies actually pay people to play, so some of these guys might be ringers. Nando says if you’re good enough, you can actually make a living at playing softball.
The game ends up being an enjoyable affair between a red-jersey team and a team who all wear Cleveland Indians kits—when their shortstop makes a diving stop, you’d swear it was Omar Vizquel (OK, maybe not). There’s some good-natured ribbing when one guy spins around swinging for the fences—dale otra pinata—‘do another pinata!’—his friends shout. One little man dressed in blue—not matching either team—jacks one over the fence in left field and into the palm trees. “Little, but powerful,” we agree.
Back across the street in the rotating bar of the hotel, Nando tells us his brother accompanied the Venezuelan team to the last Baseball World Classic. While the Venezuelans went out on an all-night bender for Miguel Cabrera’s birthday, the players and journalists alike were shocked to see the Japanese team rise as one and bow when manager Saduhara Oh entered the dining hall. The moral of the story– if one is to be had– is that the Japanese have won both World Classics, while the hugely talented Venezuelan side has faltered.
The clouds cover the Maracaibo moon actually part in a “Z” formation, as in Zulia (the State of which Maracaibo is the capital). The eternal flame of petrochemical commerce blazes from the smokestacks of Puerto Altagracia across the lake, and the softball field lights outside the hotel are now extinguished.

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About vzbaseball

Writer, Musician, Baseball Fanatic. Lonely Planet, Fodor's, scouring the nation and globe for stories. Big fish, small pond.
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