While certain sectors of the North American population get excited about the upcoming World Series–my fellow New Yorkers remain parochially aloof without playoff representation–the Venezuelan Winter League began last Thursday, unnoticed on these shores.
The Liga Venozolana de Beisbol Profesional (LVBP) had its origins with American oil workers who went south in search of crude pleasures in the early 20th century. By the 1940s, Venezuelans had a league of their own, and even began to send early pioneers to yanqui territory like Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio.
The LVBP has eight teams, and opening night had a certain symmetry as the Caribes (a fierce razor-toothed fish) of Anzoategui took on the Tiburones (sharks) of the port city of La Guaira; the Tigres (tigers) of Maracay, once home to Miguel Cabrera, took on the Leones (lions) of Caracas; the Cardenales (cardinals) of Barquisimeto, Lara flew into the talons of the mighty Aguilas (eagles) of Maracaibo, Zulia; and finally, the Bravos (braves) of Margarita Island faced off against the Navegantes de Magallanes, the improbably-named “Magellan’s Sailors” of inland Valencia (basically, the Indians against the Portuguese invaders).
After four games, the Eagles are flying high at 4-0, while Magallanes, the New York Yankees of Venezuela, have, for the moment, sunk to the bottom. (You’ll find widespread support across the country for Magallanes; the late President Chavez was a big fan, among others).
Each team has recognizable Major Leaguers on their roster, in addition to old-timers and new-timers looking for another chance or just another, somewhat easier, paycheck.
Here are some of the familiar faces:
Leones de Caracas: Armando Gallaraga (the man who threw the 28-out “perfect game” in 2010, now toiling in Asian baseball), Franklin Morales, Colin McHugh, Ugeth Urbina, Henry Rodriguez, Jesus Sucre, Yangervis Solarte, Eugenio Suarez. Gregorio Petit, The Legendary BOB ABREU (he’ll also retire from Venezuelan baseball, after having bid adios to the Major Leagues in September), Gerardo Parra, Eric Thames.
Navegantes de Magallanes (Valencia): Carlos Zambrano, Edwin Mujica, Freddy Garcia, Felix Doubront, Martin Perez, Alberto Callaspo, Eduardo Escobar, Elvis Andrus, Franklin Torres, Roughned Odor, Endy Chavez, Ezequiel Carrera. They also list Jose Altuve and “Panda” Sandoval on their roster, though I wonder if they will appear–the Panda used the Venezuelan league to get into shape last year, while Altuve swore to work toward a Gold Glove with an Astros’ coach in Atlanta in the off-season.
Tiburones de La Guaira: This is Ozzie Guillen’s old team and features Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Gregor Blanco (all are still in the US in the playoffs, but listed on the roster), Francisco Rodriguez, Henderson Alvarez, Luis Sardinas.
Bravos de Margarita: Long time MLB catcher Henry Blanco takes over as Manager after 16 MLB seasons; Wilmer Flores, Anibal Sanchez.
Tigres de Aragua (Maracay): Luis Sojo, (erstwhile Yankee World Series hero) Manager; Wilson Ramos, Miguel Cabrera (he must have some kind of “legend” status here, just guessing).
Aguilas de Zulia (Maracaibo): Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Pirela (Yankees rookie), Ender Inciarte, Marwyn Gonzalez.
Cardinales de Lara: Felix Fermin (long time MLB SS) Manager; Cesar Izturis.