Who made the best catch of 2014 in all of Major League Baseball?
It could be argued that Ezequiel Carrera of the Detroit Tigers holds that distinction; a wonderful running, leaping grab in Yankee Stadium, with his back to home plate, was one of the season’s defensive highlights:
Ezequiel of Jerusalem was an Old-Testament prophet, still venerated by Jews, Christians, Bahai’ans and Muslims around the globe. Ezequiel of Venezuela realizes that he still has to work on his game to get some regular MLB play–at age 27, he’s never had more than 202 plate appearances across four seasons (his Biblical namesake preached in the hinterlands for 22 years, so Baby Zeke has some way to go).
Also on the time-might-be-running-out-for-me category is Andres Blanco, 30, whose most recent playing experience is with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of Pennsylvania. Named for one of Venezuela’s most well-known poets and revolutionaries, Andres Eloy Blanco, the minor-league player would be happy for another chance in the bigs–some at-bats with Magallanes might provide that chance.
An even more experienced hand, 36-year-old Endy Chavez of the Seattle Mariners, will, like the prophet and poet, join the Magallanes roster when he’s ready—teams are allowed to update their player lists weekly, so new arrivals can get back into shape, if necessary, which both Carrera and Chavez indicated they might need time to do.
Another intriguing senior-level addition for the Magallanes is two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana, who was ready to return to action for the Orioles in 2014 when a ruptured achilles tendon in his left leg ended the comeback. The big man from Tovar, just outside Merida, could make some appearances for the Navegantes in December and January, depending on how his rehab progresses.
While MLB fans start to wonder where Pablo Sandoval might play next season, these Venezuelans have already headed south to improve their chances for 2015. The Panda played himself into shape there last winter, but in a contract year, after yet another World Series victory, might be a bit less vigilant about his off-season conditioning.
One of my favorite success stories of 2014 was Eduardo Escobar of the Twins; taking advantage of injuries and a second-division team, E-squared staked his claim to the Minnesota shortstop position. Not content to rest on his laurels, he’s playing for retired MLB infielder and Venezuelan hero Luis Sojo, now manager of the Tigres de Aragua in Maracay. Escobar went 3-for-4 in the Tigers’ victory on Saturday.
The Caribbean leagues–Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela–used to be de rigueur for Major League Players during the US winter–to play themselves into shape, to sharpen their skills, to make a bit of extra money–heck, maybe some of them just liked to play baseball! Fewer take advantage of the opportunity to play for this passionate fan base any longer, for a variety of reasons. To me, that’s a shame.