Two years ago Bob Abreu ate himself out of a Major League job. He returned with Leones of Caracas in 2013-14, enough to get him a spot on the New York Mets roster, where he acted as mentor to young Valenciano Wilmer Flores. I recall his four-hit game against the San Diego Padres; el Comedulce (the sweet-eater) with a swing as sweet as ever at age 40.
It was nice to see Bob return for a criollo swan song (he got a hit in his final MLB at-bat and walked off to great applause). He´s been busy–he´s now president of the growing Venezuelan Basketball League–and thus just returned to baseball action this week.
Not everything has a storybook ending, however, and Bob Kelly Abreu is 0-for-10 thus far. Last night he struck out, grounded out, and flied out; on a positive note he earned a walk in the eighth inning. But los Leones lost again and fell into seventh place in the eight-team league, behind even their Caracas rivals los Tiburones.
The important thing is that Bob gave it one last shot–after getting knocked down a peg or two in 2013, he came back and with millions in the bank already, won a spot in the Major Leagues. Bravo, Candy Man.
Last night I returned to the Estadio Universitario to see Bob and the Lions. While waiting for my friend Gustavo Vilario and his sister Angela (a die-hard Magallanes fan), I went to one of the souvenir stands in the plaza. As in Maracaibo, I was able to strike a deal for 20 US dollars and come away with a bagful of booty–hats, scarves, shirts, ribbons, pins. The boss of the tent, Danyeri Flores, was a straight shooter and calculated my final price to be 19.66 (if one were to take advantage of the black market, of course). A good omen: 1966 was the year the great Aparicio won his only World Series with the Baltimore Orioles. I retrieve the Alexander Hamilton from my sock. Keep the change, Danyeri!
It´s a spirited game, and visiting Lara are bamboozled by submarine-style pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe. Pon-che! Gustavo retrieves a tidbit from his long-term memory, bringing up the name Kent Tekulve out of nowhere—the gangly submariner with the 1979 champion Pittsburgh Pirates who looked like a praying mantis in a bright yellow uniform. Or the bad-ass guard in Cool Hand Luke, when he wore dark shades.
Gustavo hasn´t been to a game since coming here with his dad many years ago, and it´s different….no more fans with smoke bombs in the bleachers, no more bottle throwing….some things in Venezuela have changed for the better.
There´s an odd contest in the fourth inning where they bring two male fans on the field for a push-up contest. To make things interesting–and sexy, of course–a cheerleader sits on each of the participants´backs. One is riding her contestant rather suggestively. Oh dear.
Venezuelan baseball has also borrowed many things from the US–from the annoying thunder sticks which were given out before the game to the amusing “kiss-cam” which always solicits laughter.
Watanabe´s Japanese magic works until the sixth inning, when Luis Valbuena, late of Chicago Cubs fame, tags a two-run homer just inside the right-field fair pole (here, they actually do call it a fair pole, Tim McCarver). Two relievers later, a three-run homer by shortstop Gabriel Noriega seals the result for the Cardenales of Lara, who maintain the fifth and final position for January´s round-robin playoff.
Angela, a Magallanera with no love for archrival Caracas, is merciless in her teasing, as is the vociferous contingent of Cardenales fans in our section. One guy is so excited that while he is yelling for a “do-blay play,” he´s simultaneously blowing up one of his damaged thundersticks (insert blow-up doll joke here).
There´s a smattering of Spanglish patois–tonight´s p.a. announcer says ¨right fielder¨instead of jardinero derecho. Maikol Gonzalez of Lara is pronounced like our “Michael.” “Espera turno” (waiting your turn) is “on deck.”
It´s the tradition baseball dinner for me–a box of cotufa (popcorn) and a few Dixie cups of beer. After the eighth inning, we leave for a few drops of Cacique 500 rum on the rooftop bar of the 360 restaurant, the panorama of the capital´s concrete jungle illuminated by December´s first full moon.
Good night, Caracas.