Arriving back in Maracay at 3am after a sweep of Margarita usually has a nice feeling to it with players singing on the plane, telling jokes, and playing cards. This trip was a little different after hearing the startling news of the kidnapping of our teammate and friend Wilson Ramos. News traveled throughout the dugout in our second game in Margarita about the suspected kidnapping. It was a very tough situation for many players to hear this and focus on the game. Players stayed attached to their phones following the game to hear if there was any positive news. There has been similar situations in the past with other MLB stars, but never was the actual player taken. It was usually a family member.
We are all praying and hoping for a speedy and safe return of our teammate. He was in our dugout last week at home hanging out and sharing stories with us about the big leagues. We know that our team along with the Venezuelan police are doing everything they can to alleviate the situation. Many friends and family members asked me about the team and my safety. The team and front office staff goes over and beyond with team security. We have about 8-12 armed guards who travel with us on the planes and buses. We also have police escorts to and from the fields. I know the import players feel safe.
This has been a tough week for all of Venezuela, the fans, and of course the players and his family. Please pray for Wilson and his family. You can leave any thoughts or comments below.
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The Tigres are currently 9-9 and 3.5 games out of first place. On Monday which was our off day, we traveled to Maracaibo in two nice buses which took about 10 hours. I think we went over 100+ speed bumps. Venezuela definitely has the Guinness Book of World Records for speed bumps. The trip wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we stopped along the way every 2-3 hours for food. These guys can eat down here. Our first stop was to this farm type of restaurant. There were horses and cows roaming the field outside of the restaurant. It was a really beautiful site. I sat along with the locals and Alex Nunez ordered for the table. I’m not a picky eater so whatever they brought out I would at least try. We had onion rings, Cachapa’s (HUGE pancake like corn meal/bread), steak, and ribs. The meat was ordered by the kilo. We all demolished the food it was so good. I wish I had some pictures of the food, but I was too hungry to take them. Below are the pics of the restaurant.
Field at Caracas. Both the Leones and Tiburones share this field
Our security team with the team does a spectacular job. These guys travel with us on the road, on the plane, our in our dugout, and help us exit the fields safely. They come onto the field to overlook the crowd for any trouble whenever our manager makes a pitching change. This can be frustrating for the pitcher because when I’m walking back to the mound to get the next hitter out, I see out the corner of my eye that the security guards are coming out I know my time in the game is probably over. We also get a police escort through the city to and from the games to make traffic easier. Motorcycle police lead the way completely strapped with military firepower. I have made some good friends with the security guards who also say I look like Willie Chirino, the Cuban singer. Everytime I walk by one of them they start singing a Chirino tune. It is all in good humor.
Security after the game in Caracas
The Tigres are first class when it comes to everything in Winterball. Like I have said in earlier blogs this is my favorite team and country to play in for Winterball. We get two buses for travel so that everyone can be comfy and spread out and relax on the road trips. This past trip to Zulia we had a chartered flight back from Maracaibo. Although we got back to Maracay around 4am with a game to play the next day, it beats driving 10 hours back.
During our 10 hour voyage to Maracaibo we made plenty of pit stops along the way. One of my favorites was an indoor/outdoor plaza where they sold Arepas, candy, and random gifts. Guitars were a big seller on this road trip. I noticed a couple of guys strumming them on the bus ride. They had a cheese store where players and staff lined up in bulk to buy this freshly baked bread with different variations of cheese. The aroma of the two together was delicious. I wish my pictures were scratch and sniff. Some of the players helped me try out a bunch of the cheeses. Another big seller in Venezuela is chocolate. It is sold everywhere. Its pretty expensive too in some places.
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Ronny Cedeno has been working out with the team lately and hopefully will be playing with us soon. Ronny and his child were taking ground balls turning double plays at home the other day.
Now onto some questions from the last blog.
This is my first time in Venezuela. So far this is my favorite place to play since I have now been to all the Caribbean leagues.
Free agency for the MLB started yesterday. Myself, along with some of my teammates are trying to get picked up by an affiliated team. Hopefully I can get back with MLB or try to go to Taiwan, Korea, or Japan. I just love playing this game and hope to continue my career.
Most players organizations ask the players if they are interested in winterball around August. Some try to push it on players to get extra at-bats or innings. If you are in affiliated ball, your organization must also approve that you play winterball. Guys like myself who are free agents or played overseas usually have their agents contact these teams looking for any interest in extra players.
Lets go Tigres! Keep winning so I can enjoy watching the fans throw their beer in the air to celebrate.
The winterball season has begun and is under way. With Mexico and Venezuela opening earlier last week, and the Dominican this past weekend, the Latin swag is out in full effect. Batters taking their time to get to the batters box to hear their latest walk-out song which is a usually catchy reggaeton beat and pitchers taking the ever so long walk from the bullpens. Batters are itching at the bit to have the token home-run so that they can stare at it as if they are shocked and in awe that they hit it. Act like you been there before. I have to say that because I’m a pitcher. Of course the pitchers add their flare too by pumping up the crowd on a strikeout in any situation. It may be a blow out game where we are boat racing a team, but for the pitcher his moment to shine is to end an inning on a strikeout. And of course the crowd gets into it and screams out “Ponche” (strikeout). Bullpen pitchers also add to the festivities. They may walk all the way from the bullpen or do some ridiculous John Rocker esqe sprint. With all of that there is also a lot of praising the big man above and flaunting the biggest chains and earrings. One would think we are filming a Puff Daddy video that day at the ballpark. All in all it is a part of the culture and the players feed off the fans excitement and play the game the right way.
I’m sure you have heard the saying its not how you look its how you play. Well that saying can go different ways in winterball. Of course winning is the key priority down here because it is such a short season and no one wants to lose. But once the uniforms are handed out in the locker room you would think we were running a seamstress and altering school. Players find anyway to alter their pants to fit big or over the shoes. Jerseys are traded for guys who want their lucky number. Money can be involved or chores for a jersey number. A player may have to bring in another guys bats for a month or get him food.
We opened up the season at home this week against the Cardinales. Showing up to the field on opening day down here is something special. Fans cars have flags and chalk written all over them rooting us on. Tigres Campeon, is the overall chant throughout the city. The fresh smell of arepas, pepitos, and ball park food surrounds the atmosphere. Everyone is decked out in team apparel. Local street vendors sell Tigres jerseys, hats, and anything else you can think of. Tickets for opening day sold out in 2 minutes. Our stadium holds 19,000 people.
The worst part of winterball is batting practice. Instead of having 3 groups for 45 minutes like we do in the United States, we have 5 groups which seem to last an eternity. It seems like everyone takes their cuts, and then someones entourage shows up and takes some hacks. We are out their forever, but its a part of the game and our position players need it to get loose and ready. I’m just complaining because I haven’t been used to doing the bucket for shagging and like most winterball countries balls are like black gold and we don’t have many, so refilling the throwers bucket can get very exhausting.
We ended the opening day game off in a sensational fashion. Hector Gimenez hit a walk off homer with a 3-2 count in the bottom of the 9th. Our stadium erupted. Fans threw their cups up in the air, and mists of soda and beer rained on everyone. Currently we are 3-2 and the team is over in Maragarita. I did not make the trip because I’m not throwing in that series. The team left today out of Valencia in a chartered flight. They will be back late Wednesday night. I’m back on the hill Friday against the Tiburones in Caracas.
Here is some video footage of the pre-game music class that goes on in the locker room. Click Here!
The foreign players on our team are
Lastings Milledge OF
Deunte Heath P
Darin Downs P
Zach Segovia P
Joe Benson OF
Vinnie Rotino 3b/C
Sergio Perez P
Rich Rundles P
This is the field at Magallanes in Valencia prior to my start this past Sunday.
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Being in 3 different countries this year hasn’t stopped me from going to one more. I arrived to Venezuela on Thursday evening around 8pm to play for the Tigres de Aragua. Deunte Heath was on my plane so we were able to catch up during the plane ride and find our drivers once we arrived. Deunte plays for the Chicago Whitesox in AAA and attended the University of Tennessee. The ride to Maracay took about 3 hours from the airport. Its only about an hour and a half away but the traffic and construction prolonged it. While we stood in traffic, locals were in the street selling coffee, snacks, and phone car chargers.
We arrived at the Hotel Pipo which will be housing us for our duration here in Venezuela. The hotel is extremely nice and the pool is like a mini waterpark. Many locals come during the weekends with their kids to play at the pool which has 3 separate pools and water slides.
Once we arrived to the field we were greeted by the players and coaching staff. Buddy Bailey is the manager, and my friend from the Detroit Tigers, Greg Sabat, is the pitching coach. Everything in the clubhouse is run very professional. The clubhouse staff makes sure we get all brand new gear and they take care of cleaning our clothes and shoes. This winterball experience so far tops any of the other countries I have played in. Just the professionalism and way they go an extra step to make the import players feel comfortable means a lot.
The team has been having their spring training practices and tryouts for a week now. The coaching staff still needs to decide on final roster spots. My second day here I threw 3 innings to get my work in for the regular season. Everything felt good and went well. Following that practice we had a team caravan throughout the city for a parade in honor of the opening of the city and our team. This was a special experience to witness. Thirty plus teammates and their entourages jumped on the back of this huge truck and drove down the streets of Maracay. Fans swarmed the streets in Tigres apparel and cheered us on. This event went from 4pm-9pm.
Lastings Milledge and I got tired of being on the truck so we took to the streets to walk and interact with the fans. Our team security does an amazing job for us as well. Lastings was here last year and had a great season and the fans love him . Fans hounded him for pictures and autographs as if he was in a boy band. At one point security was getting overwhelmed by the mass of people and made us get back onto the trucks.
I’m really excited to get the season going here. The fans seem to be very interested in the game and the team. We open up at home on Wednesday October 12 against the Cardinales. I will try to find if you can watch the games online somewhere.
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