As the regular season comes to an end in Venezuela, so does my season here. I was not added to the playoff roster by the Tigres de Aragua. I will be headed home shortly this week. I would like to thank everyone involved with the Tigres especially the front office staff, Manuel and Rafael. They have been very grateful and have gone past expectations in making my stay in Venezuela extremely pleasurable.
Of course I want to thank my teammates and coaching staff for helping me and playing their hearts out behind me. This is a very special bunch of guys and I only wish them the best going forward in the playoffs. I loved playing with them, listening to them play tambour music, and just spending time with them sharing stories in the locker room.
Finally, I want to thank the fans. Every country I go to I see how much the fans adore and support their teams. Never have I seen so much support for their team as I have here in Venezuela. The fans love their team and their sport here. These three months of baseball here during the winter are like the Olympics to the fanaticos. They love the game and respect it. They want you to perform well each and every time. Their passion for the game is unexplainable. You need to see it in person to appreciate it. No video or picture can explain the excitement. Every game from the very first feels like the 7th game of the world series. It really was a treat to come here and play baseball and witness it in person.
I hope to come back next season and perform better. I know my statistics weren’t good this season, but I know I can perform here at a competitive level and get better.
This team has been through much adversity with the kidnapping of Wilson Ramos, to the death of a great player Rosman Garcia. I know they are strong willed and have the passion to win and push each other to win. Arriba Tigres!
Thanks also to all the teammates and security staff for calling me Willie Chirino’s all season. I loved it and laughed non stop trying to sing “Mediaa Negras” for you all.
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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.
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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