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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Last night prior to my start in Tainan against the Lions (sorry had the Elephants before made the correction now), I’m about to warm up on the field and noticed something is wrong with one of my cleats. I look down and see that my metal spikes are about to come off. For those of you who don’t know many Asian type cleats are interchangeable and have screws and metal plates with the cleats on them. My cleat was missing two screws and the metal frame was dangling. I guess I didn’t realize after each start you should tighten up the screws because they can come loose. This all happened 20 minutes before the game. I scrambled around the locker room looking for someone who one had the special tool to unscrew them or some extra screws. Luckily, our equipment manager Ashton found the tool. Unfortunately, that was all that he found. I had to now remove the middle cleat plate from both shoes to be worn evenly. This was extremely awkward at first when I started to jog and get loose, but I guess it could have been worse.
The game wasn’t one of my better games. We lost 4-3 and I threw 5.1 innings. I left the game tied at 2. The most amazing part of the game was the rain delay. As typhoon type rain came down in the top of the 8th inning, the field crew runs on the field and covers the mound and home plate. I then noticed them putting 10 x 10 foot tarps over each base individually. I turn to Steve Hammond and ask where is the big tarp to cover everything. He replies you are looking at them. I only wish I was able to get video or pictures of the amount of rain that came down and was sitting on the field. I honestly would have bet $100 that there was no chance we could play especially after an hour of non stop rain and with the baselines, second base, short stop, and third base completely exposed. After the rain stopped about 30 kids ran onto the field with sponges and soaked up the field. I laughed a bit seeing these guys with small sponges trying to work, because there was so much water. I have to give it to them though, they worked very hard and somehow we got the rest of the game in.
Notes from the week
– Reminder you can not hit a batter who has hit a homerun in that game. If you do you are ejected. That happen to one of our guys last week. Worst part was it was on a bad slider in which he lost control of it. But rules are rules I guess.
– If you hit a batter in the head you are ejected. This happened last night with our pitcher. I believe the hitter is doing fine and sustained no serious injuries.
– With all of these pitcher ejections, I don’t think you have to leave the dugout or get fined.
– The All-Star game is this weekend in Kaohsiung. The entire team is based on fan votes. There is some starter going with a 5.50 ERA and a losing record. But must be a fan favorite.
– A lot of friends have asked me about some of the equipment out here. The best place to get custom gloves, arm guards, and leg guards is http://www.taiwanbaseball.com.tw/ Ask for my friend Derick. They are extremely professional and the workmanship of the gloves is the best. You can pretty much customize any part of the glove. They ship worldwide.
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After four games in the DR, the Licey Tigers are 3-1. We have had solid pitching and hitting so far. Of the four games we have played, guess how many started on time? NONE! And I’m not saying late by five or ten minutes. We did have two opening days so I’ll give that the benefit of the doubt, but yesterday we had a delay for four helicopters to land on the field which had our cheerleaders and mascot in them. I just feel for the starting pitcher, because they really never know when the game is going to start.
The fields here are pretty nice. The grandstands in most of the stadiums are large and can hold anywhere from 10,000-18,000 people. The fans here love and respect the game so much. They go ecstatic throughout the game waving flags and blowing horns and vuvuzelas nonstop. If we hit a home-run or a player moves a guy over with less than two outs we hear the same loud ovation. The fans have a cheer “Licey Campeon” which I have found myself singing to it in the bullpen because it is catchy.
We have cheerleaders who were imported from Columbia to entertain the fans and players in the dugout in between innings. These are the cheerleaders for Casper Wells’ team Escogido. No offense to my Florida Marlins, but these beat the Manatee dancers.
Tonight we are home against the Gigantes of Cibao. Robert Collelo (Red Sox) is on the bump. We then have three straight games on the road. BTW, we do not celebrate Halloween down here.
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