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.
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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