Winter Wonderland

FotojuegoIf you believe baseball ends with the final out of the World Series, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong.
You see, baseball for me never stops. As soon as the Major Leagues finish their regular season, we start switching gears and preparing ourselves for Winter Baseball being played in several Caribbean countries, such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela.

Being a Venezuelan, I know from experience how great it is to see a Winter League game. It was here that I fell in love with baseball, and I had the full Field of Dreams experience as a kid: going through the steps at the ballpark, and seeing the pristine green field with the white basepaths just printed out on it.

Venezuelan fans are unique, it’s so much noisier and passionate than it will ever be in the United States. I’m sorry for my American friends, but it’s a cultural matter, and there isn’t nothing wrong with that. In the States, you go and have a good time watching a ballgame. In Venezuela, you go to watch a ballgame and to attend a full-out party at the same time: You dance, yell, dance some more, sing, cheer loudly and a whole lot more. Have you seen a samba band playing at the stands in any US ballpark making fans of a determined team dance and sing, just like they do with the La Guaira Sharks, for example?

Cheering never ends. From the first pitch up to the final one. Rivalries here take a whole new meaning, just ask Magallanes and Caracas fans, a rivalry so bitter and so intertwined in our culture it’s unparalleled everywhere. I don’t even think Yankees and Red Sox fans can say they have a similar one.

Baseball is in our blood. And from the next four months, we’ll be talking about it nonstop. Anchorpeople from all networks will unabashedly say in their newscasts they are cheering for a determined team. Eighty per cent of people attending games will be wearing their favorite jerseys (and many will follow suit on the streets). Many commercials on TV will mention the ongoing season. Journalists will remain objective in their writing and reporting but will not abide to the "no cheering in the press box" rule that exists elsewhere. Oh no. They will applaud and cheer just like any other fan. That’s the way it is here and it has always worked.

It’s a baseball atmosphere unlike any other. And I tell you, I’ll be keeping an eye on many Astros prospects that will play. For example, the Caracas Lions will feature coveted pitching prospect Juan Gutierrez, who was 8-4 with a 5.06 ERA in Double-A. Magallanes will have plenty of ‘Stros futures such as Paul Estrada, and there is a lot of speculation going on about the possible return of Luke Scott, who tore up the League last year.

I would never end trying to describe you how it feels to experience Venezuelan Winter Baseball. And yet it would not make it justice. I hope one day you might be able to see that for yourselves.

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