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.
Please be sure to follow me on Twitter for more updates pics and videos. Click here Thanks for the support. Please ask questions and comments so I can add them in my next blog.
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.
Thanks for all the support and checking out my blog. As always please leave comments and ask questions.
Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/scottyd30