Baseball in Venezuela, Part 1


1280px-Universitario-caracas
Estadio Universitario de Caracas, photo by Hector Yanez via Wikipedia

As promised last week, I want to look more closely at issues in Venezuela, especially as they intersect with baseball. One of the basic ideas of Sport Sociology and Baseball Sociology is that sport is a microcosm of life – thus, sport can both reflect what’s going on in society as well as become a part of it. Baseball is no exception.

Part 1 of this series will provide a brief history of baseball in Venezuela; Part 2 will look at some of the recent political and economic issues in Venezuela; and Part 3 will bring us back to the current impact of those events on baseball. While I am not an expert on Venezuela or Venezuelan baseball, I can provide a brief overview of the issues to help us be better informed. I welcome comments from those who are experts in these issues.

According to Baseball Reference, baseball was introduced to Venezuela in the 1890s by Venezuelan students who had studied at U.S. colleges. Over the next few decades baseball grew in popularity and eventually professional teams developed. In 1927, the Federación Venezolana de Béisbol was founded, followed by the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in 1945. The first major leaguer from Venezuela was Alejandro Carrasquel, who debuted with the Washington Senators on April 23, 1939. Since then, more than 200 Venezuelans have played Major League Baseball. Luis Aparicio was the first Venezuelan to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Venezuela national baseball team participated in a variety of international events in the first half of the 20th century, making its first international appearance at the Central American Games in 1938 (where the took 4th place). Baseball became even more popular in Venezuela when it won the Amateur World Series (later called the Baseball World Cup) in 1941, after placing 4th in 1940. Between 1940 and 1970, Venezuela won a total of 9 medals at the World Cup: 3 gold, 2 silver, and 4 bronze. Venezuela also won gold at the 1954 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 1959 Pan American Games.

Venezuela won the Caribbean Series championship in 1970, after the competition was re-established (it has been dissolved in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution), and captured the championship six more times between 1979 and 2009. In 2009, Venezuela took third place at the World Baseball Classic.

In short, there is a rich baseball history in Venezuela, and Venezuelans love their national pastime. MLB loved Venezuelan baseball, too, at least until recently. Later this week, we’ll look at the economic and political situation in Venezuela…

~ baseballrebecca

 

Still Haunted by the Huntsville Stars


9923381-largeYesterday, I wrote of my adventures looking for remnants of the Huntsville Stars. I wondered why the team left town after 30 years? Not enough of a fan base? A bad location for the stadium? A quick bit of research turned up few clues, except an interesting article from September 2015 posted on the WHNT-19 website. In the article, the author lamented the loss of the team, which had just won the league championship as the Biloxi Shuckers against the Chattanooga Lookouts, both of which were enjoying new ballparks:

Joe W. Davis Stadium is all full of empty. It’s home to old memories, dust and, probably, the family of skunks that long-ago inspired the Huntsville Stars’ costumed mascot. And what has happened stinks.

Baseball was a rousing success in Huntsville during its three decades. Then it became an abysmal failure. The blame? Lousy, apathetic ownership. An out-dated, bad stadium. An area notoriously fickle when it comes to spectator sports. It’d take a documentary, not a commentary, to dive into all the reasons.

I don’t know what baseball was like in Huntsville, but I’m sure it was great. After all, it was baseball. Strangely, I’d always wanted to attend a Huntsville Stars game – ever since I was doing research on the minors in the 1990s and learned of it. How cool that it was named in honor of the city’s space flight heritage (Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and home to the famed Space Camp). It made me sad to see the stadium abandoned. In fact, even their website was abandoned – when you Google “Huntsville Stars,” the first website on the list is “The Official Site of The Huntsville Stars” – frozen in time from 2014. It’s just a little sad. And creepy.

As I mentioned yesterday, the team won the league championship title in three separate years, and was division champs 8 times. Here are just a few players who played in Huntsville: J.J. Hardy, Mike Bordick, Nelson Cruz, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Jose Canseco, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Yovani Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and Jonathan Lucroy.

I want to know more about this team and this place – and not just because a bunch of Orioles once played here. I’ll ask around while I’m in town. Someday, I’ll get around to doing more research on baseball in Alabama, especially in Huntsville.

~ baseballrebecca

IMG_0044

 

Wishing Upon a Huntsville Star


IMG_0024There’s nothing sadder than an abandoned ballpark. Whenever I visit a new city, the first thing I do is check out its baseball scene – past and present. Unfortunately, I arrived in Huntsville, AL, three years too late to see the Huntsville Stars.

The Stars were a Southern League (AA) team from 1985 to 2014, affiliated first with the Oakland A’s (1985 to 1998), then with the Milwaukee Brewers. They won the league championship in 1985, 1994, and 2001, and division titles in five additional years. Unfortunately for Huntsville, the team moved to Biloxi, MS, after the 2014 season. They are currently known as the Biloxi Shuckers.

IMG_0019The first thing I did once I arrived in Huntsville was type in “Huntsville Stars” in Google. Despite telling me they were “permanently closed,” Google still gave me directions to Joe W. Davis Stadium. I missed my turn and ended up in the parking lot of a movie theater, but that’s when I noticed a large, hulking structure through the fence. It looked eerily abandoned. I stopped the car and took a closer look. It was a concrete building – shaped vaguely like a baseball stadium. I could almost make out the seating area and the stadium lights. That had to be it!

I turned around, found the correct road, and drove slowly toward the stadium. It was like something out of the past. Even though the stadIMG_0018ium has only been closed for two seasons, it looked old and abandoned. Chain link fence surrounded it, though I could still see the back of the scoreboard in the outfield – and two large signs in the shape of a star on either side of it. I’d definitely reached my destination.

I circled the stadium, taking it all in. Several “No Trespassing” signs were posted along the chain link fence. The box office was sadly silent. I turned the corner and caught a glimpse of the field. I parked and walked closer, feeling as if I were disturbing a sacred resting place. As I neared the fence, I could see the outfield scoreboard again. Directly in front of me on the concourse was a sign that said “Bat Boys.” I got back into the car and drove around to the other side of the outfield, parked again, and walked as close as I dared to the dear, departed stadium. From this vantage point I could see more of the field and the seating area.

Before ghosts appeared on the field à la “Field of Dreams,” I scampered back to the safety of my rental car. I may have been too late for the Huntsville Stars, yet, I felt like they were somehow still there.

~ baseballrebecca

IMG_0041

 

 

Obama and Baseball


obama-and-willie-mays
President Obama and Willie Mays on Air Force One, July 14, 2009

President Barack Obama has been doing a lot of baseball-related things this week. On Monday, he hung out with the Chicago Cubs at the White House. On Tuesday, he pardoned Willie McCovey, who had been sentenced to two years probation in 1995.

He probably won’t have time for any other baseball activities in his last few hours as President. So, I thought I’d just reflect on his baseball highlights from the last 8 years, including that time he hung out with the Washington Nationals Racing Presidents:

2009:

  • May 15: Welcomes 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies to the White House
  • July 14: Attends his first game as President, throwing out the first pitch of the MLB All Star game in St. Louis; accompanied by Willie Mays on Air Force One

2010:

  • February 8: Greets the 2009 Little League World Series Champions, the Park View All-Stars from Chula Vista, CA
  • April 5: Throws out first pitch at Washington Nationals home opener
  • April 26: Welcomes 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees to the White House
  • June 18: Attends White Sox v. Nationals game in DC. White Sox win
  • August 14: Obama honors collegiate champions in several sports, including College World Series Champions, University of South Carolina

2011:

  • July 25: Honors 2010 World Series winners, San Francisco Giants at the White House
  • November 30: Meets with Dutch Prime Minister, who gives him a baseball jersey of the Dutch National Team, which won the Baseball World Cup the previous month

2012:

  • January 17: Hosts 2011 World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, at the White House
  • August 3: Signs the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act into law
  • August 10: Announces selections for Presidential Delegation to attend the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, which includes former MLB player and Gallaudet University baseball head coach, Curtis Pride

2013:

  • July 29: Welcomes 2012 World Series winners, the San Francisco Giants, to the White House
  • August 4: Honors former Negro Leaguers at the White House, including Minnie Minoso, Pedro Sierra, and Ron Teasley
  • November 20: Awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ernie Banks

2014:

  • April 1: Welcomes the Boston Red Sox, 2013 World Series winners, to the White House
  • May 20: Makes surprise visit at Little League game in Washington, DC; throws first pitch
  • May 22: Visits the Cooperstown, NY, and the Baseball Hall of Fame to make a speech about tourism; donates the jacket he wore when he threw out his first 1st pitch in 2009
  • November 22: Plays golf in Las Vegas with Dereck Jeter on an off day

2015:

  • May 18: Gets his own Twitter account, follows the White Sox and other Chicago sports teams (but apparently not the Cubs)
  • June 5: Hosts 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants at the White House
  • June 11: Attends annual Congressional Baseball Game
  • November 24: Bestows the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Yogi Berra and Willie Mays

2016:

  • March 22: Attends a Tampa Bay Rays game. With Raul Castro. In Cuba.
  • June 20: Interviewed by Derek Jeter for The Players’ Tribune
  • July 20: Welcomes 2015 World Series winners, Kansas City Royals, to the White House
  • November 22: Awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vin Scully

 

Thank you, President Obama. Now that you’ll have a little more free time, let’s catch a ballgame together!

~ baseballrebecca

 

Resolution Honoring Vin Scully


330px-scully_gmOn Wednesday this week, three senators, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and Xavier Becerra from California introduced the following resolution in the U.S. Senate to recognize the contributions of Vin Scully:

Honoring Vincent Edward “Vin” Scully, the United States baseball broadcaster who has magnificently served as the play-by-play announcer for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for 67 Major League Baseball seasons since 1950.

Whereas Vincent Edward “Vin” Scully was born in the Bronx, New York, on November 29, 1927;

Whereas Vin Scully was raised in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York;

Whereas when Vin Scully was 8 years old he decided he wanted to become a sports announcer;

Whereas in 1950, at the age of 22, Vin Scully joined the radio and television broadcast team for the Brooklyn Dodgers;

Whereas in 1953, at the age of 25, Vin Scully became the youngest individual to announce the broadcast of a World Series game;

Whereas Vin Scully announced Brooklyn Dodgers’ games through 1957, after which he moved with the Dodgers to Los Angeles as the first team in Major League Baseball to play in Southern California;

Whereas Vin Scully is credited with teaching the game of baseball to Los Angeles;

Whereas since 1950, Vin Scully has announced more than 9,000 Major League Baseball games and almost 1/2 of all Los Angeles Dodgers games ever played;

Whereas Vin Scully has announced numerous iconic moments in baseball history, including—

(1)   on September 9, 1965, Vin Scully announced Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Chicago Cubs, concluding, “Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flourish. He struck out the last 6 consecutive batters. So when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record book, that ‘K’ stands out more than the ‘oufax’.”;

(2)   on April 8, 1974, Vin Scully called the 715th homerun by Hank Aaron to break Babe Ruth’s longstanding homerun record, stating, “What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the State of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”; and

(3) on October 15, 1988, during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series at Dodger Stadium, Vin Scully announced a game-winning, pinch hit homerun by injured Los Angeles Dodger Kirk Gibson against Oakland Athletics’ reliever Dennis Eckersley, declaring, “High fly ball into right field. She is gone … In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”;

Whereas Vin Scully has described the exploits of some of baseball’s all-time greats, including Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Duke Snider, Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela, Tommy Lasorda, Orel Hershiser, Mike Piazza, and Clayton Kershaw, among many others;

Whereas Vin Scully has been nicknamed “The Shakespeare of Baseball”, “The Voice of the Dodgers”, and “The Voice of Summer”;

Whereas Vin Scully has been awarded the honors of—

(1) National Sportscaster of the Year from the National Sports Media Association in 1965, 1978, and 1982;

(2) Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982;

(3) induction into the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame in 1991;

(4) induction into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1992;

(5) Life Achievement Emmy Award for Sportscasting in 1995;

(6) induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995;

(7) Sportscaster of the Century from the American Sportscasters Association in 2000;

(8) induction into the California Sports Hall of Fame in 2008;

(9) induction into the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2009

(10) Ambassador Award of Excellence from the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission in 2009;

(11) Top Sportscaster of All-Time from the American Sportscasters Association in 2009;

(12) Baseball Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award in 2014; and

(13) 32-time California Sportscaster of the Year;

Whereas, on September 23, 2016, during a pregame ceremony at Dodgers Stadium to honor Vin Scully for his iconic life and contributions, he was likened to Norman Rockwell and film character George Bailey; and

Whereas Vin Scully will announce his final game on October 2, 2016, when the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the San Francisco Giants: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress—

(1) honors the life and legendary career of Vincent Edward “Vin” Scully, whose character, artistry, and storytelling as an announcer for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers has set the standard for sports announcing; and

(2) wishes Vin Scully a fulfilling retirement as he bids farewell to the broadcast booth following the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

Padres Hall of Fame


DSCN2345The San Diego Padres unveiled their new Hall of Fame museum at the Petco Park on July 1. Fortuitously, I just so happened to be there on July 2.The space provides a nice overview of Padres history as well as the history of baseball in San Diego.

The Padres’ Hall of Fame dates back to 1999, when it was created to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the team. Now it has a physical location as well. The following players, managers, owners, and announcers, have been elected to San Diego’s HoF:

  • Randy Jones (Padres pitcher 1973-80)
  • Nate Colbert (1B, 1969-74)
  • Ray Kroc (Owner, 1974-84)
  • Dave Winfield (OF, 1973-80)
  • Buzzie Bavasi (President, 1969-77)DSCN2346
  • Jerry Coleman (Announcer/Manager, 1972-2013)
  • Tony Gwynn (OF, 1982-2001)
  • Dick Williams (Manager, 1982-85)
  • Trevor Hoffman (P, 1994-2008)
  • Benito Santiago (C, 1986-92)
  • Garry Templeton (SS, 1982-99)
  • Ted Williams (OF, PCL Padres, 1936-37)
  • Ken Caminiti (3B, 1995-98)

The courtyard just outside the Hall of Fame features 16 replicas of the National Baseball Hall of Fame plaques of Hall of Famers associated with San Diego – those who either played for or coached the the minor- or major league San Diego Padres, including:  Ted Williams, Willie McCovey, Rollie Ringers, Larry Doby, Sparky Anderson, Tony Perez, Ozzie Smith, and Ricky Henderson. Mike Piazza will be added after his formal indication into Cooperstown. In front of the wall are pedestals with the Hall of DSCN2343Fame plaques of Dave Winfield and Tony Gwynn, who are the only two players inducted into the National Baseball Hall Fame as San Diego Padres.

In case you were wondering, minor league baseball was played in San Diego from 1936 up until the MLB Padres were born in 1969. The team, known as the San Diego Padres, was a member of the Pacific Coast League and was affiliated with the Boston Red Sox (in 1936), Cleveland Indians (1949-51, 1957-59), Chicago White Sox (1960-61), Cincinnati Reds (1962-65), and Philadelphia Phillies (1966-1969) over the years.

~ baseballrebecca