We have documented, from time to time, Venezuela’s descent into the final stages of socialism. You know you are nearing the end when people eat their pets. But that’s not all: Patrick Reusse, a veteran sportswriter at Minneapolis’s Star Tribune, notes that even baseball is abandoning Venezuela:
Bill Smith was in charge of setting up a training academy for the Twins that opened in Bejuma, Venezuela, in 1995. There was a clubhouse and dormitory added in 2000.
Amid the chaos, major league teams began to abandon Venezuelan facilities. The Twins were the last team to vacate, formally departing Bejuma at the end of 2016.
Here’s what is amazing: Teenage Venezuelans of interest are now sent to Cartagena, Colombia, for full evaluation — meaning, the land of Pablo Escobar is now seen as a more stable environment for baseball camps than exists in Venezuela.
Pat is a diehard lefty, but he is honest, in a way that outlets like the New York Times never are, in explaining what happened to once-prosperous Venezuela:
Hugo Chavez had once tried to lead a military coup in Venezuela. Then, in 1998, he was elected as president, and brought a Communist autocracy to the country. Eventually, the economy collapsed and Venezuela became a more dangerous place.
Kidnapping became an industry. Major league players had to worry about family members back home. Then-Washington catcher Wilson Ramos, a former Twins top prospect, was kidnapped and found three days later in November 2011.
Venezuela has produced a long list of major league stars, from Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio (my favorite player of his era) to the Twins’ Cesar Tovar, to all-stars like David Concepcion, Manny Trillo, Ozzie Guillen, Andres Gallaraga, Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu, Twin Johan Santana, Victor Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera and Felix Hernandez. If Wikipedia is accurate, 375 Venezuelans have played in the majors, of whom nearly 100 are now active. There are still good baseball players in Venezuela, but now, the first step in their development is to get them out of the hellhole that socialism has created.
PAUL ADDS: Cartagena is a lovely city and a tourist haven. It is starting to produce good baseball players. Several have made it to the majors, for example Julio Teheran. And I’m seeing a fair number of players from Cartagena at the minor league games (Class A) I attend.
There must be a pretty good academy in Cartagena and probably in the other big Colombian coastal city, Barranquilla, too. That’s where Edgar Renteria is from. Add some good Venezuelan talent and these academies will be cranking out the prospects.