Venezuelans are celebrating their homegrown baseball heroes as a record contingent of players from the country heads into the World Series with the Giants and Detroit Tigers.
Nine Venezuelans, including five with the Giants, will feature in the series starting tonight — the most ever.
“It’s the first time, but it had to happen one day. All the time there are more and better Venezuelan players in the major leagues,” said Alberto Mendoza, who was among dozens of fans at a restaurant in Caracas celebrating the Giants’ clinching win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series on Monday night.
“Venezuela is a power in baseball.”
Fans in Caracas cheered the Giants with shouts and toasted with glasses of beer, in large part because the game’s star was one of their own, Marco Scutaro, the veteran second baseman who was named the MVP of the series.
While the Giants embraced and jumped for joy on the rain-drenched infield, a Venezuelan flag was unfurled and held up by Scutaro’s wife as he received his trophy.
Photos of Scutaro celebrating in the downpour were published on the front pages of Venezuelan newspapers. The sports daily Meridiano ran the headline “Venezuela Grows Giant.”
Venezuelans playing for the Tigers are led by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
“It’s a great year for Venezuela. Our flag is flying high,” said Jose Manuel Blanco, a university student who was wearing a jersey for the Navegantes del Magallanes, the Venezuelan team that Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval plays with in the offseason.
Baseball has long been the most popular sport in Venezuela, sharing that passion with other Caribbean countries such as the Dominican Republic and Cuba. While the Dominican Republic boasts the most foreign players in Major League Baseball, the number of Venezuelan players has doubled since 2000 and this season reached 95, the highest in history.
As for the World Series, Venezuelans appear divided, with many simply proud to have so many of their own headlining the series.
Manuel Suniaga, who played baseball decades ago as a teenager and now sells hot sandwiches from a stand in downtown Caracas, said Scutaro’s hitting streak has been especially thrilling.
“The Giants are inspired. In the end, that can give them a better chance,” said Suniaga, adding that he won’t miss a single game.