Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez wasn't a fan of the United States. He spoke out about our way of life, decried capitalism and called one of our presidents "the devil." But one thing Chavez — who died Tuesday at 58 — loved was our game. He adored baseball.
Whatever people think about Chavez and his politics, there's no denying that his country is a force in America's pastime. Venezuela has given us current stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Gonzalez and Pablo Sandoval. It's also the home of a great lineage of shortstops: Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Omar Vizquel and Asdrubal Cabrera. Even Ozzie Guillen, though he's better known as an outspoken manager these days.
Absorbing and reacting to the death of a controversial world leader becomes even more complicated during a culture-clash such as the World Baseball Classic. The Venezuelan team played an exhibition game against the Miami Marlins hours after Chavez's death. The team asked for a moment of silence to honor Chavez before the game. But that was denied by the Marlins and Major League Baseball because "there wasn’t enough time to honor the request.”
Carlos Zambrano, who pitched for Venezuela on Tuesday, said he hopes the World Baseball Classic chooses to honor Chavez before Venezuela's first WBC game Thursday in Puerto Rico.
Some Venezuelan players chose to talk about Chavez's death. Others, like Anibal Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval, didn't.
Per the Associated Press, Cabrera said:
"It's sad what's happening to our country. We send our condolences to his family. This is something you don't wish on anybody. I don't know how his family is right now. He's no longer with us — it's very sad. I cannot comment a lot on it because I feel a lot of pain, and I'm not there in Venezuela."
Per Matthew Leach at MLB.com, here's more from Zambrano:
"It's very sad," he said. "I'm asking all Venezuelans to be calm. We have to understand that the president has a family. He's a human being. I feel for the Chavez family. As someone who believes in Christ, I pray for the president."
Here's Carlos Gonzalez, via Twitter:
As I said in a statement, I send my sincere condolences to relatives of President Hugo Chavez, RIP. Peace for my country
— Car Go (@CarGoMedia5) March 6, 2013
The timing of his death means Chavez won't be calling Venezuela's manager Luis Sojo every day during the World Baseball Classic like he did in 2006 and 2009.
But could his death be a rallying point for the Venezuelans in the World Baseball Classic? Frankie Garcia at Sports World Report thinks so. He compares it to Ray Lewis' retirement announcement that preceded the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run.
Here are a few other interesting Hugo Chavez/baseball links to digest:
• Sports Illustrated's Melissa Segura columnizes Chavez's impact on the MLB.
• The Nation's Dave Zirin on why Chavez's death is good news to baseball owners.
• The Hall of Very Good flashes back to Chavez visiting Shea Stadium in 1999.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
• From the Stew: That time K-Rod pitched against Chavez in a Venezuelan softball game.
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