Venezuelan Baseball League Looks To Rebound

By J.J. Cooper
September 30, 2003

Last year the Venezuelan Baseball League had to cancel the second half of its season due to a national strike that plunged parts of the country into chaos. The situation in Venezuela is still fluid, but with the strike over, the Venezuelan League was set to begin play on Oct. 16.

But while the league is hoping to return to business as usual, several major league teams had not yet given approval for their North American players to play in the Venezuelan League this winter. And among teams that will allow their players to go to Venezuela, many are urging caution.

“We give players all the information we receive (about Venezuela) from major league baseball,” Indians farm director John Farrell said. “While it has proven to be unstable in the past, we feel comfortable with the protection our players will be given.”

The Astros have been one of the most active teams in scouting and developing Venezuelan players, but they have not given U.S. players permission to play in Venezuelan this winter.

“We have been very hesitant to give permission because we’re very uncertain about the situation, as is everybody,” Astros farm director Tim Purpura said.

The commissioner’s office has sent out information packets about the situation in Venezuela, and farm directors have been monitoring news wires from Venezuela. Opponents of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are working on getting a referendum election called for February. If that happens, it could bring more unrest.

Last year’s strikes and cancellation meant that some players were forced to head home early, and some did not get the offseason at-bats or innings pitched that they had hoped, but no pro players were injured in the unrest last season. Farrell said that the teams did a good job of ensuring that the players are safe.

“Those owners and general managers who run those clubs are very aware of the situation to not put players at risk,” Farrell said. “They’ve been very accommodating.”

In other winter league news, the Dominican League and Puerto Rican League are investigating adding interleague play. While no official decision has been made, a release on the Dominican League’s official site noted that the two league’s schedules are compatible for interleague play.