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Guillen's victory inspires Venezuelans

By becoming the first Latin American manager to win baseball's World Series, Oswaldo 'Ozzie' Guillen has filled his native country with pride.

In scenes that echoed celebrations on Chicago's South Side, car horns blended with shouts and firecrackers as Caracas motorists pumped their fists into the night air. A truck adorned with white socks hanging from every window chased a line of cars covered in slogans venerating native son Ozzie Guillen, manager of the world champion Chicago White Sox. Packed sports bars roared for "Ozzie's boys."

One car paraded an oversized Venezuelan flag from its window, a reminder that for Venezuelans, this year's World Series was about much more than just the White Sox.

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In only his second season as manager, Mr. Guillen became the first Latin American to lead a baseball team to a world championship when pitcher and fellow Venezuelan Freddy Garcia pulled off a shutout victory against the Houston Astros Wednesday night. With his success, Guillen has helped make the White Sox Venezuela's team, inspired more young Venezuelans to set their sights on the big leagues, and opened more Major League eyes to Venezuelan baseball and its Caribbean style of play.

After the game, Guillen was ready to take the trophy with him. "With all due respect to Chicago fans, I know my country, they're going crazy," he told reporters. "The trophy is going to Venezuela."

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, an ardent baseball fan, called Guillen earlier this month as the White Sox headed into the playoffs. "All of us here in Venezuela are so proud of you. And we'll be waiting for you when you come back, hopefully as world champion," said Mr. Chavez in their conversation, broadcast here live nationwide.

As giant photos of Guillen's cunning grin cover Venezuela's sports pages, many here say that their compatriot is responsible for the White Sox reaching the World Series.

Pride also radiated from the home of Mr. Garcia's parents in a nearby Caracas neighborhood. The pitcher's animated father waved his arms up and down imitating players on television as he watched Tuesday's game from a room decorated with his son's trophies.

"It's a beautiful thing to have a brother in the World Series," said Freddy's sister, Elizabeth Garcia, watching the game with her dad.

The extent of Venezuelan ties to Windy City baseball were evident when Guillen's former Venezuelan winter ball team, the La Guaira Sharks, faced off against their rivals, the Caracas Lions, in front of a rowdy stadium in the capital last week.

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Sharks manager Joey Cora, who is also the third base coach for the White Sox, missed the game because he was preparing for the World Series. The Sharks' lineup that night also featured three American players, who are White Sox minor leaguers.

"We are very proud," says Felipe Lira, Sharks pitcher and former teammate of Guillen's. "All of the Venezuelan people."

When Guillen played for the Sharks, he honed the colorful and aggressive style of play that Caribbean baseball has brought to the American national pastime.

Taking those skills north, Guillen has treated Chicago to an arsenal of surprise plays that that catch other teams off guard - such as madcap squeeze plays, unforeseen bunts, and persistent base stealing.

"He has grasped the Caribbean way of playing ... and he has perfected it," says Jose Antonio Herrera, co-owner of the Sharks.

Guillen and Garcia come from a long line of Venezuelans who have starred in the big leagues, including Guillen's hero Alfonso "Chico" Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio, who led the White Sox to their last World Series appearance in 1959.

This year, 62 Venezuelans played on Major League Baseball teams. That's more than one-third of the total number of Venezuelans ever to put on a big-league jersey. Chicago's playoff roster featured 10 players and staff from Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic, including pitchers Jose Contreras and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (both from Cuba) and Freddy Garcia (Venezuela).

While players from the Dominican Republic still outnumber Venezuelans in the majors, Angel Vargas, president of the Venezuelan Baseball Players Association, has set a goal to equal the number of Dominicans in the big leagues within 10 years - and he says Guillen's success has been a big help.

"Ozzie is opening the doors for us," Vargas says.

"All the kids in the world are with Guillen," says little-league coach Alejo Garcia. "The White Sox are the national team now."

• Wire material was used in this report.


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