Why six MLB clubs stay in Venezuela despite rising crime and bitter politics
The division-leading Colorado Rockies have seven Venezuelans on their lineup, the most of any team in the league, and 35 more in the minors. Mr. Fernandez’s eye for picking out young Latino talent is widely credited for turning the Rockies into one of the best teams in baseball, boasting such pitching stars as Jhoulys Chacin, who was signed as a teenager in Venezuela, and the Dominican Ubaldo Jimenez, who pitched the first no-hitter in Colorado Rockies history last year.
“You have to have a presence here,” says Fernandez. “You have to be good here, if you want your organization to be good.”
That's no easy task. According to the scouts at the recent showcase in San Joaquin, robbers and criminals target teams' facilities, staff, and players, who are often believed to have gotten large signing bonuses. Additionally, the threat of expropriations and onerous foreign exchange controls make teams wary of doing business in Venezuela.
Finding young recruits
To maintain a foothold, most of the teams have local scouts on the ground who start approaching the boys as young as 14 about the possibility of signing with them. The best players at this spring’s showcase in San Joaquin stand to earn as much as a million dollars in signing bonuses this summer when they become eligible to play for MLB farm teams.
For most of the boys, that will mean leaving their families at age 16 and moving to the Dominican Republic, where all 30 MLB teams have training academies.
“You could have the same thing in Venezuela but you don’t,” says Fernandez. “[The Dominican Republic] welcomes everything we do, the process is easier in everything we do.”
Baseball and oil do mix