Venezuela is the only country in South America where baseball is the national sport. Oil workers introduced the game in the 1920s and it quickly grew in popularity, favored by the nice weather. Venezuelan players are a common feature of today’s MLB – from two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera and upcoming star Jose Altuve, to recently retired Omar Vizquel and fan favorite (maybe not so much in Miami) Ozzie Guillén. In fact, 0nly one foreign country has provided more players: the Dominican Republic.
There are 65 Venezuelans in Major League rosters, and this bench of talent has taken time to develop. Since the 1990s, 23 of the 30 MLB teams have set baseball academies in Venezuela to develop and teach English to young talents. But today, most of these academies are closed due to safety concerns stemming from the country’s political unrest. In fact, only The Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies, remain.
Blame the government. A prestigious think tank recently ranked Caracas, the capital, as the most violent city in the world. Local newspaper El Nacional reported that the Seattle Mariners shut down its operation because they couldn’t find enough flour, eggs and chicken to feed 40 players. And then there’s the animosity between Caracas and Washington D.C., which isn’t helping matters. Visas are now required for all Americans who wish to visit Venezuela.
Even if most of the blame lies with the Venezuelan government, a shift in the way MLB teams manage their talent is also responsible for the spate of academy closures. The Astros, for example, closed their Venezuelan academy after finding it was wiser to bring players to the US at a younger age.
The effects of this may not be felt right away. However, in a few years you might not see many Venezuelans playing in the majors. By then, soccer will probably be the favorite sport of the South American baseball holdouts.