Posted October 28, 2012 on AP on Fox
On a ragged baseball diamond, its grass tall and infield dirt pockmarked, nearly 200 boys practice for hours every day. Many of them are inspired by the example of Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, who learned the game on this very field. The baseball school in the poor neighborhood where Cabrera grew up is one of many across Venezuela, a web for training young ballplayers that has made the country an emerging power in Major League Baseball. A record nine Venezuelans are on the rosters of the Tigers and the San Francisco Giants in this year's World Series. And the players have been giving Venezuelans plenty to cheer about with feats like Pablo Sandoval's three-homer game and Gregor Blanco's diving catches in left field for the Giants. Baseball has long been Venezuela's top sport and a national passion, producing such greats as Dave Concepcion and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio. But it has blossomed like never before the past decade and sent ever larger contingents to the major leagues from a large and well-organized system of youth leagues and baseball schools. On this season's opening-day rosters, the 66 Venezuelans were second only to the 95 from the Dominican Republic for foreign-born players. For the World Series, the nine Venezuelans, nine Dominicans and two Puerto Ricans on the two teams produced a record 20 foreign-born players for the championship, surpassing the previous high of 16. The Giants have five Venezuelans: Sandoval, Blanco, Marco Scutaro, Jose Mijares and Hector Sanchez. The Tigers have four: Anibal Sanchez, Avisail Garcia, Omar Infante and Cabrera - who this season became the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown, leading the majors in in average, home runs and RBIs. Young fans in Venezuela have been watching the World Series with excitement. Often, they root for hometown heroes, and at the baseball school in Maracay, nearly everyone is behind Cabrera and the Tigers. Cabrera comes from a family steeped in baseball. His mother, Gregoria, played 12 years on Venezuela's national softball team. Uncle Jose Torres runs the baseball school training kids as young as 3 at David Torres Stadium. The field is named for Torres' late brother, who was Cabrera's first mentor. ''The kids dream of playing in the major leagues, and their parents want to plant their children in this field hoping that seed might become the next Miguel Cabrera,'' Torres said. One of them is 11-year-old Adriangel Torres, a nephew of the coach and a cousin of Cabrera. ''My dream is also to be a major leaguer and bat like he does,'' Adriangel said. When the boy went to bat, he knocked a ball into the outfield and exclaimed: ''You see! I'm strong like Miguel, too!'' Such enthusiasm among players and their families has created a generation-after-generation baseball culture that for many is a central part of Venezuelans' national identity. In other South American countries, soccer is No. 1. In Venezuela, as in the Caribbean countries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, baseball is king. Many believe the sport has been played in Venezuela since before 1900, when some Venezuelans who had studied in the United States apparently brought home balls, bats and gloves. Baseball's popularity grew in the 1920s, promoted by American oil workers who brought along their love of the sport. In 1939, Alejandro Carrasquel became the first Venezuelan to play in the major leagues, for the Washington Senators. He has been followed by the likes of Aparicio, Chico Carrasquel, Andres Galarraga and Omar Vizquel. While Venezuelans are proud of the major leaguers, their deepest loyalties lie with the eight teams in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, among them the Leones (Lions), Tigres (Tigers) and Tiburones (Sharks). Those who have gone off to the major leagues feel the local tug, too. Cabrera, Sandoval and others have come back in the offseason to play at home, even though their better-paying U.S. teams often discourage it because of the chance of injury. In 2010, Sandoval didn't want to miss the seventh and decisive game in a key series for his local team, the Navegantes, and he flew in at the last minute, rushing by helicopter from Caracas to the city of Valencia. He got a hit, but his team still lost 7-2 to the rival Leones. Venezuelan games are festive affairs where entire families cheer in team jerseys and hats, and where beer and whisky flow freely in the stands. The sport is so ingrained in Venezuelan society that it has slipped into the language of daily conversation. People say ''pitch here'' if they want a buddy to kick in some money, or ''you've got a three-two count'' to indicate a person is on the verge of either success or failure. The fanaticism extends to the country's leagues for children and teenagers, which have thousands of teams with an estimated 130,000 kids from ages 3 to 19. One of the main leagues is called ''Criollitos,'' meaning little Venezuelans. Dilia Barrios sits in the stands at Maracay, watching her 4-year-old grandson practice. She says the network of youth programs is a ''creation of coaches, of mothers, fathers, grandparents and other relatives of the boys, who for the love of baseball cooperate with money and dedicate a lot of time, without receiving anything, in order to make this something great.'' Many towns have locally run baseball schools, with coaches typically working for little money and parents paying a monthly fee. The big jump of Venezuelans playing in the U.S. started in the 1990s. The Houston Astros set up a training camp in Venezuela to work with young players, and about a dozen major league teams followed with their own academies. ''From those first academies came players like (pitcher Johan) Santana and many others,'' said Luis Sojo, a former New York Yankee who manages Venezuela's team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Most of the major league academies have since moved to the Dominican Republic, in part because of the higher costs and crime rates in Venezuela. Still, four big league academies remain, with ties to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Colorado Rockies and the Detroit Tigers. Venezuela, meanwhile, has its own strengthened baseball schools and academies. Venezuelan achievements in the major leagues this season go beyond the World Series. In addition to Cabrera's Triple Crown, Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game for the Seattle Mariners and Santana pitched a no-hitter for the New York Mets. As the Giants triumphed in the National League, hot-hitting Scutaro became the third Venezuelan to be honored as the most valuable player in a major league championship series. As the World Series began, one Venezuelan TV announcer proclaimed it ''the show of the Venezuelans.'' ''I hope this is the first of many times that we're going to see so many Venezuelans in the World Series,'' said Carlos Vivas, a fan of Sandoval's local team. ''There are many great players still waiting for an opportunity.'' --- Associated Press writer Ian James contributed to this report. --- Jorge Rueda on Twitter:

Miguel Cabrera gets Triple Crown trophy from MLB (Pictures)

Detroit Tigers third baseman/DH Miguel Cabrera received an awesome crown trophy from MLB for winning the Triple Crown in the American League during the 2012 season. The trophy is an actual crown, and it features a Detroit Tigers “D” on the front. The front says: “2012 American League Triple Crown presented by Major League Baseball to Miguel Cabrera.” The back is further...

Miguel Cabrera caught looking -- ballgame over, World Series over

San Francisco closer Sergio Romo strikes out Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, looking, to finish off a Game 4 victory and the 2012 World Series title for the Giants via the sweep. Your browser does not... Full story at Bob's Blitz ~

Phil Coke’s Miguel Cabrera story is phenomenal (Video)

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke has emerged as a key figure during the team’s playoff run this season, and one of the byproducts has been the public getting to know his cool personality. Take for instance the video above. Deadspin shared this brilliant clip with us on Friday, and it’s from an interview Coke did with MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” with Kevin Millar...

Cabrera, Posey honored before Game 3

DETROIT -- There were a lot of Hall of Famers in the house Saturday -- and a couple of award winners, too. Hank Aaron was there to present the award named after him to Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey as the two most outstanding offensive players in each league. Commissioner Bud Selig was also part of the ceremony. "Miguel joined historic company this year by winning the game...

Detroit stars were no match for Giants in sweep

They entered the World Series a collection of stars rivaling any team in baseball. Then one by one, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera fell short in the season's final test. It ended with Cabrera at the plate, watching the third strike that finished Detroit's season. So close to their first championship since 1984, the Tigers were vanquished in a sweep...

Cabrera, Posey win prestigious Hank Aaron award

Detroit Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera and San Francisco Giants’ catcher Buster Posey are the 2012 recipients of the Hank Aaron Award. This marks the first time in history that both winners were in the World Series. The Hank Aaron award is named “in honor of one of the greatest hitters and competitors of all-time, the Hank Aaron Awards recognize each league’s best...

Ryan Vogelsong and the Pitches that Won the Game

You think of the Tigers and first and foremost you think of Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera. You think of the Tigers on a day that Verlander isn’t pitching and you think of Fielder and Cabrera. There are other guys on the roster — lots of them! — and some of them are good, but Fielder and Cabrera are the big offensive guns. They’re the players the Tigers...

Halo Headlines: Tom Kotchman resigns, IF Angel Sanchez signed, Cabrera beats Trout for Aaron ...

The October 29th, 2012 edition of daily news for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim including Tom Kotchman resigns, IF Angel Sanchez signed, Cabrera beats Trout for Aaron Award and Player of the Year and much more... The Story: Long-time scout and minor league manager Tom Kotchman resigned from the Angels organization. The Monkey Says: Simply stunning.  Kotch was an institution...

The Detroit Tigers get swept in the 2012 World Series

The 2012 MLB season has come to an end, far sooner than the Detroit Tigers and their fans were hoping for. First and foremost we must congratulate the San Francisco Giants for obtaining the ultimate baseball goal for the second time in the past three years. They made every play and they were at their best when it counted most. They earned it and there is no taking that away from...

Giants 4, Tigers 3

DETROIT -- The San Francisco Giants made it a clean sweep. Second baseman Marco Scutaro hit the game-winning single with two outs in the top of the 10th inning to score Ryan Theriot, and the Giants completed a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers with a 4-3 victory on Sunday night to win the World Series. Giants closer Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless bottom of the 10th inning...
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.