The Rockies and Venezuela: The Home Country's Constant Attention

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 12: Reliever Edgmer Escalona #61 of the Colorado Rockies pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on August 12, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Rockies 6-1. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Guillermo Moscoso had a rough Spring Training, to say the very least. Two losses and a 7.36 earned run average after allowing nine earned runs in 11.0 innings of work. It was barely two and a half months after he was traded by the Oakland Athletics in a swap for Seth Smith. It is not unusual to see a player packing up his things at the clubhouse after having that meeting with the manager or the pitching coach. He's going back to the Minor Leagues.

"I know I'm able to do the work," Moscoso said, while finishing with his bags. "It will be just a matter of time. In the meantime, I'll just start all over again while doing the best I can."

It is a road traveled by the majority of those who play Major League Baseball. The path that starts in the Minor League circuit and ends up in the Big Show.

But while most players have to go through several up-and-down spins, for a Latino player there's always a twist which differentiates it from what an American-born player experiences.

"The language, the language, that's what they really got me working on," says infielder Jonathan Herrera. "It wasn't easy for me. I tried to learn in each and every way I could".

There used to be a time in which baseball players born in countries like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic were immediately exported to the United States, and had to deal with cultural differences from scratch. This could become a deal-breaker for many, who would quit in frustration after being left to their own devices.

While many players born in the United States are drafted out of college, higher education is a luxury many Latino players simply cannot afford. They get discovered by scouts (or buscones, as they're called in the Dominican) and as soon as they are eligible at age 16, they get signed by a Major League organization. For many, it is seen as a way out of extreme poverty, a malaise affecting a large part of the Venezuelan population. Many of them come out of shanty towns, with limited access to even elementary school, and see sport as a road out of crime and as a ticket out of the dire conditions they live in.

During the past 20 years, there have been serious efforts by those organizations to have those prospects acquainted with some of the things they will face in their baseball careers abroad. In Venezuela, the effort was started by an entrepreneur named Andrés Reiner, who pulled tirelessly during several years so the Houston Astros could open a baseball academy in the country.

The Astros opened their Venezuelan complex in the early 1990s. Many of the most important players from that country were nurtured by the Astros, and then blossomed with other ballclubs via trades and free agency.

This Academy would not only work on a youngster's baseball skills, but would also ensure they would get an education, basic English language training and helping players get skills in case their baseball careers wouldn't go very far.

Seeing the Astros success, the Rockies would not open an Academy, per se, but they would ramp up their scouting efforts, led by Francisco Cartaya (who is currently working with the Dodgers organization) and senior director of International Scouting Rolando Fernández. Players such as Jhoulys Chacin and Edgmer Escalona came from that pipeline.

Currently, many players brought out of Venezuela are signed and shipped to the Dominican. Several factors, including dealing with constant bureaucracy and the never-ending political unrest, have prompted MLB organizations to close their Venezuelan academies and center their efforts in the Dominican.

The Rockies are building a state-of-the-art complex in Jubey, Boca Chica. When it is finally built by summer 2013, it will be the main headquarters for the Rox's Latin American efforts. It will house 80 players and it will feature a full clubhouse, dormitories, cafeteria, a classroom, and of course, batting cages and pitching mounds.

A rookie player these days will start his path at the Dominican Republic, participating in the demanding Dominican Summer League. After a season or so in that circuit, then he will begin his journey in the States.

While the road in the Minors can be more or less the same for all ballplayers, one thing makes a difference for those who were born outside the US, aside from dealing with a new language and culture: the attention they receive from fans and media which are more sophisticated than ever before in following their footsteps.

Venezuela is a place which prides itself on having a torrent of baseball talent, and that is why every move its players make is constantly evaluated by at least ten national newspapers, two of them dedicated exclusively to sports, as well as countless radio shows and television stations.

Whenever a player is on the verge of making the grade, a sort of unofficial alert is sounded, and every medium is following his every move until the debut finally happens. Every achievement is throughly covered, as well as the miscues.

Edgmer Escalona is on the verge of becoming an everyday reliever for the Rockies. His demotions are the source of articles and debates on national media, something which contrasts highly to his promotion being a sort of non-event for Denver media.

"If I get sent down, I get calls and interview requests," says Escalona. "Despite the circumstances, it's always nice to see they're looking after you and supporting you".

And that is why for a baseball-mad country, one of their own making it to the Major Leagues is a national achievement, even after more than 50 years bringing more than 270 ballplayers to Major League Baseball.

And out of all 30 teams, there is one which is always highlighted because of the fact they currently feature seven Venezuelans on its 40-man roster: the Colorado Rockies.

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