It's been one week down here in Puerta la Cruz, Venezuela, and I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity.
My journey began on Sunday, October 9 at 3 a.m. when my parents brought me to the airport for a full day of flying. After three flights and only a couple of hours in delays and layovers, I finally made it to Venezuela.
The accommodations and the way I was treated was amazing. I was greeted in Caracas by a few people that handled everything for me, from customs to my luggage to walking me down to the next airport and getting me on my connecting flight to Barcelona. In the Caracas airport, I had my first encounter with the Bolivares (Venezuelan currency). Needless to say, I was a little nervous when I saw the menu and chicken Parmesan was 20,000 bolivares. I was really hoping they would just take my credit card and I would hope I wasn't spending a fortune. I did find out that the exchange rate is anywhere from 2,150-$1 to 2,500-$1.
Upon arrival in Barcelona, I was picked up by our trainer and the general manager's assistant. Everybody calls him Flaco -- "Skinny" -- and he is full of energy and very helpful to all the players. He's been working with the team for nine years and he doesn't speak more than ten words in English.
After we collected all my bags, we left for the hotel. The ride from the airport to the hotel was a very different experience for me. Traffic laws are basically non-existent and you drive at your own risk. Street lighting is really bad and the roads in Barcelona are not well-paved. I was certainly glad that I was not the one driving, and for that matter, I am glad that we will all have a ride everywhere we need to go.
After about a 30-minute ride we made it to my final destination and my first day was coming to a close. I made it to the hotel around 11 p.m. and it was time for me to unpack, unwind and get some rest.
The next morning we had a drug/steroid meeting at 10 a.m. and I was really excited to meet my teammates. To this point I had not met anyone, nor did I know who was on the team other than Renyel Pinto, whom I played with this year at West Tenn. But he won't be joining the team until November.
When I got to the van I saw Andy Pratt, a left-handed pitcher who I had played with last year. It sure was nice to see a familiar face and especially one who spoke English. After a two-hour meeting (all in Spanish), it was back to the hotel to get my stuff together for practice at 4:30.
Our first practice went well, I got to meet everybody and get accustomed to the field that I would be calling home for the next three months. I could not have asked for a better coaching staff and teammates. Everyone is upbeat; they love to play and be around the game. Sure does make it better going to the field every day surrounded by that kind of attitude.
Throughout the course of the next few days, the rest of the American guys came and sure enough, to my delight, one by one it was great guy followed by another great guy. In the hotel, there are five Americans, two guys from Curacao and one guy from Venezuela. Myself, Andy Pratt (LHP), Chad Meyers (OF), Tony Fiore (RHP), and Pat Mahomes (RHP) are all in the hotel together, and we all get along great.
There is a mall and a casino down the street from the hotel and we all go there and eat and just kill time, walking around in the stores practicing our Spanish. There definitely are a few things that I wanted to accomplish while I'm down here: work on my overall baseball game and also to work on my Spanish.
After our first three games, we were 3-0. I am leading off and playing center field and having a blast. The fans are awesome, they are loud, they bring noise-makers and they love their baseball. The atmosphere playing down here is incomparable to anything I have ever seen, but it is great. People here all seem to genuinely be happy and everyone is very helpful and accommodating. They certainly take to the Americans very well.
Well, that's it for this week, we started our first road trip on Tuesday and I am sure I'll have some more things to talk about next week. I'll also try to answer some of your emails in the coming weeks.