We just finished our first week on the road, and it was quite an adventure. We left Puerta la Cruz on Tuesday morning, headed for Caracas. There was one charter bus for most of the players and two smaller buses that had our luggage and a few players. We travel with about 30 players, the coaches, the front office as well as the media, so you can see why the need for three buses.
The main coach bus was great, with large comfortable seats and plenty of TVs. Good thing, because we spent a whole lot of time on it this week. The movies we watched were primarily in Spanish with English subtitles. Once they put in the Japanese movie with Spanish subtitles, however, the guys from the U.S. -- including our trainer Bob Grimes (who is the Triple-A trainer for the Cubs) -- all decided we were going to be playing a lot of card games while on the bus. Having Bob here for all of us is terrific because he has a lot of experience in winter ball. He's a great guy, and he really looks after us.
After about four hours of travel, we stopped at a mall, where we grabbed some lunch. I really am glad that I took Spanish in high school, and a little in college, because it sure is paying off. No one in the mall spoke any English, and they all seemed to speak really fast. I have definitely improved my Spanish because I am forced to use it. There are a lot of guys on the team who do speak English, and they help us North Americans when we are having trouble.
After lunch, it was back onto the bus for about another hour until we arrived at the park. The stadiums are all well-maintained and comparable to a lot of the Double-A parks that I have played in. One major difference is the lack of air conditioning in the locker rooms, and the showers have only cold water. This is no major problem; it's just a little different.
As for the games, regardless of how many fans show up there is always tons of noise and lots of excitement. Music is a large part of the culture down here, and everyone loves to dance. The music is blasting from the moment we get off the bus until we exit the stadium.
Also, at every stadium, during the games there are "Pepsi Girls" who dance in Pepsi outfits on stages in the outfield. For some reason, the section with the Pepsi Girls is always packed. While the game is being played, or in between innings, the crowd is definitely having fun.
After that first game, in which we got beat really badly, we made our way back on the bus for a two-hour ride to a hotel in Maracay. The accommodations at the hotel weren't bad. My road roommate is Andy Pratt, and since we both have very easygoing personalities it really works out great. The first day at the hotel we walked across the street, and I had a familiar meal for the first time in two weeks -- at Burger King. Needless to say, when we arrived there, who else did we see but the rest of the guys from north of the border, enjoying their burgers and fries.
Then it was back onto the bus for another two-hour ride to the field, where we had a back-and-forth game and ended up with a tough loss. We were down one run in the seventh when Omar Infante hit a go-ahead, two-run homer to put us up. Then they hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to put themselves back on top, and we could not get the lead back.
Another thing that I am truly enjoying is the sense of urgency to win here, and the fun that everyone seems to have playing the game.
We did get rained out one game during the week. In that game we were winning 3-1 in the third inning when the lights in the stadium suddenly went out. I was later told that in Valencia that happens at least three or four times a year. Someone mentioned that they do it intentionally to sell more at the concession stands. In this case, a big storm followed and we lost a potential "W." Regardless, Valencia was a beautiful stadium, very modern and I was told it is the best in the league.
After our second game in Caracas, we traveled about three hours to a hotel in Barquisimeto. Talk about an experience! The air conditioner, when working, sounded like a fighter jet flying back and forth over your house. There were two beds, one small little single in the corner and the main bed, which was a cot. We were given one key and a remote for the TV. One of the stranger things was a small room-service window above the little bed. You had to make sure you kept your shoes or socks on because if you didn't, your feet ended up looking as if you had walked through a pile of coal. Oh, well, it's all "par for the course" and we just have fun with it. We stayed there for three nights, and the fields were about 45 minutes away.
I forgot to mention one story about a meal that Andy and I shared. The waiter spoke no English at all and we both took his recommendation for his favorite steak, which turned out to be a great idea. It was delicious. But we had also taken his recommendation for his favorite appetizer. That wasn't such a good idea. He brought us our plate, and everything looked fine. He poured a little oil on the plate and brought some bread, and I decided I would try it. Well, Andy, I guess being the smarter one, took a closer look at the plate of food and noticed it looked like raw meat. When we called the waiter over, he didn't understand what we were asking him about. We had to ask one of our teammates to translate for us and ask him what we were eating. Sure enough, it was raw, uncooked meat. I love sushi and all, but raw, red meat in Venezuela is where we had to draw the line.
After our last game in Valencia, our owners had arranged for a charter flight back to Barcelona for the team. Were we ever grateful to fly and avoid another 10 hours on the bus! A quick, one-hour flight and we were back home after having had a long six days that resulted in a 2-3 record but included some good baseball and great experiences. I believe we are either in first or second place, and that is exciting. But now it's time for me to enjoy the rest of my off day with some rest and relaxation.
Thank you for all your emails (which you can use the link above to send). I am trying to answer all your questions personally, or at least cover them indirectly through the journal.