By Logan Bawcom
Special to 710Sports.com
Editor's note: Logan Bawcom, 24, is a minor-league pitcher for the Mariners who is traveling abroad to play winter ball for the first time. Follow along as he writes weekly about living and pitching in Venezuela.
When talking with guys that had been here prior, they raved about the fan base and how big of a deal it was to play here for them. I did not realize it would be what it was.
We arrived at the ballpark around 2 p.m., just like you would in the States. It's a very similar routine pregame as well with pitchers playing catch, then shagging batting practice. We were opening up our first two games at home on Thursday and Friday night. All of the guys on the team made sure to let us know that it would be packed on Thursday, not only because of Opening Day, but also every Thursday is Ladies' Night at the ballpark.
Game times here vary from night to night, but on Opening Day we were starting at 7:30. Around 7, the whole team headed out for introductions. Walking out of the dugout I got my first glimpse of what it was going to be like. It was nothing like anything I had been apart of in my baseball career.
They announced every single one of us as we lined up along the basepaths. One of the neat things about the Cardenales team is that there is a handful of guys that have been on the team for over 15 years, and so there is a good core group that know how to win. Some of the guys who have been there for years and years got some of the loudest cheers I have ever heard. Robert Perez, who is playing his 26th season with the Cardenales, was one of those guys. He is a legend here in this town. I would compare him to Ichiro for Japanese baseball fans. In every other stadium we have attended, the cheers are still just as loud.
I sat in the dugout for the first few innings just to take in the experience. I believe there were around 10,000 fans in attendance and the whole outfield bleachers were not even full. That being said, it sounded like there was over 40,000 people. They love bringing air horns and standing on their feet. They are into every single pitch and you will never catch a person on their phone like you do back home. The only experience that would even be semi-close to it would be Friday night football in high school in Texas and playing in the playoffs.
I ended up throwing the ninth inning in a tie game. I had not faced hitters since my last outing in Tacoma over a month ago. I had some serious adrenaline running out of the gates from the boost from fans. Plus, being the closer here, you have extra incentive to get after it. I ended up giving up an unearned run and we lost. That was not too much fun because I was wanting us to win one early with Magallanes coming in the next night.
There are two teams in Venezuela that bring in really good crowds when playing us, Magallanes and Leones. Leones is often compared to the Yankees while Magallanes is considered the Red Sox of the Venezuelan Baseball League. That means they have fans in every single city, and whenever they come into Barquisimeto, the stadium gets packed. It was Friday night as well so I was expecting a very similar crowd as the night before and they definitely delivered.
The stadium was packed, and just like the night before we played a very close game. We ended up losing it in the last two innings, unfortunately. Starting out 0-2 is definitely not ideal, and it's considered unacceptable down here. The part I love most down here is their will to win and that they expect to every night. It's unacceptable to not do your job and play hard. If you don't make your pitches or get some hits, they will find other guys to come down and play.
After the game, it was time to head back to the hotel and get any bit of sleep I could before I would embark on a long day of travel to Caracas the next morning.
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