Told y’all I’m not dead: Venezuela to the Woodshed
Just a quick note to thank you all for you patience, with a special shout out to those of you who missed me enough to ask where the hell I’ve been for the last seven weeks. As I pointed out before my hiatus, I’m not dead — but I did spend a few weeks buried under a pile of work, investing evenings and weekends in the biggest project I’ve undertaken at the Star since 2007.
In late September I ventured to Venezuela to examine that country’s increasingly important role in the global baseball-industrial complex, returning with a clear view of how politics and crime make it more difficult than ever to get Venezuelan talent to the majors even as demand from big league clubs hits an all-time high.
Distilling that crystal-clear vision into a story short enough to fit on a newspaper page while retaining the detail the issue deserves is a different challenge, hence the hiatus from blogging and daily journalism. The only dilemma more demanding than deciding where to start was figuring out which scenes to leave out. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could have published twice as much as I did without repeating myself.
But in the interest of keeping the story moving and fitting it on a double-truck in the middle of the Star’s World Weekly Section my editors and I trimmed it to 2,800 words, and you can read them all right here.
If you didn’t click the link above I’ll post it again below because this project was a huge deal to me — the fruit of a two-year process of imagining, discussing, proposing, wound-licking, re-grouping, re-imagining, re-proposing and hoping. Several times over the past 24 months I considered scrapping the idea entirely, but folks like ESPN Deportes columnist and Venezuelan beisbol guru Arturo Marcano wouldn’t let me give up.
So I didn’t.
And all the frustration I’d felt over delays in getting this project off the ground melted when I arrived in Venezuela and realized my eight days there would span one of the most electric periods in the country’s recent history, as Venezuela’s two deepest passions — baseball and politics — converged in unprecedented ways.
The final week of the 2012 baseball season coincided with the final week of campaigning in the most hotly contested presidential election Venezuela has seen since Hugo Chavez first rose to power in 1998. So while the contest between Chavez and Henrique Capriles Radonski led news coverage, the election competed for space on the front page with Omar Vizquel’s retirement and Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown.
I saw local sports networks broadcast meaningless late-season Blue Jays games simply because Vizquel was playing, and I sat in standstill traffic as hundreds of mini-buses crammed with red-shirted Chavistas clogged the streets of Maracay ahead of the president’s election-week rally there.
My final night in Caracas I drank Santa Teresa Rum, watching Venezuelans watch Vizquel’s final game in the a swanky hotel bar. Within minutes of the final pitch the two old men next to me had shifted the conversation back to politics, handicapping the election state by state and concluding Capriles could indeed topple Chavez.
In short, I picked the perfect week to be in Venezuela doing what I was doing.
Over my eight days there I saw places I never imagined I would — like the dilapidated diamond where Cabrera learned to play. And I met people I’ll never forget, like the “secure taxi” driver with the rusty Ford Conquistador and more girlfriends than he could handle. And while snooping around at Navegantes de Magallanes’ fan fest I even managed to get myself interviewed on Venezuelan TV.
I said all that to say this:
Those eight days in Venezuela represented a life-changing, career-defining adventure that culminated in the feature story I’m linking to again right here.
Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, but trust me when I tell you I’m already working on some things. Until any of that materializes you can meet me here on the blog, because I’m out of the woodshed and ready to write.
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