By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
It’s an opening night that has been a decade in the making.
When Estadio La Rinconada in Caracas, Venezuela, opens for the first game of the Caribbean Series tomorrow between Cuba and Curacao, the 38,000-seat will be the second-largest ballpark in Latin America, only behind Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano.
“They will have the opportunity to appreciate the best baseball stadium in all of Latin America and the Caribbean and said by the people of the Caribbean Confederation, at the highest level of Major League stadiums,” Venezuelan Sports Minister Mervin Maldonado told Al Navio, a Spanish-language media outlet that covers Latin America.
Ultimately, Venezuela hopes that the new stadium, colloquially known as “La Rinconada,” will entice a collaboration with Major League Baseball to bring World Baseball Classic games to La Rinconada
The stadium, designed by Gensler, a worldwide architectural firm, was first proposed in 2013 and was to be named for Hugo Chavez, the late left-wing strongman who served as president of Venezuela from 2002 to 2013 until his death that year.
Severe economic problems in Venezuela that began under Hugo Chavez and have extended into the current decade halted construction on the stadium.
The naming of the stadium, however, engendered controversy from the political opponents of Chavez, and so the stadium was named for another Chavez – Néstor Isaías “Látigo” Chávez, who played for the San Francisco Giants in September 1967 before being killed in a 1969 plane crash in Maracaibo.
But naming the new ballpark for Nestor Chavez wouldn’t last, either. The stadium was renamed for Latin American revolutionary figure Simon Bolivar earlier this week, multiple Venezuelan outlets have reported. A formal renaming of the new ballpark as Monumental Caracas de Simon Bolivar is expected to happen later this week.
And construction is going down to the wire, with workers laboring 24 hours a day as the Caribbean Series approaches.
La Rinconada will host its first game Thursday, February 2 at 10:30 a.m. when Cuba faces Curacao in the first game of the 2023 Caribbean Series.
The celebration will be in full swing at 7:15 p.m. when the Caribbean Series Opening Ceremony begins, followed by Venezuela’s first game of the series, against Panama at 8 p.m.
Overall, La Rinconada will host 21 games during the Caribbean Series, while Estadio Forum La Guaira will host 11 games. Venezuela will play six games at La Rinconada and two at Estadio Forum before the field is cut down to four teams for the semifinals, which will be played on February 9 with one game at each stadium. The third-place game and final game will be at La Rinconada on February 10.