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For an Exiled Venezuelan in Miami, the World Baseball Classic Feels Like Home

 Leif Skodnick - World Baseball Network  |    Mar 13th, 2023 11:14am EDT
Venezuelan fans cheer during the game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela at loanDepot park on March 11 2023 in Miami Florida Photo by Jasen VinloveMiami MarlinsGetty Images

By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Classic

Miami- Up high in LoanDepot Park, in section 308, in the part of the ballpark that foul balls never reach, a Latin beat starts.

It shakes, it pounds, and then it catches you, and suddenly, Venezuela has a 4–0 lead on Puerto Rico, and all around me, there’s a catchy, repeating chant.

“Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa!”

Roughly translated, “Hey, Puerto Ricans! Sing me some salsa!”

If you have any sense of rhythm and the sound of the Spanish language, you now have that earworm in your head. It’s playful, and for the Venezuelan fans, it’s a taunt, because they’ve gotten to Puerto Rico for four runs in the top of the first inning, and for the person sitting next me, it feels like home – a place she hasn’t seen in 13 years. 

Moving to the beat, Laura Martinez hangs on every pitch, exuding the joy of Latin American baseball, even though this is the first time she’s seen it in quite a long time. 

The chant, she explains, is a modification of a chant that fans of a Venezuelan team – the Tiburones de La Guaira – do when they’re winning. 

“I’m from Maracaibo, but I lived in Caracas for almost 14 years,” Martinez said. “And it feels like I’m in Caracas right now in a game with, I don’t know, the Aguilas, the Leones.” 

Those teams, the Aguilas de Zulia and the Leones del Caracas, also play in the Liga Venezolano Beisbol Profesional with Tiburones de La Guaira, which plays over the winter, with the champion going on to represent Venezuela in the Caribbean Series, cities she called home but left, and like so many Venezolanos, figuring they’d be back some day down the road, only to find that the road seems to go on forever and the homesickness never ends.

As Francisco Lindor comes to bat for Puerto Rico, an opposing chant starts with a beat coming from conga drums below and to my left, a similar, or maybe the same beat as before pounds, and now the girl in the seat in front of me and her boyfriend are dancing and chanting, “Yo soy Boriqua! Pa’ que to lo sepas!”

Ten years ago, Laura abruptly boarded a plane for Panama, where she stayed for a few years before making her way to the U.S., a country she cannot leave until she gets a hearing to determine whether or not she’ll be able to receive political asylum from the regime of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, which rules a country with the world’s largest oil reserves, yet the vast majority of Venezuelans live in poverty.

Back to the game for a minute, where the Venezuelans have torched Puerto Rico starter Jose Berrios and are out to a 7-0 lead before Puerto Rico’s even had a base runner. 

Miguel Cabrera, playing in his fifth World Baseball Classic in a prelude to his final season in Major League Baseball, is in the lineup as the designated hitter, and Laura had to see him, the greatest baseball player from Venezuela ever, one more time. 

She told her boss – who’s Puerto Rican – at Hertz at the Orlando Airport that her friends had tickets and she wanted to go, and he helped her out. Muchas gracias.

Up here in 308, an infield fly’s altitude above the field, amid the chants, the drums, the flags, the chant breaks out again and again.

“Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa! Ahora, Boriquas! Canta me la Salsa!”

Puerto Rico tries to climb back into the game, the guy sitting in front of us has turned his hat inside out to the chagrin of his girlfriend, and suddenly, Puerto Rico scored four in the sixth the 9-5 lead Venezuela holds feels tenuous. 

But the rhythms, the pulse, the flags, the hats, the jerseys, all of this, brings Laura back to Venezuela, even though Miami isn’t home, and she doesn’t think that home is a place she’ll see again. 

“I never thought that I was going to be out forever,” Laura said. Most people who leave, she said, “They think they’re gonna be back. But most of the people that have been out for most of five, eight years, we know that this is it.”

Puerto Rico threatens late, but Venezuela hangs on for a 9-6 win, and the chants continue as fans move down the stairs and head for the exits. 

“Heyyyyy… Venezuela! Hey! Heyyyyy… Venezuela! Hey! Heyyyyy… Venezuela! Hey! Heyyyyy… Venezuela! Hey! Heyyyyy… Venezuela! Hey! Heyyyyy… Venezuela! Hey!”

For a few more nights, Laura and a lot of Venezuelans will make Miami feel like a place they wish it could be.

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Leif Skodnick - World Baseball Network