Estadio La Rinconada in Caracas, Venezuela.
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
The Leones del Caracas franchise from Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional will play their home games at Estadio La Rinconada for the 2023-24 Winter League season.
Leones del Caracas held a press conference at Estadio La Rinconada on Wednesday with Juan Carlos Escobar, president of Leones de Caracas Baseball Club, and Liga Venezolana de Besibol Profesional President Giussepe Palmisano in attendance.
The Leones del Caracas played 71 seasons at Estadio Universitario in Caracas, Venezuela, which is next to the Universidad Central Caracas-Venezuela campus. Estadio Universitario opened on November 25, 1951, during the 1951-52 winter league season.
Estadio Universitario also hosted Tiburones de La Guaira from 1962 to 2019, before the club moved to Estadio Forum La Guaira on November 29, 2020.
Tiburones de La Guaria won seven league championships at Estadio Universitario and made four Caribbean Series appearances.
Estadio Forum La Guaria was a co-host of the 2023 Caribbean Series with Estadio La Rinconada during the eight-team event last February.
Estadio La Rinconada will be Leones de Caracas’s third home in franchise history. The Leones played at Estadio San Augustin from 1942 to 1951, when the franchise was formerly called Cerveceria Caracas, until the 1951-52 winter league season when Venezuelan publicist and sports commentator Pablo Morales bought the team.
Estadio San Agustin also held the Baseball World Cup in 1944 and 1945, when Venezuela won back-to-back championships, and was the site for the Interamericana Series from 1946-50, as well as the 1951 Caribbean Series.
The Leones del Caracas moved to Estadio Universitario for the 1951-1952 season. Estadio Universitario held 20,723 seats for baseball, and hosted soccer games and concerts that would seat up to 30,000.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Atlanta Braves also played a two-game exhibition series on March 18-19, 2000 during Spring Training at Estadio Universitario.
Estadio Universitario’s dimensions were 347 feet to left field and right field along with 385 feet to center field with two separate bullpens in the field of play down the third and first base line in foul territory.
Estadio Universitario also held the 1959 Central American and Caribbean Games baseball event where Puerto Rico beat Venezuela in the gold medal game and the 1983 Pan American Games with Cuba beating Nicaragua in the gold medal game.
Estadio Universitario held the Caribbean Series seven times while in total the city of Caracas has held nine with the previous 2023 edition of the first time the event held eight teams in the tournament.
Navegantes del Magallanes was the only team from Venezuela to win the Caribbean Series in 1970, when Estadio Universitario hosted the event along with the first year that the tournament was back due to the ten-year stoppage hiatus of the trade embargo in Cuba.
Industriales de Valencia of the Liga Venezelono de Beisbol Professional also won the 1961 Interamericana Series which was held at Estadio Universitario.
Estadio Universitario also held the 1953 Baseball World Cup-Amateur World Series where Cuba beat Venezuela to overtake the gold medal and would also be the last time that they won gold at an international event before the trade embargo began in 1960 along with winning gold at the 1961 Baseball World Cup, 1963 Pan American Games and 1966 Central American and Caribbean Games a few years after Fidel Castro upheld the Cuban government.
Leones has won 21 league titles since the franchise was founded on May 10, 1942 along with two Caribbean Series titles in 1982 and 2006 and one Interamericana Series title in 1950.
The 2006 Caribbean Series was also the first time a team from Venezuela went through the event undefeated.
The Leones played in the 1990 Caribbean Series at the Orange Bowl in Miami, which is now the site of loanDepot Park, where the 2024 Caribbean Series will be held for the first time at a Major League Baseball stadium and the third time in the United States from February 1-9 along with the first time since the 1991 Caribbean Series was at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium. The Leones have appeared in 16 Caribbean Series.
Venezuela was one of the four nations in the first iteration of the Caribbean Series, along with Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, that was played from 1949-60, but did not win a championship during the first 12 tournaments. The Leones del Caracas appeared in the 1949 Caribbean Series final, Navegantes del Magallanes appeared in the 1955 Caribbean Series final, and Indios de Oriente appeared in the 1959 Caribbean Series final.
The Leones played in the 2023 Caribbean Series championship game against the Tigres del Licey of the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, losing 3-0 on home soil at Estadio La Rinconada, and now will play at Estadio La Rinconada as the first home tenant that opened the venue back in February.
Estadio La Rinconada has a seating capacity of 38,000, and is the second-largest stadium in Latin America behind Estadio Latino Americano in Havana, Cuba, which holds 55,000. The ballpark has modern amenities including suites, multiple food vendors and restaurants around the stadium concourse, and an LED scoreboard that is 50 meters long and 20 meters high that is the largest stadium screen in Latin America.
The dimensions of Estadio La Rinconada are 341 feet to left field, 405 to center field, and 330 feet to right field with the two separate team bullpens over the left field wall.
On the first night of the 2023 Caribbean Series, the Leones del Caracas took on the Federales de Chiriqui of Panama’s Probeis Winter League. A total of 35,659 fans filled up Estadio La Rinconada after the Cañeros de Los Mochis of Liga ARCO Mexicana del Pacifico and the Tigres del Licey played the stadium’s first game earlier that day.
Estadio La Rinconada took nearly a decade to build due to the long-running economic and political crisis. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the country would break ground on the project in 2013, not long after former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez passed away.
The Leones have retired 17 players’ numbers, including hall of fame shortstop Luis Aparacio and former multiple Major League Baseball players who have been inducted in the Salón de la Fama y Museo del Béisbol Venezolano in Valencia, Venezuela, and the Serie del Caribe Hall of Fame in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
For the upcoming 2023-2024 season, the Leones del Caracas will be managed by Jose Alguacil, who is entering his third season with the organization. The coaching staff will include Lipso Nava as the bench coach, Wilson Álvarez as pitching coach, Ramón Castro as hitting coach, Oscar Salazar as third base coach, Juan Muñoz as first base coach, and Lino Urdaneta as bullpen coach.
Stadiums That Have Hosted The Most Caribbean Series
Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – 1972, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2012, 2016, and 2022
Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico – 1971, 1975, 1979, 1984, 1995, 1999, 2015, and 2020
Estadio Universitario, Caracas, Venezuela – 1955, 1959, 1970, 1973, 1977, 1983, and 2002