November 21, 2007

ONE WAY TRAFFIC (via Brandon Heathcotte):

Politics makes toxic mix with MLB's investment in Venezuela (Maria Burns Ortiz, 11/20/07,

The list of Venezuelans making an impact in the major leagues is impressive -- from veterans such as Johan Santana and Magglio Ordoñez to players still on the rise such as Cabrera and Felix Hernandez.

With that kind of talent emerging from Venezuela in recent seasons, one would assume that big league clubs would be flocking to the South American nation in search of the next superstar. However, the cultural and political scene in Venezuela is undergoing rapid and radical transformation, and instead of flocking to the country, teams are fleeing over concerns about safety and political uncertainty. They aren't leaving in droves just yet, but the stream has been steady enough to raise a red flag about the future. And that's what has Escobar and others worried.

The number of clubs pulling their player development operations out of Venezuela has been a concern for Major League Baseball. Nineteen teams have participated in the Venezuelan Summer League in the past, but only 11 did so this year.

The Padres, for example, had planned on leaving Venezuela following this season after they built a multimillion-dollar facility in the Dominican, but the current situation accelerated the move. The team moved all its player development operations out of Venezuela following the 2005 campaign, two years earlier than originally anticipated.

"We just figured we might as well do it [then] to avoid some of the hassle of having to deal with some of the legislation that [President Hugo] Chávez passes down there in hiring coaches, worrying about severance pay and just getting in and out of the country," says Juan Lara, San Diego's Latin American operations coordinator.

San Diego is not alone. Baltimore ceased operating its academy following the 2006 season. The Red Sox -- one of the teams the Padres shared an academy with -- left when San Diego did in 2005. Cleveland pulled out in 2004.

There has been speculation, more internal than public so far, that Chávez, a socialist and self-proclaimed revolutionary who took office in 1999, will turn Venezuela into the next Cuba.

You can find folks on the Left who claim, with apparently straight faces, that Chavez is developing a new model for the Third World. Venezuelans want to come here. No one wants to go there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2007 8:27 AM
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