You’ve probably heard that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez died this evening at the age of 58.
If you didn’t think we would try to find a baseball angle in this, you’re probably not a very frequent reader of HardballTalk. And shame on you for that.
Craig Davis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel describes the scene before Tuesday night’s 2013 World Baseball Classic warmup game between the Marlins and Team Venezuela in Jupiter, Florida:
The death of the controversial Venezuelan leader after a battle with cancer was announced a couple hours before the nation’s entry in the World Baseball Classic faced the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.
A Marlins spokesman said all parties involved in the exhibition, including Major League Baseball, agreed to not have the moment of silence for Chavez.
The Venezuelan flag in the stadium was lowered to half staff for a few minutes, then raised again.
Hector Rodriguez, Venezuela’s minister of sports, called the team and told them to “concentrate on sports and leave political stuff out.”
“He was a man of baseball,” Team Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said of Chavez. “He was always aware of the team and who was on it. He was the first call I got in the morning during the tournaments in 2006 and 2009. He lived for baseball.” Perhaps there will be some kind of tribute once actual WBC games get underway.
Venezuela faces the Dominican Republic on Thursday night, Puerto Rico on Saturday evening and Spain on Sunday afternoon. Those are the teams in Pool C. Their games are being played in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.
Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).
A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.
The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.