Here’s a good AP story about life in the Venezuelan winter league. On the one hand there are security risks, logistical hassles and anti-American sentiment to contend with. On the other hand: roaring crowds and big money compared to minor league salaries:
For players accustomed to the small crowds of minor league stadiums back home, the frequently sold out Estadio Universitario in Caracas can be daunting. Abundant servings of rum and whiskey and a nerve-rattling cacophony of drums pump up the 25,000 screaming fans who hang on every pitch.
“It’s Friday night football every game, all the game,” said Jamie Romak, a 28-year-old outfielder for La Guaira who played for the St. Louis Cardinal’s AAA team in Memphis, Tennessee.
Risk and reward. Made most compelling by the fact that, like Romak and other minor leaguers mentioned in the article, success in Venezuela could be the difference between making a living playing baseball or having to quit and go find something else to do with their lives.
On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”
There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.
It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:
On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.
“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”
One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.
None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”