Fall Classic rich in Venezuelan flavor
Cabrera a role model among nine Tigers, Giants in World Series
SAN FRANCISCO -- Less than 10 minutes after speaking to reporters on the club level high above left field at AT&T Park, a beaming Hector Sanchez stood near the batting cage on the eve of the 2012 World Series and threw the ball into his mitt over and over like a giddy school boy.
It had finally happened. The Giants' catcher had finally met his favorite player, Tigers baseman Miguel Cabrera, and it was everything Sanchez thought it would be. That Sanchez could barely remember what they talked about is only a minor detail.
The conversation between the two Venezuelans lasted less than five minutes and would have lasted longer if Sanchez did not miss his glove with a throw and almost nail his own foot.
Sanchez's noticeable jitters were not lost on Cabrera. He giggled and patted the rookie on his back before rushing into the batting cage to hit with his Detroit teammates.
"Miguel Cabrera was my idol growing up and to be here is unbelievable," Sanchez said. "To be a rookie and to be on the same field as him in the World Series is something I will never forget. To be here with all of my fellow Venezuelans is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I know how special this is."
Including Sanchez and Cabrera, there are nine players from Venezuela playing in this year's World Series. It's the most Venezuelans to play in a Fall Classic and the list doesn't even include Detroit reserve Brayan Villarreal, San Francisco reserve Jean Machi or injured Tigers star Victor Martinez.
The other Venezuelans on Detroit's playoff roster are pitcher Anibal Sanchez, infielder Omar Infante and outfielder Avisail Garcia. Joining Hector Sanchez are third baseman Pablo Sandoval, second baseman Marco Scutaro, outfielder Gregor Blanco and pitcher Jose Mijares.
Separately, the players have their own stories to tell. Garcia is affectionately known as "Little Miggy," and Anibal Sanchez is regarded as the country's second-best pitcher behind Seattle's Felix Hernandez. Sandoval's heroics as "Kung Fu Panda" are the stuff legends and furry little hats are made of.
Then there's the 36-year-old Scutaro, known in Venezuela as "El Original," who was always a favorite for the Caracas Leones in the Venezuelan Winter League and is now a permanent fixture in the country's baseball lore with a National League Championship Series MVP under his belt.
But there is no denying that Cabrera is the new king of baseball in Venezuela and the eyes of the South American country are on him. "Miggy" earned the Triple Crown during the regular season and is poised to become the first player from his country to win the Most Valuable Player Award, the only major baseball award a player from Venezuela has not won. But Cabrera has another goal in mind: winning the World Series.
"Hopefully, we can play well and win some games," Cabrera said. "We are just focused on what we can do right now. Hopefully, we can win four more."
Cabrera's numbers speak for themselves. He hit .330, with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs during the regular season and is hitting .278 with one home run and five RBIs during the postseason. His Venezuelan buddies say what he is too humble to admit.
"He means a lot for all of us," Infante said. "I think everyone in the country is waiting for him to go back so they can celebrate with him. He deserves all the success he has received. It makes you proud to be Venezuelan when somebody does what he has done."
As Garcia put it, "Cabrera is 'The Man,' but he plays like a little kid."
"He makes funny faces and it's good because when you do something bad, you always need that [sense of humor]," Garcia said. "You have to learn to let it go. He's always smiling and laughing. He knows his talent. He knows what he can do."
Regardless of the outcome of the World Series, it's already been a banner year for baseball in Venezuela. Hernandez threw a perfect game for the Mariners in August, just over two months after his good friend Johan Santana threw a no-hitter for the Mets.
In July, seven Venezuelans were selected to play in the All-Star Game in Kansas City. Of the 243 foreign-born players on 2012 Opening Day 25-man rosters, 66 were from Venezuela.
"There is a lot of quality and a lot of talent in Venezuela and it's only going to grow," Sandoval said. "There are guys like me and Hector Sanchez and other young players who are part of the future. There are lots of players in the Minor Leagues who are coming up, too. This is a good time for us."
Scutaro would not make a prediction on the Series and he's not sure if the fans in Venezuela will root for the Giants or the Tigers. But one thing is certain, he says.
"There are going to be a lot of arepas eaten on both sides," Scutaro said. "It's very special to be a part of this World Series with all the Venezuelans. I'm just going to try to enjoy it and do my best."