In the face of shortages and anti-government protests, Colorado Rockies right fielder Carlos González has a message of hope for his fellow Venezuelans.
"“Espero que todo se mejore y que seamos un país libre. Esta lleno de muchísimo talento y espero que todo se mejore,” González dijo."
"“I hope the situation improves and that we are a free country. It is full of a lot of talented people and I just hope it improves,” González said."
On July 30, there will be an election in Venezuela to decide if delegates will rewrite the country’s constitution as proposed by president Nicolás Maduro. Opposition activists held a symbolic vote on Sunday in a nonbinding referendum. More than 7 million Venezuelans voted in the referendum with 700,000 voting from overseas. González was one of those people at a voting station in Denver.
"“It’s a way to support our country,” González said speaking of the vote. “Doesn’t matter where we are at. It’s still Venezuela. Everything we do here, in some way we are always representing our family, our culture, all the fans and everybody that supports us.”"
But a lot of the people that support González are still in Venezuela. His mind is never far from home.
"“It’s hard because I have so many family members there still,” González said. “You have some of your mind over there. You hope everybody stays safe with all of the problems that we have. It is what it is. It’s one of those things we have to deal with.”"
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Growing up in Maracaibo, Venezuela, González spent many days at his grandma’s house. Nearby was a place that sold beer and other bottled drinks. The bottle caps left behind were formative to one of the greatest players to ever wear a Rockies uniform. These caps led to a game called “chapitas.” All you need for this game is a stick and a bottle cap. González brought these caps for his friends to play with in the neighborhood.
As much as González played chapitas, he said his hometown was more formative to how he developed as a baseball player. Being in the second biggest city in Venezuela, there were many little league places for CarGo to play. The tropical sunny weather didn’t hurt either.
"“The competition over there is really nice,” González said. There are a lot of good players that I had the opportunity to play against, like King Félix [Hernández] growing up.”"
That great competition helped develop his game quickly but it made him grow up even quicker. González explains that normally in Venezuela you sign a major league contract when you are 15 or 16. Many times Venezuelan players are entering rookie ball when others in the United States are just finishing high school or going into college.
"“It helps you to grow faster in so many different ways,” he said. “Not just baseball. Coming from Venezuela at age 16, it’s life changing. You are not with your mom or your parents any more. You have to find your own place to live, find a way to get to the ballpark and find a way to eat. It helps you grow as a person.”"
"“Compared to the other guys who have time to go to school if they decide to go pro, they go pro. But for us it’s like okay you either quit school and go play or forget about a baseball career.”"
González took his career to the apex by representing his home country in this year’s World Baseball Classic. While he said it was special to play, especially this year, he is just happy to play in the tournament again, after his first appearance in 2013. His favorite part of the classic (after having the colors of the Venezuelan flag across his chest) is sharing the same clubhouse with his fellow countrymen like Miguel Cabrera, José Altuve and Salvador Pérez.
That may be one of the most special things about the Rockies clubhouse for González. There are six Venezuelan players on this 40-man roster including González, Gerardo Parra, Alexi Amarista, Antonio Senzatela, Germán Márquez and Jairo Díaz.
Parra’s locker is right next to CarGo’s. Their friendship goes far beyond baseball and is united in love for their home country. On Parra’s glove is a stitching of the Venezuelan flag, instead of where the manufacturer’s logo is usually placed. He is from Santa Bárbara del Zulia, Venezuela. One thing that resonates for Parra in Venezuela and the Rockies clubhouse, is family.
"“I just have pride in my country. Venezuela is beautiful. Venezuela is strong. We are happy we have a lot of Venezuelan guys but I think when you are coming into the clubhouse it’s Colorado Rockies. We work together, win together, lose together. We’re family. The Rockies is my family right now. When we come to play baseball, we don’t think wherever we are from. We’re strong. We play hard every day,” Parra said."
These veterans are paving the way for rookies like Senzatela to feel a part of the Rockies family. The 22-year old righty from Valencia, Venezuela didn’t pitch higher than the Double-A level in 2016. He said that González has been instrumental in his development by learning what pitches to throw against certain hitters. Having several Venezuelan teammates has only eased his transition in the majors.
"“They do an awesome job with me, with any rookies,” Senzatela said referring to his Venezuelan teammates. “It’s good [that they are from my home country] because you feel like you are really friends. They talk to me a lot.”"
It is not lost on González that this Rockies club has a rich tradition of Venezuelan baseball players here in Denver. CarGo grew up watching one of the best Blake Street Bombers, Andrés Galarraga.
"“I grew up watching a lot of Rockies games because it comes from way back when Galarraga was a star. I’m having the same opportunity he had playing for the Rockies. It’s funny to think about because I dream of playing the game and being in the big leagues and watching Galarraga play. I never imagined I was going to end up here. It’s a great opportunity.”"
It might start off with something as small as a bottle cap, but the impact González will have on Venezuela and the Rockies will be immeasurable long after he’s hung up his purple pinstripes.