By César Augusto Márquez
Amid growing international sanctions and accusations that President Nicolás Maduro is turning into a dictator, the Venezuelan crisis took another turn on Sunday with reports of an attack on a military base in Valencia, the country’s third-largest city. Two people were killed and eight arrested, according to the international news agency AFP.
This is on top of the daily demonstrations against the government and the newly elected National Constituent Assembly, which in its first act on Saturday ousted Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former ally of Maduro turned persistent critic. The street violence has cost at least 110 persons their lives since early April.
It’s no exaggeration to say that for the 100 Venezuelans who have played Major League Baseball this year as of Aug. 6, it has been the most difficult of seasons. It’s certainly true for Venezuela’s biggest baseball star, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera — a four-time batting champ, two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner.
It’s probably no coincidence that despite reaching several notable milestones this season — he has surpassed 450 home runs and 2,600 hits as well as 1,600 RBI and 1,000 extra-base hits — Miggy is having the worst summer since his rookie year in 2003.
A trip to the disabled list for a right groin strain — only the second stint on the DL of his career — and a couple of other nagging injuries have certainly contributed to career lows in most of the important offensive categories, including a .256 batting average and a .758 OPS as of Aug. 6.
But Venezuela’s violence and economic woes clearly weigh on Cabrera, who acknowledged through a series of Instagram posts just before the All-Star break that he has paid protection money — vacunas — for his family.
Last week, in an interview with La Vida Baseball at Yankee Stadium during the series against the New York Yankees, he admitted to having problems focusing on the field, saying, “Every inning, I think about what’s happening in Venezuela. It makes me sad.”
Miggy also took time to reflect on his season and on the success of former teammate Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, who was inducted a week ago into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and of Texas Rangers third baseman Adrián Beltré, who became the first Dominican-born player and fifth Latino to 3,000 hits.
LVB: How is the situation in Venezuela affecting you?
Cabrera: “Sometimes it’s very hard to go out on the field and forget about what’s happening in Venezuela, forget that they can be killing people right now, forget that someone is about to die because they lack medicine, forget that someone is going hungry, that they can’t find food, that people are living in fear.
“It’s very difficult to go out on the playing field like that. We play nine innings, and every inning, I think about what’s happening in Venezuela. Of course, it makes me sad.”
LVB: How have you measured a season in which you’ve had your share of injuries while reaching individual milestones?
Cabrera: “I’ve felt good. Even though it hasn’t been a very good year for me, I hope to continue producing the rest of the season and next year. Actually, I feel proud about what I’ve accomplished with my career. This season will not define whether I’m a good or bad player. Each step I take from now on means accumulating more stats. I only ask God that he give me health so I can continue in the field and do my bit to help.”
LVB: How have you tried to keep focused with everything else going on?
Cabrera: “That is one’s job. You have to keep centered, independently of the good or bad things they say about me. I’ve worked very hard to get here and I’ve sacrificed for too many years to lose my head over criticism. What’s important here is to improve every day. I still feel that I can put up better stats and improve my production.”
LVB: You played with Pudge in 2003 when the Florida Marlins won the World Series. Do you think that someday you’ll follow him into the Hall of Fame?
Cabrera: “That’s not my decision; that’s up to you, the media. But I’m proud to have played with ballplayers who have entered the Hall of Fame and especially to have worn the same uniform as Iván Rodríguez, pride of Latin America. We share many memories together, perhaps none as important as the 2003 World Series, which we won with the Marlins. It’s a great honor to have played with him. He’s an immortal.”
LVB: Did you have a chance to watch Beltré’s 3,000th hit?
Cabrera: “The celebration was wonderful to watch. See the joy on his face, to see him and how humble he is. He is a good person and, as a Latin American, I’m proud of what he did, to be the first player born in the Dominican Republic to reach 3,000 hits. I hope that God continues giving him much health so he can continue reaping the rewards.”
LVB: Do you think that you will be the first Venezuelan to 3,000 hits?
Cabrera: “There’s still a long way to go. Let’s go one step at a time, and time will tell whether I’ll be on that list of Latinos with 3,000 hits.”
Featured Image: Patrick McDermott / Getty Images Sport