Venezuelan baseball an escape & reminder of economic crisis

Latin America

Venezuelan baseball an escape & reminder of economic crisis

As the U.S. Major League Baseball season came to an end, another league had begun.

Venezuela’s winter baseball season is underway at a time of major economic uncertainty. CGTN’s Stephen Gibbs reports from Caracas.

It was a little respite from the nation’s problems. A baseball game in Venezuela was one of the few places where political differences are forgotten, while the teams slug it out.

Still, as the winter season began, there were constant reminders of the country’s deep economic crisis. “Yes, of course, it’s complicated to come here, but we do it to distract our minds a little,” said one woman among the baseball fans.

Take for example the ticket price. Last week the cheapest ticket in the local currency was 35 bolivars. The week after, it was 60. That’s hyperinflation. In U.S. dollar terms, it cost less than one dollar to enter the grounds.

Those at the stadium were able to watch many major league players, including one of Venezuela’s stars, Endy Chávez. He, like all the players there, was paid in hard currency. And their uniforms were imported.

The only way to pay for this stuff was a sponsorship. This year the league received a $12 million lifeline from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, even though the company was close to default.

The billionaire owner of a local beer firm was also a patron. There was talk of wanting to buy before the game. Few people carry the fistful of cash needed to buy one. Most pay with debit card.

One beer was two days’ work on the minimum wage. No one is pretending it is easy putting on games in these difficult times.

“It’s a major challenge to put on a baseball tournament in Venezuela, given the country’s situation, with all the problems that we are all facing as a people; but baseball is a healthy pastime and we hope this will be a great season,” said Luis Blasini, a Venezuelan baseball manager.

Back inside the stadium the atmosphere was warming up. Many Venezuelans said that in the deepest recession in the world they have had to make sacrifices. But the one thing they won’t be giving up is baseball.

The essential appeal of this game, they said, is that triumph can overcome adversity. And nowhere, perhaps, is that more true, than here in Venezuela.