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Bawcom in Barquisimeto: The inevitable

University Stadium in Caracas, home to La Guaira of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. (Logan Bawcom)

By LoganBawcom
Special to

Editor’s note: Logan Bawcom, 24, is a minor-league pitcher for the Mariners who is traveling abroad to play winter ball for the first time. Follow along as he writes weekly about living and pitching in Venezuela.

Hola from down here in South America. I am currently coming to you guys from — well, I actually have no idea because I do not have GPS or anything working on my phone to know where we are located. We are headed home with an off day tomorrow so that is always a plus.

There are two things that are not always pluses here. I like to call them the inevitable. One is that within the first week or two you will come down with some sickness and the other is that there is no such thing as a sub-three-hour game here in Venezuela.

I will start with the first subject of getting sick. Most people like to call it Montezuma’s Revenge or traveler’s sickness, but I like to call it the “Gringo Getter.” No matter who you are or how tough you think your body is, it will get you. I thought I had a pretty good immune system and stomach and I could handle their foods and everything down here, and boy was I wrong. From day 1 I was told to not drink the water and I abided by that rule for sure, but where it gets you is the food. You do not always realize that the same water here is used to grow some of the foods you end up eating, and in a roundabout way, it gets you with a haymaker.

I was feeling great after the first week here. I had come from eating pretty clean being back in Texas to getting here and eating chicken and rice and steak. Then I started to get a little more confident and explore the Latin cultures’ food. Not my smartest move I’ve ever made. I went from feeling pretty good to wanting to come home in a matter of one night’s sleep. I woke up one morning and could barely walk around my hotel room. When I wasn’t frequenting the bathroom over 20 times, I was curled up in my room with the chills. I had no clue what had come upon me, but I knew I needed to get some medication in me to kick this bug. The only thing that would make me feel any better was trying to sleep, and there wasn’t much of that because I had to head to the field.

Upon arriving at the field I had even less energy than before. My face was ghost white and all the Latin guys knew I had come down with something. They had seen it many times before with an American guy coming in and getting ill within the first week or two. It’s inevitable here, the doctor told me after we met in the training room. He explained that our stomachs are way more sensitive to the Latin foods and initially our bodies do not handle them too well. I can vouch for that. After laying on the training-room table chugging Pedialyte and water and getting some pills from the “farmatodo”, I was good to head back to the hotel to try and sleep off this sickness. It’s now been a couple weeks later, and I am just now starting to get my energy back full to 100 percent like I was when I came here.

The second not-so-pleasant surprise is the length of the games here. That is one thing I did not realize coming into winter ball. If you thought the Red Sox and Yankees games were lengthy, just come on down to South America and get you some of these. Being a bullpen guy, you have to sit around a while until you get called up in the later innings. The pace of the game here is never addressed so sometimes you can see games lasting around the four-our mark and that’s just for nine innings. Back home in a typical game, if you go over the three-hour mark, it’s going to get addressed to pick up the tempo a little bit.

There’s a few factors that go into the games being so long. The main one would have to be pitching changes. Rosters here are 35 players every week and many of those guys are in the bullpen. Most big-league clubs have usually one or two left-handed specialist that will come in to face lefties only, and we have five. At any given time in the bullpen, there are a solid 10 people out there. If the starter gets into trouble early, both managers have no problem bringing in another guy due to the depth of your pitching staff. Quite often you will see a left-on-left matchup put together in the fourth and fifth innings rather than the eighth like back home. This adds quite a lot of time to games when you’re having to sit around for mound visits and pitching changes.

On home games we will get to the ballpark around 1 p.m. with a 7:30 game time. Most nights I do not get back to the hotel until around midnight or a little after. We have only been into one extra-inning game and thank goodness it went only 10 innings because I have heard stories of them playing until past 1 a.m. That’s pretty hard to stay awake and alert unless you have some Red Bull helping you out.

Even though the games do last quite a while, that doesn’t mean the fans aren’t still into it. They stick around until the last pitch and still get rowdy with the blowing of their horns. The crowd noise keeps you alert and awake when the games do drag on along with the Latin teammates who are in to every pitch and chanting as the game goes. Every game means something here and it’s a playoff atmosphere every night. That’s why there is pitching changes and bunt coverages and all kinds of little things done each game because we need a “W” every night.

Now it’s time to put the laptop down and try and get some shut-eye on this bus ride home. Rest is definitely a necessity here in this league with the travel being brutal at times. I’ll give you guys a peek into the travel here next time. I’m off to dreaming about home until the bus driver hits a patch of bumps. Until next time, “fanaticos de los Marineros.”

Follow Logan Bawcom on Twitter @LoganBawcom and on Facebook .

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