By Logan Bawcom
Special to 710Sports.com
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.
Upon hearing that the Mariners would like me to go play winter ball in Venezuela, I truly did not know what to expect. As an American ballplayer, you hear stories about kidnappings and being held up leaving the country and countless other things. That being said, I thought it would be a great experience while I’m young to get to face some good competition in a hostile environment.
I knew I’d be safe after talking with other teammates that have already been over here. The Mariners and Cardenales de Lara have a great relationship and they take good care of us and Lara is considered one of the more safe towns in the country. With all that being said, I packed my bags to embark to a country I have never been to to play the game I love. Little did I know, they were going to love the sport even more than I may.
On the morning of Oct. 7, I hopped onto a plane in Dallas and headed for Miami. In Miami, we were meeting up with the other American players and some of the coaches to head to Curaçao. That’s when things got very interesting.
Upon arriving on the small island of Curaçao we had to snag our bags from baggage claim and head to some of the smallest planes I have ever seen. It took about 2 hours for 15 of us to get our bags situated in the planes so one would not be too heavy and end up in the ocean. I was more worried about the cargo of my body than I was my baseball bag so we left those there and headed to the town of Barquisimeto. It was a very interesting ride to say the least as we flew into a lighting storm, but we touched down safely.
Upon arriving in Barquisimeto, where our team is located, we were greeted by the owner and front office of the team to take pictures and shake hands before we met with customs.
This was another long affair, as you may know, when it comes to customs. We finally got to our bags and passports around 11 p.m.. Then we had to head to the hotel. The hotel here is very nice and located within a mall, where you can also get some groceries and other things from the pharmacy. You literally have everything you need located within the mall and hotel. It is a very nice set up and the restaurants are unbelievable.
Once we all checked into hotel, I went straight to my room and attempted to order room service but the language barrier was far too hard to overcome so it looked like sleep was the only other option. This would conclude one of the longest days of travel I have experienced, and that’s saying a lot with the Triple-A Pacific Coast League travel with 3 a.m. wakeup calls and 6 a.m. flights. The next day we would have practice and scrimmage, so I definitely needed a good night’s rest.
Tuesday morning I woke up and went to one of the best breakfast meals of my life. The food here is one of the best things about this country, along with the coffee. The hotel staff is amazing and will bring you whatever you want. I tried out some foods that I have never have because that is truly part of the experience. You also have to pick up on the language, or you will get some food or coffee that you did not want.
After breakfast, it was time to go get some necessities from the “farmatodo”, which would be similar to a Walgreens or CVS back in the States. Drinking bottled water is a must in this country unless you want to be sick for a few days and drop some weight. So all of us “gringos” headed down to the “farmatodo” to grab some necessities for our stay.
Walking through the mall you get stares from everyone because we look very out of place and they also know that we all play for the Cardenales. The Cardenales are a very, very big deal in this town, and they follow them religiously. Once we all grabbed the things we needed, we headed back to the hotel and then off to the practice field.
Just getting to the field was an experience in itself. The people of Venezuela like to drive fast and do not necessarily care where the lanes are and will weave in and out at any speed. Think of big-city traffic with bumper cars and that is pretty close to what you got here. I have not gotten enough courage to drive yet in it. I leave it to the guys who have been here a few years.
Upon arriving at the field, we met all of our teammates and coaches and clubbies. It was awesome seeing some of the Venezuelan guys that I have played with from the Mariners in the past seasons plus a couple old Dodgers buddies. Practice was very long with batting practice then a simulated game that lasted quite a while. They have no problem here practicing and getting their reps in.
The following morning was a similar routine with breakfast and then heading to the field “Fast and Furious” style. Practice was similar as the night before along with some fundamentals and defensive work. You are bringing in a lot of guys and so we had to learn bunt coverages and pick plays and all that fun stuff. I did not have to stay for the simulated game since a few of us were not throwing in it so it was off to the hotel. We all got a good dinner in us before the big opening day the next night. Off to sleep it was.
Follow Logan on Twitter @LoganBawcom and on Facebook.