Sunday, November 19, 2006

¡Take Me Out to El Partido de Beí­sbol!

Hey all you MFFer fans, Rosco reporting from down in Centroamerica - yes, still.

Always on the search for something sports, I took in a ballgame today - America's pastime. Apparently, that old saying doesn't mean the United States of America. Nicaragua loves its beísbol - even more than soccer - and it has a league that would compete with some of the minor league clubs back in the States.

So, I have been bumming around here in Granada, Nicaragua for the past couple weeks, and what do you know - baseball season has started (there's never an offseason for baseball fans, if you look hard enough).

We jumped on a bus and headed to Masaya (a market town fixed almost exactly between Granada and Managua) to watch a little hardball. I was root, root, rooting for the home team - Las Fieras del San Fernando ("The Wild Animals of San Fernando" - a local volcano). We got the "best seats in the house," otherwise known as "Home Plate" to the locals (which, pronounced in Spanish is oh-meh plah-teh). Six rows up from the field set us back C$50 a piece, which roughly calculated is about $2.60. Did I mention how they were the "best seats in the house?"

Las Fieras play in Estadio Roberto Clemente, an unattractive stadium from the outside, was comfortable and intimate inside, and I am pretty sure some of the Americans that play could have heard ol' gringo me - if I had decided to razz them about being cut from the Des Moines Ball Whiffers. The field itself is pleasant with well-manicured grass, that would otherwise be unspectacular without the relative conditions of so-called parks we've run across down here in El Centro. The building says to fit six grand - as only a tiny bit of the outfield sits bleachers. Our section was the most guarded, probably because of ALL the money the patrons sitting in it must rake in to afford such grandiose sums as a coupla bucks. We were also the most visited by vendors, which included - Sodas and beer, gum and toys (?), oranges, mysterious looking tortillas, and rum - the local favorite (and often called "greatest in the world") Flor de Caña. A kid, no older than seventeen, paced the aisles with his portable bar strapped to his shoulders, two types of Caña rested securely in place. He had some mixers to throw in, sitting behind the beautiful, showcase bottles - some coke and soda. Curiously, he was the only vendor not to yell out his wares.

Las Fieras are unique team to an already unique league. They are the only team in Nicaragua to be made up of ONLY Nicaraguans - not a single extranjero. I guess, in a sense, that really makes them Nicaragua's team (To note: I still don't count any "American teams" as such - stupid Cowboys).

The league is a bit strange as it only has four teams, as opposed to Major League Baseball's sixty-seven. Right? Isn't that what they are up to? Teams play one season and disappear the next. Last year's champions, third, and fourth place teams - Los Indígenas Matagalpa, Los Tiburones de Granada, and the Estelí No-Nicknames (respectively) - are nowhere to be found this season. Only Los Indios de Boér (Managua's home club) remain.

Much of this whole Liga Nicaragüense de Beísbol Profesional is lost in translation for me - I have no clue if they operate on a mini-soccer relegation/promotion dealie - or whether teams just like the time off. Four teams battle it out for fifty-four games before entering the playoffs, where (from what I can gather, although it's a bit convoluted) the top two teams qualify for the Serie Final (a seven-game series) to decide the Campeón de Nicaragua.

This seems to be the first year they are attempting the seven-game series. Last year, it seemed like all four teams qualified for the playoffs, and two rounds of games were played. The first round had two games (known as - no joke - the "nocauts"), where the matchups lasted for two games and the cumulitive score determines the outcome. The Serie Final was a one-game series.

Well, I guess Nicaraguans DO like soccer.

DATELINE: Masaya, Granada. Las Fieras surely take advantage of their San Fernando name (emphasis on the S and F), because they have completely co-opted the look of the San Francisco Giants (they play in some league in the U.S.). The logo - the merged SF - their colors - orange and black - and their uniforms - white with suspiciously similar fonts of black numbers, outlined in orange with no names - in fact, they more than co-opted the Giants, they flat ripped them off. Estadio Roberto Clemente seems to try the old "one-two, please don't sue" with their harmless "ode" to AT&T Park (aka SBC, Giant Stadium, Loserdome, etc.) with a bottle of Victoria Lite (a local "lite" beer) towering over the outfield, rather than coke bottle a la San Francisco.

The outfield is lined with "rah, rah" posters, such as the one that read: "Ah! Ah! Ah! Los Campeonatos son las Fieras." Emblazoned on this poster is what I suppose is their mascot - one of the titular "wild animals." It looked to me like a rabid sea otter.

Today, the Leones de León (yes, translated that means the Lion Lions) came to town. If Las Fieras channel the San Francisco Giants, well, then Los Leones channel the Oakland Athletics (I felt like I was back in the Bay Area...sigh). Their colors (surprise, surprise) are green and gold. Their uniforms (although they threw some gray in there to keep the copywright bastards at bay) are knitted with a cursive name across the chest - gold, no less, on a green jersey. The "L" that sits alone on their green caps looks non-too-incognito - almost like the typesetter for the Oakland A's was typing in haste and hit the "L" key rather than the "A."

Unlike San Fernando, León has a healthy roster of non-Nicaraguans - of them, a handful of Cubans, some Panamanians, and a few Gringos from baseball-central.

Going into the game, León and San Fernando were battling in the middle of the four-team pack, vying for second place. Although it's young in the season, this was a major game for both clubs. San Fernando had been slumping after a hot start (where they occupied first place) and León just broke its slump - trying to piece the season together.

This was the fifth game of the season and the first matinee game, played uncomfortably at eleven in the morning. Most games are played in the evening, probably to prevent players from heat stroke.

The players trotted out on the field, under the baking sun and started promptly, PROMPTLY, at eleven. Anyone ever hear of that happening in the majors?

The lineups and rosters for visiting León and home San Fernando (these are very approximate as they are hard to determine in many instances):

NOTE: The league in Nicaragua has adopted the designated hitter.

#11 - SS - Jimmy Álvarez (Domican Republic) S/R
#51 - 2B - Ronald Garth (Nicaragua) R/R
#29 - CF - Justo Rivas (Nicaragua) R/R
#26 - C - César Quintero (Panama) R/R
#20 - DH - Henry Roa (Nicaragua) R/R
#7 - 1B - Sandor Guido (Nicaragua) L/L
#10 - 3rd - Alexis Hernández (Cuba) R/R
#18 - LF - Esteban Ramírez (Nicaragua) R/R
#81 - RF - Lenín Aragón (Nicaragua) R/R
PITCHER: #25 - Edisbel Benítez (Cuba) R

SAN FERNANDO (all Nicaraguan)
#86 - SS - Renato Morales L/L
#2 - 1B - Juan Blandón R/R
#29 - RF - Danilo Sotelo R/R
#12 - 3B - Norman Cardoze R/R
#11 - DH - Ofilio Castro R/R
#61 - C - Sergio Mena R/R
#80 - CF - Domingo Álvarez R/R
#13 - LF - Eddy Talavera R/R
#8 - 2B - Mario Holmann S/R
PITCHER: #31 - Asdrudes Flores L


Not a second after eleven, Flores delivered the game's first pitch. I suppose it was his signature pitch - "fastish ball." He caught the batter sleeping, and the game had begun. Flores displayed his repertoire - Meat, Meat-Subsitute, and Quarter-Pounder. The first ball contact came from León's Álvarez, who as a leadoff hitter, did the obvious thing - he tried to bunt for a hit. It almost worked, but Cardoze got his sizable ass in gear and gunned him down. Flores got lucky on that one, but Mr. Garth followed that with a base knock, and readied himself for a little baserunning. Soon afterwards, Justo Rivas smacked an RBI-triple into the gap in center-right, and it looked like León would start pouring it on, but a fancy snag by Cardoze and his ass ended the inning on the next batter.

San Fernando easily showed their slump-like ways of late when their leadoff, Morales, whiffed on three consecutive pitches. With the heat, it was nice to have a fan to cool us down. Things started to look up, however, when Sotelo hit a single and Cardoze's ass reached on an error. As the ball rolled somewhere behind first base, Sotelo made his move towards third. Guido whipped the ball to third, and the ball reached there waaaaaay before Sotelo had his knee sliding in the dirt. Sotelo slid into the tag... SAFE! A botched call got the crowd in an uproar, of the "God is on our side" sort, and León's manager immediately hopped out of the dugout to argue (as much as he could with his portly Don Zimmer-like physique). This only riled up the crowd more, and play was suspended for a couple of minutes. When play resumed, so did Las Fieras impotence at the plate - inning over - San Fernando trailing 1-0.

Aside: As I tried to root FOR San Fernando, and I did - they were just a better team out there - you can't not love a guy named Sandor Guido - in fact, can the Angels sign him, just so I can get his jersey?

The next inning was pretty mediocre. Batters showed no confidence at the plate, and only one player reached base, and that was only because Flores decided to add a new pitch to his already impressive selection - the back tenderizer. In the bottom of the 2nd, Las Fieras showed that even when someone is on base, they like to get back to the shade of the dugout, and hit into double plays (Domingo Álvarez).

The third inning didn't show much promise either. León showed a little more strength at the plate. But how much that has to do with their batting competence or with Flores' pitching - I have no idea. They left three on base, and went into the bottom of the inning with nothing to show for their three hits. The only thing San Fernando could show for its third inning efforts was a miraculous at-the-plate appearance for pudgy Blandón who whiffed on his second pitch and sailed the bat through the air into the fence above his dugout. The bat hit the fence like a dart and lodged itself into the mesh. Blandón readjusted his grip and met the plate - the pitch, the swing - and poof, there went the bat AGAIN! It practically landed in the same place, nearly beheading the ball boy - who, it should be noted, seemed to display better reflexes than some of the professionals. Not strangely enough, San Fernando left that inning scoreless.

A few hits here and there with as many errors dictated play for the next couple innings. San Fernando showed that while batting was nearly impossible for them today, they could still baserun, if only just for show.

Aside: It was about the fifth inning when I noticed that every inning was strictly timed - each inning took almost exactly fifteen minutes, and by the end of the fifth inning, the time exactly was twelve-fifteen p.m.).

The sixth inning brought a little drama that was lacking in the actual play. A smack by a León batter cracked directly into Flores' knee. The ball bounced around the mound, and was picked up by Quintero, who threw the batter out at first. Flores left the game, helped by the medic, to applause - whether it was a show of sympathy or thankfulness that he was off the mound, who knows. Number 51 - Juan Pablo López (L) came in to save the day.

The injury rallied San Fernando in the bottom of the inning to hit into another double play.

In the seventh inning, López was showing his pitching chops. Or, I should say, the batters were chopping his pitches. Hernández with a base hit. Aragón with a single, Hernández to third. Then, little Álvarez with a down-the-line double, Hernández comes in for the run. León 2 - 0 San Fernando.

Las Fieras yank López and replace him with number 85 - Oswaldo Mairena (L) - who finishes off the inning with ease.

Likewise, Las Fieras were finished off in the bottom with ease. The starting pitcher for León, Benítez, looked masterful out there, putting pitches past players without problem.

The problems for San Fernando, however, mount in the eigth inning. Mairena plunks Sotelo and Sotelo steals second. Everybody's favorite - Sandor Guido - breaks the home crowd's collective heart, when he singles and drives Sotelo in for another run. León 3 - 0 San Fernando.

Need I tell you what San Fernando accomplished in the bottom of the eighth? Didn't think so, moving on...

Las Fieras put their hope on ANOTHER pitcher - number 16 - Lenín Gazo (R) - enters with little pressure on him - how much worse could he be? Well, he gives up a hit early, but puts away the rest of the side. In all, he may have been the best looking pitcher out there today for San Fernando, albeit only tossing less than 20 pitches.

León sent in their ace closer to finish this thing off - number 85 - Donald Calderón (R).

But, it was all set up for this, the home team, struggling all day, to heroically come back in the bottom of the ninth. But, in true cliché fashion, first they would have to have two outs against them, have three men on, and have the golden child of Fieras baseball step to the plate (with a broken leg, arm, and face). Then, with the last gasp of his spirit, he rockets a ball for a record length as fireworks explode in a veritable rainbow in the sky.

Or, you could do it the San Fernando way, one-two-three your way out of the inning and out of the game.

Grumbling, the crowd left, perhaps with a little less hope of their team's success this year. I will tell you what, if they play like that on a regular basis, they will win very few games. Of course, if it weren't for the triumphant pitching for Los Leones, León probably wouldn't either. Their field play was atrocious, even by little league standards, and their batting, while there were moments of success, was generally pretty bad.

But, they won, and now have position in second place behind everybody's team to love to hate - Boér of Managua.

While this was NO Major League game, by any stretch, it was a great experience. Fans in Nicaragua are comparable to the Majors' best, despite it not devolving into any sort of violent soccer-like fandom. These are knowledgable fans, and fans that respect the sport and each other. In other words, they wouldn't fit in at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. But, we'll let Matt K handle that one.

Till next time, when I should be stateside, keep the middle foam fingering as inappropriate as possible.

Comments on "¡Take Me Out to El Partido de Beí­sbol!"


Blogger Caminante said ... (3:35 AM) : 

Nice article.

Did you know that some of the Nicaraguan players on that game are currently in the minor leagues or were at some point? And, it may come as a surprise to you but the Lefty Owaldo Mairena played in the Majors with the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins a few years before that game.


Ronald Garth: Currently in Class A Seattle

Justo Rivas: Was playing in the Braves’ farm system at that time

Sandor Guido: He did not play in the minors but is a Physician!


Renato Morales: Currently in the Phillies organization

Danilo Sotelo: formerly with the Dodgers organization

Ofilio Castro: currently in AA for the Nats

Mario Holmann: Was playing in the Yankees organization


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