The Road to the Big Leagues

Is not easy...

Alex Escobar is one of the Venezuelan future starsAlex Escobar is 22 years old. In 2001, he became the 127th. Venezuelan who have played in the Major League Baseball. He joined the New York Mets. It was his fifth year in the organization; he was catalogued as a top prospect for the last two years. It seems easy to spend five years doing something and then get the reward (and the big money). It seems like attending college and then the dreamed job appears.

However, Escobar says that it is not as easy as it sounds. "You wake up from the dream of being a Major Leaguer when you step for the first time a training camp in the United States. You put your feet on the ground when you see four or five players with the same conditions, or maybe better than you, fighting for the same spot that you are fighting. The world turns dark when you get aware about the differences in customs between you and the other people..."

Escobar felt that instead of being in a Baseball team, he was in the Army in his first days, he adds: "I was sick and tired of being awake at 5:00 a.m., and finish practices and games around 7:00 p.m. It was exhausting, and the worst was that later I didn't know how to ask for food in English..."

Actually, a career in Baseball as a player is considered one of the most difficult things to achieve in the world, and that is why is one of the most rewarding jobs, in economical terms. Latinos, born with natural skills to play this game, which is further socially induced by parents, school, church, and friends.

It is a road that many can take, but only few are able to complete.

More pressure than pleasure

Wilson Alvarez threw a  No-Hitter in his second Major League start in 1991Wilson Alvarez is the highest paid Venezuelan in history, with an annual salary of 8 million dollars. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher, has just finished a 5 year-35 million contract, which converted to Venezuelan Bolivares (according to November 2002 exchange rate) are around 49 thousand millions of Venezuelan Bolivares, which automatically place him among the top richest men in the country. Imagine how much money is this for a Venezuelan, considering that a new Mercedes Benz costs something between 50 and 70 millions.

Baseball for Wilson Alvarez was just an answer to overcome the poverty, as thousands of Venezuelan teens. However, he has gone thru a harsh road and a lot of work since he was a little kid, to reach his status, and hundreds of personal inconveniences and critics thanks to Baseball, including the lost of a baby.

He has spent his life in a Baseball field since he was 5 years old. After signing with the Texas Rangers in 1987, he became a teenager with no parties; no girlfriends, no junk food, and no oversleep. After reaching the majors, he has been able to go to Venezuela once a year, and during 8 months of the year, he is usually traveling across the US, day after day. Only 4 months per year could be fully spent with his family. He has been exposed to two shoulder operations and a two-year therapy program.

Moreover, with all of this, every time he steps into the mound, a whole country is expecting a no-hitter. If he looses the game, he is the target for critics for the next two weeks. For Venezuelans, baseball players should be perfect because they are the examples for the youth.

Evidently, circumstances for Latin American players are not easy in their home countries, and even more in the United States. For many years, the discrimination against the Latinos was wide open, beginning with the skin color, then the salaries disparities and later the social status. Perhaps, this problem has evolved becoming just clubhouse rumors, but it is still latent in the American baseball system and some players have been victims of unexposed racism that have affected their careers.

With all of this, many have been able to survive the inconveniences to glorify the name of their countries inside of a Major League Baseball field.


[Next to: Life in Baseball is a real challenge]