Despite turbulent relations between Washington and Caracas during the past 15 years, Venezuela has produced a number of Major League Baseball superstars. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, last season's AL MVP, as well as Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez both hail from Venezuela. Marco Scutaro, the 2012 NLCS MVP, also comes from the baseball-crazed nation.
The number of Venezuelans has steadily increased in MLB, and last year there were a record nine players from Venezuela on the two World Series rosters.
As impressive as these figures are, they come despite the growing reluctance of many major league clubs to establish academies in Venezuela. While highly controversial, the baseball academies in the Dominican Republic have been the bridge for dozens of talented players. But in Venezuela, former President Hugo Chavez demanded that MLB organizations offer employee and player benefits, and he pushed for job training to be part of the academies.
Chavez's stipulations, as well as the increasing violence in cities like Caracas, scared many teams away. Dave Zirin of The Nation writes that during the past decade, the number of major league academies in Venezuela dropped from 21 to 5. As of 2011, all 30 teams had academies in the Dominican Republic, where the government has traditionally been more welcoming.
"Teams have left Venezuela because of issues with the government and security that have made it more difficult to do business there," an anonymous major league official told the LA Times in 2011. "Absent those problems, there would be a lot more teams here using academies."
So how will things change now that Chavez has died? That question, like so many others regarding the future of Venezuela, remains unclear. But if the country does take a more lax policy toward the baseball academies, the number of Venezuelan players could very well increase. Not far behind as it is, Venezuela could perhaps even pass the Dominican Republic as the country with the largest foreign supplier of talent to the MLB.