Venezuela takes first game of 2020 Caribbean Series; Gorkys belts single with bags loaded in 6-4 win photo: 2020 Caribbean Series schedule

By Lewis Rubman

Colombia 4 6 6

Venezuela 6 6 1

HATO REY, PUERTO RICO–The sixty-second Caribbean Series began this on this morning clear and breezy tropical morning at the Estadio Hiram Bithorn, home of Puerto Rico’s Cangejeros (Crabbers) of Santurce. The stadium has a local angle for Bay Area fans. Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican to play in the major leagues, had pitched for the Oakland Oaks in 1939 before making what many PCL loyalists consider a lateral move to the Chicago Cubs in 1943.

Cuba originally had been scheduled to face Venezuela in the opening game of this year’s Series. But a month before the first pitch was thrown, Cuba announced that visa problems had prevented its team from participating. The announcement resulted in the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Carribean Professional Baseball Federation hurling accusations against each other, the US State Department, and Major League Baseball. The Vaqueros (Cowboys) of Montería, a city in the north of Colombia, replaced the Cubans. It was the first appearance of a Colombian team in the Caribbean Series.

Venezuela, represented this year by the Cardenales (Cardinals) of Lara, has a respectable record in the winter classic, having won it seven times, most recently in 2009.

The 2019 tournament had been scheduled to be played in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, but political tensions dashed those hopes, Panama was invited to play as a guest replacement for Venezuela, and the games were played in Panama City.

The Panamanians had not participated in the Caribbean Series since 1960, and their only championship had been the triumph of the Carta Negra Yankees in 1950. But last year, the Toros de Herrera, representing the isthmus nation, were the surprise champions, winning four of their five contests.

The bulk of the rosters of the teams contesting the Caribbean Series consists of players from the champions of the participating leagues. The Dominican, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, and Mexican Pacific Leagues comprise the Caribbean Baseball Federation, which has invited the Cuban National Series (that island nation’s top league) to participate in every Caribbean Series since 2014. Panama, as I mentioned was invited last year, and Colombia was expected to receive an invitation in the near future. The remainder of the squads are re-enforcements, culled from teams that had been eliminated before the league championships had been decided.

For a while it looked like the Colombians would pull off one an upset. Behind. Edgar de la Rosa’s one-hit pitching, the Cowboys held a 2-0 lead when the righty left the game after pitching five complete innings. One of those runs was the stuff that underdog dreams are made of. Robinson Cabrera led off the third with an infield single up the middle. He advanced to second on Arvicent Pérez’s grounder for the second out and then scored from second on Francisco Acuña’s grounder out to third.

But Colombia’s hope for an upset fell apart when Ray Marimon came in to pitch for against the Cardinals. Two walks and a single by the first three batters he faced loaded the bases for Gorkys Hernández, another Bay Area local angle. His single drove in Venezuela’s first two tallies. Colombia’s wheels fell off, and when the dust had settled, Venezuela was ahead, 6-2. Colombia picked up one run in the top of the ninth to make it 6-4, but that one six-run seventh inning was all that Venezuela needed to win the first game of this year’s Series.

Marimon was tagged with the loss. Juan Sandoval got the win in relief, and Ricardo Gomez was credited with the save.

Each of the six participating teams will play a daily morning-afternoon, single admission double header and a stand-alone night game for the first five days of the tournament. This three a day schedule was another first, along with Colombia’s participation. After those fifteen games have been completed, the team with the worst record will be eliminated, and the four survivers will play a semi-final round on the sixth, one game in the afternoon and one at night. The winners of the semi-finals will face each other on the night of the seventh for the championship.

Today’s other games will feature the Mexican Pacific League’s Tomateros (Tomato Growers) against the Dominican champs, the Toros del Este at 2:30 this afternoon, local time. That’s 10:30 this morning, Pacific time. That game will be followed one between the Astronautas de Chiquiri, Panama’s entry and the Hiram Bithorn’s old team, the Santurce Crabbers. Its scheduled to begin at 8:00, but the first night game of these series usually don’t start when expected.

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