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Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom

Andres Reiner and Scouting on the New Frontier

Milton H. Jamail

Publication Year: 2008

Though Venezuela is sandwiched between two soccer-mad countries—Brazil and Colombia—baseball is its national pastime and passion. Yet until the late 1980s few professional teams actively scouted and developed players there. This book is about the man who changed all that and brought Venezuela into Major League Baseball in a major way.
 
While other teams were looking to the Dominican Republic for new talent, Houston Astros' scout Andrés Reiner saw an untapped niche in Venezuela. Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom recounts how, over the next fifteen years, Reiner signed nearly one hundred players, nineteen of whom reached the majors. The stories of these players—among them Bobby Abreu, Johán Santana, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillén, and Freddy García—are interwoven with Reiner’s own, together creating a fascinating portrait of a curious character in the annals of sports and a richly textured picture of the opening of Venezuela as baseball’s new frontier. Countless interviews broaden and deepen the story’s insights into how the scouting system works, how Reiner worked within it, and how his efforts have affected the sport of baseball in Venezuela and the significance of Venezuela in the world of Major League Baseball.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Contents

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pp. v-vi

Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

In 1987 when I began to do research on baseball in Latin America, I read anything I could find on the subject in both English and Spanish and interviewed every current and former player from the region I could locate. I soon discovered that baseball was the most popular sport in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela...

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1. Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom: Mr. Reiner's Dream

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pp. 1-13

On August 2, 2005, the Houston Astros sent an e-mail message to the other major league organizations announcing that Special Assistant to the General Manager Andrés Reiner would be leaving the organization at the end of the season. Reiner, who had worked for Houston since 1989, was the architect of the Astros' Venezuelan...

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2. It's Their Game Too: The Origins of Baseball in Venezuela

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pp. 14-36

On October 29, 1941, five Venezuelan planes dropped their payload on the Cuban gunboat nearing the port of La Guaira. It was not a battle in a conflict between the two countries but a celebration of Venezuela's unexpected victory over Cuba in the championship game of the 1941 World Amateur Baseball tournament. Roses...

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3. The Astros Go South: Scouting in Latin America

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pp. 37-49

The Astros' Venezuelan scouting venture in the late 1980s did not occur in a vacuum. Major league organizations have long searched for players in the Caribbean region, and the Houston franchise was one of the pioneers in the market. There is little continuity, however, in any organization's scouting efforts in Latin America. The level...

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4. From Zero to Prospect: The Astros' Academy

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pp. 50-62

With the Astros on-board, Andrés was ready to put his vision into action. Given his commitment to Valencia, when he thought of opening a facility to prepare players, it was a no-brainer to locate there. He used his connections with the Magallanes baseball team, the University...

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5. From Tunapuy to Guacara: The Search for the New El Dorado

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pp. 63-76

Scouting in Venezuela is not easy. The country is slightly larger than Texas with a population of twenty-five million, and the distances between cities are long: a bus ride from Maracaibo to Maturín is more than eighteen hours. Prospects are scattered throughout the country, and finding them requires a great...

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6. On the Road to El Dorado: Scouting on the Frontier of Baseball

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pp. 77-92

Rafael Cariel is an old-time scout, combing the countryside in search of prospects, romancing their families, and selling his team, the Houston Astros. Because he does not speak English nor travel to the United States, he is almost unknown to people in the front office in Houston. But Cariel has been crucial...

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7. A Dream Come True: Ten Years at the Academy

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pp. 93-106

With the main playing field manicured and a fresh coat of paint on the clubhouse, the Academia de Béisbol de los Astros de Houston had never looked better than it did at the end of November 1999. Several hundred invited guests, including Astros General Manager Gerry Hunsicker, Assistant gm Tim Purpura and Director...

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8. Maracuchos y Gochos: Scouting in Maracaibo and the Andes

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pp. 107-123

Orlando Fernández made the six-hour drive from his home in San Cristóbal, on the Colombian border, to pick me up in Maracaibo in July 2001. I tagged along as he visited his baseball contacts in Maracaibo, and then went on a scouting trip with him through the Andes. Earlier in the year, Fernández had taken an early...

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9. The Talent Search Expands: Scouting in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, and Beyond [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 124-142

Competition for players in Venezuela intensified in the mid-1990s, with bonuses going through the roof, and Andrés saw the necessity to further expand his search to untapped smaller markets in the Caribbean. Major league clubs with limited scouting budgets, he believed, had to find new talent pools in order to gain...

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10. Refining the Product: The Venezuelan Summer League

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pp. 143-160

When the Astros traveled to Valencia for a two-game spring training exhibition series against the Cleveland Indians in March 2001, Richard Hidalgo was asked to take on added duties. He not only assumed his regular position in center field for both contests, but before the second game he also carried the lineup card to the...

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11. Foreigners at Their Own Game: Welcome to the Astros' Minor League System

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pp. 161-176

Every player at the Venezuelan academy is delighted when told he will travel to the United States. But for those making the trip to Kissimmee, Florida, for the first time, excitement is tempered with fear of the unknown. "When they take the flight to come to the States, they understand that they are leaving everything behind, and they know that...

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12. What Happened? Where Did the Prospects Go?

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pp. 177-197

Chicago White Sox pitcher Freddy García was a product of the Astros' Venezuelan academy as announcer Joe Buck noted during Game 4 of the 2005 World Series. That pipeline, he explained, "also included Johán Santana, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillén, and Bobby Abreu, and all were signed for the Astros by Andrés...

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13. Good-bye to the Astros: Andrés's Farewell Tour

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pp. 198-210

When Hunsicker resigned as gm after the 2004 season, it was clear that Andrés's project with the Astros of fifteen years plus was nearing an end. With Hunsicker gone, Andrés knew that he would no longer have any impact on the organization. New gm Tim Purpura was not a risk taker, and Andrés believed that he had to leave or stay...

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14. Andrés's Dream and the Future of the Astros in Venezuela

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pp. 211-228

When Andrés left the Astros, there was no public announcement and no press release from the organization. There was no mention of Andrés's departure in the Houston Chronicle, no discussion of his leaving on Houston talk radio, and there was no fanfare and no celebration when he went to the Astros' offices at Minute Maid Park...

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15. Epilogue

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pp. 229-240

In November 2006, los héroes del 41 were inducted as a team into the Salón de la Fama in Valencia. And the 1941 trophy that had been given to Hugo Chávez during the 2004 Cy Young celebration for Johán Santana was returned to the Venezuelan Sports Federation. Hopefully, one day soon it will be on display...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 241-244

No words can describe the gratitude I have for everyone in Venezuela who helped make this book possible. Un abrazo fuerte to Andrés Reiner and his staff, including Jesús Aristimuño, Rafael Cariel, Luis Carmona, Eduardo Castillo, César Cedeño, Miguel Chacoa, Pedro Franceschi, Ramón Fereira, Orlando Fernández, Mario González...

Appendix

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pp. 245-246

Notes

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pp. 247-252

Bibliography

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pp. 253-257


E-ISBN-13: 9780803217423
E-ISBN-10: 0803217420

Page Count: 412
Illustrations: 22 photographs
Publication Year: 2008

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