Venezuela’s Celebrity Umpire

Baseball fans don’t often think of umpires as the star of the show, but in the Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional (LVBP) one umpire certainly stands out as a celebrity in his own right.

El Jefe (“The Chief”) goes by the nickname Moñoño. He is a Venezuelan baseball legend. We don’t know how it exactly he became to most beloved umpire in this country, but watching him is pure joy and pure entertainment. Moñoño knows everybody and everybody loves Moñoño.

As we were crossing a bridge on our way to the ballpark in Caracas, a fan driving along the busy highway slowed his car down to yell, “Moñoño, Moñoño!!” Never mind the traffic along the highway, this fan yelled until he got a wave and a smile from El Jefe.

Walking along the streets of Valencia, a four year old girl hand-in-hand with her father began waving excitedly while saying, “Ump-pire, Ump-pire!” at the sight of Moñoño.

In every city we visit, fans jump at the chance to get a photo with Moñoño and he always stops to chat with fans of all ages, telling jokes and doing what he does–making people laugh.

 On the field, it’s even better as if his presence commands respect. Players don’t say a word, even at the most questionable calls. And he always gives the fans something to cheer about.

I’ve seen him dance ever so slightly to the lively Latin music played in-between innings….I’ve seen him sign autographs for fans in-between innings and pose for quick a picture…and every media outlet attempts to get a pre-game interview with Moñoño.

Fans down here don’t take their baseball lightly. Baseball is life. If a favorite team blows a game, the “faithful” wait by the bus, so they can curse and yell at their team. It’s not uncommon for fights to break out in the stands between fans of rival teams. And celebrations are even more interesting. When the favorite team scores a run, beer cups, with the beer still in them, are launched into the air. Freebies often also go sailing through the night sky.

One night, Magallanes, the Yankees of the LVBP, took the lead in a big game that sent fans into a frenzy. A local company had given out free hand fans as a gate giveaway. Well, the fans threw the fans straight onto the field. The announcers made a nice announcement asking fans to refrain from throwing anything while the game was in play. The reckless crowd didn’t even faze Moñoño. When the announcement was over, in grand fashion, he walked towards foul territory along the third base line, puffed his chest then reached his right arm to call the grounds crew to attention, he then dramatically pointed along the grassy area where most of the trash had landed, then with his left and right arms he swiftly motioned for it all to be thrown right back at the fans. The grounds crew quickly carried out his nonverbal orders then the game resumed play.

With over two decades in the LVBP, Moñoño is Venezuelan baseball’s top authority. A legend.     


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El Arbitro Famoso de Venezuela

Los fanáticos del béisbol no suelen pensar en los árbitros como la estrella de la serie, pero en la Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional (LVBP) un árbitro sin duda se destaca como una celebridad por derecho propio.

El Jefe se conoce con el apodo de Moñoño. Él es una leyenda del béisbol Venezolano. No sabemos exactamente cómo se convirtió el árbitro más querido en este país, pero verlo es alegría y diversión pura. Moñoño conoce a todo el mundo y todo el mundo ama Moñoño.

A medida que cruzaban un puente en el camino hacia el estadio de béisbol en Caracas, un fanatico que conducia a lo largo de la carretera ocupada, freno su carro hacia abajo para gritar, ” Moñoño, Moñoño!” No importa el tráfico a lo largo de la carretera, este fanatico gritó hasta que llegó un saludo y una sonrisa de El Jefe.

Caminando por las calles de Valencia, con cuatro años de edad, una niña de la mano con su padre empezó a agitar con entusiasmo diciendo, “UMP-pire, UMP-pire!” a la vista de Moñoño.

En cada ciudad que visitamos, los aficionados saltan en la oportunidad de obtener una foto con Moñoño y siempre se detiene a charlar con los fans de todas las edades, contando chistes y haciendo lo que hace – hacer reír a la gente.

 En el campo, es aún mejor, como si su presencia impone respeto. Los jugadores no dicen una palabra, incluso en las llamadas más cuestionables. Y siempre le da a los fans algo que celebrar.

Lo he visto bailar muy ligeramente a la música alegre de América jugado en el medio entradas …. Lo he visto firmar autógrafos para los aficionados de entre entradas y posar para una foto rápida … y todos los intentos de medios de comunicación para obtener una entrevista antes del juego con Moñoño.

Los aficionados aquí no toman el béisbol a la ligera. El béisbol es la vida. Si pierde un equipo favorito un partido, los “fieles” esperan por el autobús, por lo que puede maldecir y gritar a su equipo. No es raro la lucha por salir en las gradas entre seguidores de equipos rivales. Y las celebraciones son aún más interesantes. Cuando el equipo anota una carrera favorita, vasos de cerveza, con la cerveza aún en ellos, se lanzan en el aire. Regalos a menudo también vuelan por el cielo nocturno.

Una noche, Magallanes, los Yankees de la LVBP, tomó la iniciativa en un gran juego que envió a los fans en un frenesí. Una empresa local había dado a los fanaticos abanicos como un regalo en la entrada al estadio. Bueno, los aficionados arrojaron los abanicos directamente sobre el terreno. El locutor hizo un anuncio bonito pidiendo a los aficionados que se abstengan de lanzar cualquier cosa mientras que el juego estaba en progreso. La multitud imprudente ni siquiera llamo la atencion de  Moñoño. Cuando el anuncio fue más, con gran estilo, (Moñoño) se dirigió hacia territorio de foul en la línea de tercera base, hinchado el pecho a continuación, llegó con su brazo derecho para llamar al personal de mantenimiento la atención, luego señaló dramáticamente a lo largo de la zona cubierta de hierba donde la mayoría de la basura había caído, a continuación, con los brazos izquierdo y derecho que rápidamente hizo señas para que todo sea lanzado de vuelta a los fans. El personal de mantenimiento rápidamente llevado a cabo sus órdenes no verbales, entonces el juego se reanuda.

Con más de dos décadas en la LVBP,  Moñoño es la máxima autoridad del béisbol Venezolano. Una leyenda.


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Gracias a nuestro amigo, Jonathan, para su ayuda con la traduccion de esta historia. 

Life On The Road

We have a little jingle that we sing when life down here gets a little uncomfortable–

 “Welcome…to…life…on-the-road!”

Then we laugh and make the best of things.

Life on the road is quite different down here than life on the road in the States. In a literal sense, road tripping is an experience like no other. You can buy coffee and desserts from speed bump vendors, purchase pots and pans from roadside stands, and take in the sights of beautiful tropical scenery all while being choked by exhaust fumes.

“Welcome…to…life…on-the-road!”

I love when our food is ordered for us, because it’s like the mystery surprise in the Cracker Jack box. My first full day in Venezuela was spent in Maracaibo. I was given greenish potato and banana soup then a plate of spaghetti heavily drizzled with mayonnaise. My second day in Maracaibo produced a hamburger covered in fried potato bits and….more mayonnaise, lots of mayonnaise. Just a few days ago in Isla de Margarita, I was given a plate of spaghetti mixed with shrimp and some unrecognizable seafood items. Today, my friend told me, “Guess what I ate at the ballpark in Margarita?” I guessed nachos because I’m hoping to find a ballpark here that sells nachos–no luck so far. Her reply??? “No, no nachos…cow stomach.”

 “Welcome…to…life…on-the-road!”

Yesterday was an interesting day at the airport. After an hour delay for our flight, we waited an additional hour for our flight’s luggage to show up in baggage claim.

“Welcome…to…life…on-the-road!”

Today my husband walked nearly a mile to have his clothes laundered for tomorrow’s plate job. The Laundromat was out of water.

“Welcome…to…life…on-the-road!”

“LIIIIIIIFE…ONNNNN…THE! ROAD!!!” Dunn, da, dun!

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Thanksgiving Day – Winter Ball Style

Well, it Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A. It’s been raining all day in Caracas and my husband is working a game in Valencia tonight. Tomorrow we will celebrate Thanksgiving by giving thanks to the Lord for all his blessings and having a traditionally inspired meal together (so to speak). This year we are especially thankful to be together this Winter Ball season and for keeping our family back home safe and sound. Our mini-Thanksgiving dinner is possible thanks to Marie Callendar and her Home-Style Creations Traditional Stuffing and Turkey meal that I brought with me and a packet of instant mashed potatoes! :-)


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So being in a foreign country, there is much to learn, and even more to appreciate about the little luxuries from home that we often neglect. For example, I really miss one-stop shopping supermarkets and high quality tap water. Aside from that, we are thankful to be here. We are thankful to learn about a different culture, language, and history.

Today, this Thanksgiving Day 2010, I have watched the rain pour down, watched an American movie with Spanish subtitles, put Christmas lights all around our apartment’s giant bookcase, talked to the family back home thanks to MagicJack, and completed a Venezuelan history lesson thanks to the local currency. I decided to google the people and animals represented on our colorful Bolivares (Bs for short), so here is a short rundown (thanks to Wikipedia) of what I have learned today by studying 2, 5, and 10 B notes:

2 Bs (Blue) 

Toninas– The Amazon River Dolphin is an endangered freshwater dolphin living in the Orinonco, Amazon, and Araguains/Tocanin rivers. Toninas are the subject many stories in local Amazon folklore.

Francisco De Miranda– He is a Venezuelan revolutionary who played an important role in creating a strategy to attain independence from Spain.

5 Bs (orange/yellow)

Cuspon (Cachicamo Gigante): Giant Armadillos, an endangered species, reside in South American tropical forests.

Negro Primero is the nickname of Pedro Camejo who was the only officer of color in Simon Bolivar’s army. He is recognized for his military service during Venezuela’s fight for independence from Spain.

10 Bs (pink/orange/purple)

Aguila Arpia: (Harpy Eagle) the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas. These eagles inhabit tropical rainforests. One of the teams in the league is named after the Aguilas.

Guaicaipuro: united and led several indigenous tribes, in the 16th century, against the Spaniards.

And with that…I’m Thankful we had a pretty good Thanksgiving Day 2010.


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Caribbean Winter Ball

Here it is….Winter Ball. We knew that eventually this day would come. Actually, the season started five weeks ago, but this is my first week here…in Venezuela.

For those readers who are new to the sport, baseball can truly be a year-round passion. Big League Spring Training starts in February, minor league camp starts in March, the season starts in April, minor league playoffs go into September, MLB playoffs occur in October while many minor league guys are continuing to hone their skills in Arizona Instructionals or Arizona Fall League assignments which finish in November, October also brings the start of Caribbean League baseball with seasons going into February…and then we’re back at Spring Training. So for the die-hard fan, there is professional baseball going on in some part of the world….all year long.

As umpires work their way up the minor league baseball system, they are assigned to off-season baseball assignments. Caribbean League assignments are important steps for Double and Triple-A umpires to take in order to build experience. This happens to be our year, so Venezuela is our home away from home this “off” season.

For now, I will say that all those sayings…home is where the heart is, home is where you hang your hat, etc….are all true. We may be in a foreign country amidst a new culture, but we are together…Safe At Home.

Check out my new favorite link on MLB.com

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The view from our room. Can you spot the stadium in this shot?

Texas Rangers ALCS Champs

It’s a beautiful thing to see a team clinch a series. I’m a fan of the game. I get chills when in the midst of an exciting game in a packed house. This October, I definitely experience a once in a lifetime sporting moment. It was a beautiful day.

My husband was already out of the country for his winter ball assignment, so my parents and I decided to take in a big league game of our own. We traveled to Arlington to catch Game 6 of the ALCS.

What a game!!! Every seat was filled. The fans barely spent any time in their seats. And I have never seen my dad have so much fun at a ballgame. Except for golf, he’s not into sports. Over the past 5 years or so his interest has increased, but not to the point that he needs to look over the daily sports page.

I knew this game would be special, if not simply for the fact that my dad was cheering and chanting the entire game. And I had a blast soaking in the entire scene. You can’t take away the role history plays in setting the stage for a great showdown. Yankees….Rangers….Arlington….and the underdog clinched! Not only did they clinch the series, but they clinched their ticket to the World Series!

Regardless of the outcome of the World Series, the buzz, the adrenaline that filled that stadium that night is something that will always stay with every person who attended that game. Plus, seeing the ALCS trophy presentation live and in person with all the confetti flying through the air and the ear popping noise levels was incredible.

You just can’t capture the essence of the moment in words or on video. Technology is a wonderful tool. TV, radio, Internet, all of it is wonderful….but you still can’t replace the feeling of just being there.  

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WRIGLEY Field and YANKEE Stadium

We don’t get many opportunities to enjoy baseball games together, so come late September we make an effort to sit in the stands together.

We planned a very relaxed honeymoon. We took a road trip to the beach and rented a condo for a week. It was an awesome trip. Then we drove back home and hopped on a plane to Chicago for Honeymoon Part 2. As part of that trip we went to Wrigley Field for the last game of the 2009 season. Wow, did we ever pig out on ballpark food- so good!

To keep up the tradition, we went to a Yankees vs. Red Sox game as part of our 1-year anniversary trip. Now that was an amazing experience. I’m mean WOW is just about all we could say.

One of my favorite things to do while attending a ballgame with my husband is to watch him watch the umpires. It is truly entertaining. He notices everything they do– the way they walk, talk, wait in between innings, signals, mechanics, and body language.  All things that I never took notice of before meeting my husband. Try it one day; just pay close attention to the umpires during an entire game. It opens a new perspective to the game.

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ESPN Hits the Road

Minor league baseball is certainly a world of its own. It is also a unique opportunity to see interesting happenings all over the United States. A highlight this season was NFL Training Camp! I know, I know….what does that have to do with baseball? Well, a camp happened to be occuring in the complex next to the stadium. My husband loves ESPN. With that being said, you can imagine the joy he felt in seeing ESPN On The Road hold a live broadcast.ESPN live broadcast.jpg

 

(more…)

All-Star Break Anticipation

The All-Star Break is almost upon us. There’s the anticipation of the Home Run Derby and mid-season trades and of course the MLB All-Star Game, but for most baseball wives there is one thing we look forward to the most– our husbands get to come HOME!!!!  My husband has not seen our house since early April and it was for just a couple of days between Spring and the start of the season. Plus, this year brings his first 3-day All-Star Break that is actually a break because he doesn’t have to work his league’s All-Star game. Don’t get me wrong- it’s an honor to work an all-star game…but it is also an absolute thrill that he will be stepping foot in our own home. I’m pumped! I’ve been going crazy putting up our wedding photos, numerous baseball collectibles (between the both of us it’s absolutely ridiculous) and polishing our appliances…. it’s just that I want our house to feel so HOMEY. It really is important. Umps live out of hotels the entire season. A trip home is definitely something to celebrate! Hooray for the All-Star Break!

Japanese Ump chases the American Dream

Our friend Takeshi Hirabayashi is one of the most well respected umpires in Japanese baseball. Tak’s abilities have brought him to U.S. where he is calling his way through the minor league ranks towards a shot to work in Major League Baseball. I thought I’d share this story because Tak is such an inspiration. It’s one thing to pursue a big dream; it’s another thing when you take a second chance to achieve the dream. Tak first went to umpire school years and years ago. He got a job, worked a few years in the minors, but then a family situation sent him back home to Japan. Back in his home country, he didn’t lose any time working on his skills. Tak is practically a legend in Japanese baseball after a long career in Japan’s Central League. But the dream of working MLB games still lingered, so a few years ago Tak came back to the States for another go around at umpire school. For those who are unfamiliar with the structure of minor league umpiring, if you leave you can’t just pick up where you left off. With the exception of a leave of absence, if you formally leave the job, then decide to come back, you have to go all the back through umpire school, the initial job competition process, then back to A-ball to work your way back up the system. That’s another reason that makes this story so inspirational. Tak went back to the starting line and now in his 40′s he has made his way up to Triple-A. He is the only Japanese umpire to have made it this far up the minor league system. His fans back home can’t help but be inspired as well. It only makes sense then that a film crew from the NHK News is on the road with Tak and his crew filming daily life for a documentary about Tak’s Triple-A journey. This photo includes Tak, his crew chief, and the film crew. It’s a little bit of baseball reality tv and I can’t wait to see the finished product! Good luck, Tak!

 

 


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For more info on Takeshi Hirabayshi, check out his blog (FYI- it’s in Japanese)

Tak’s Blog

 

Here’s another good story link.

 

 

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