My overly optimistic announcement last week about the forthcoming and so-promising inaugural Latin American and Caribbean League round robin tournament in Valencia (Venezuela) has been followed by days of complete silence. The reason has been a most-disappointing inability (or unwillingness) of the apparently chaotic and Quixotic Venezuelan Baseball Federation (the event sponsor) to provide even the slightest trickle of news. Venezuelan authorities have remained unconscionably silent concerning the numerous delays for a "world class" tournament that seemed to hold so much potential promise as a much needed replacement (or at least supplement) to the faltering annual professional winter leagues Caribbean Series scheduled this coming February for Santo Domingo. Even the Cuban press, which follows the movements of its national team with loving detail, could uncover almost no details or updates concerning what www.baseballdecuba.com eventually began labeling "The Secret Tournament" (Torneo Secreto). What little news that did leak out of both Venezuela and Cuba provided only further questions and growing doubts: the opening date of play (originally October 2) was several times pushed back, and then left completely in the dark; the Cuban team twice postponed its own departure for Valencia, then didn’t finally leave Havana until October 6 (Saturday); the roster of expected teams kept changing, with Panama declining, then accepting, then declining once more. An immediate "red flag" of course was also the complete absence of any official website for the event. And this for an international baseball match that would be featuring the reigning world champion Cubans plus two additional teams (Venezuela and Panama) that were also headed next month for the World Cup event in Taipei. If the Venezuelan political scene has often been troubled by upheaval and confusion in recent years, the Venezuelan Baseball Federation has now proven itself to be an even more classic case of inexplicable chaos. As one Cuban friend (whose finger is always on the pulse of national baseball in Havana) emailed me this week, "our team is apparently now in Venezuela, but nobody here yet seems to know who will play who, or even when!"
Finally some light has been thrown on the LLCB with the late Monday announcement by Venezuelan national sports minister Eduardo Alvarez Camacho that there would indeed be a Venezuelan tournament, after all, beginning this Wednesday (October 10), and in the end involving but four teams: Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua. In-again and out-again Panama would not be attending, nor would Puerto Rico, as originally announced. Whether the withdrawal of the latter two participants was the actual cause of the apparent confusion in launching the event, or whether it was merely the result of the total chaos in Venezuela, is a major question that remains completely open. Not only have the dates for the I LLCB now been drastically altered, as well as the roster of participants, but so has the originally announced format of competition, the venues for play, and even the precise name of the inaugural tournament.
What is now on tap (but stay tuned for further developments!) is a four-team round robin event (each team will play the others three times) that will stretch until October 23 and also involve semifinals (that is, no one will be eliminated in preliminary rounds) and a single-game championship finale. Valencia will not now host the games which will instead be played in Jose Antonio Casanova Stadium (in the capital city of Caracas) and Carabobo Stadium (Mariara). And the event has now been rechristened "Ligas del ALBA" in apparent recognition of its much-reduced field of Caribbean Basin participants. In the scheduled lid-lifters, Colombia and Venezuela with square off in Caracas on Wednesday and Cuba and Nicaragua will clash in Mariara on Thursday. What we now have, then, is a far reduced and less attractive if still intriguing tune-up exercise (for Cuba and Venezuela only) for the upcoming Taipei games of November, played against somewhat inferior opponents from Nicaragua (bronze medalist this summer at the Rio Pan Am Games) and Colombia (whose weak team was a tail ender in last summer’s IBAF Pre-Olympic tournament in Havana). This is hardly any longer an event which promises to bury the tradition-rich February professional Caribbean Series, as this author prematurely speculated only a week ago.
The Venezuelan tournament now looks more and more like a one-time event that has been lucky even to get off the ground for its inaugural outing. The only hope for the future might be that the Cubans (with their vast experience, rich tradition, and thoroughly "professional" approach to international tournaments) might take over the "Ligas del ALBA" and free them from the hands of the seemingly incompetent Venezuelan Federation. Some entertaining on-field match-ups may still be in the offering (especially between Cuba and Venezuela) over the next two weeks and I will try to report on them here as information is available. The games will also be followed (when information permits) on the Cuban League websites (www.baseballdecuba.com and www.radiococo.cu) in coming days. Hopefully such a poor start might still result in a more inspiring conclusion.