In South America soccer is king. Except in Venezuela. Here, the favorite pastime is baseball, which American oil workers helped popularize in the early 20th century.
Starting young More than half of Venezuelan kids say they like to play baseball.
Little League World Series titles Two. Maracaibo won in 1994 and 2000.
Top players now in the majors Bobby Abreu (New York Yankees), Miguel Cabrera (Florida Marlins), Magglio Ordóñez (Detroit Tigers), Johan Santana (Minnesota Twins), and Carlos Zambrano (Chicago Cubs).
The big leagues Venezuela's eight pro teams play a 62-game schedule from October to December, culminating in a best-of-seven series for the title in January. The winner advances to the Caribbean Series to compete against the best teams from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
Biggest rivalry Caracas Lions (reigning champions) and Magallanes Navigators; think Yankees–Red Sox times ten.
At the park The venues are small—the Caracas stadium seats 25,000—but the atmosphere is raucous, especially when the Lions and Navigators play. Fans sing, whistle, dance, set off firecrackers. They toss beer into the air when their team scores and on occasion try to douse an umpire after an unpopular call.
"Get your red-hot..." Parrilla (meat marinated and grilled) and arepas are sold around the ballpark, while vendors in the stands offer tequeños (sticks of dough filled with cheese), pistachios, merengadas (fruit, ice, milk, and sugar), and Polar beer—lots of Polar beer.
Seventh-inning stretch Each team has an ad-hoc band of fans who sit near the top of the stadium and play horns and bang on a giant drum, called a tambora. The best known, La Samba, can be found at every Guaira Sharks home game.
Decoding the calls Pepe Delgado Rivero, an announcer for the Zulia Eagles, popularized the expression, "¡Papitas! ¡Maní! ¡Tostones!" (Potato chips! Peanuts! Fried plantains!), which he barks out in quick staccato whenever a batter strikes out.
Dark side of success Stars who make millions playing in the United States find that they and their families have become targets of robbery, extortion, and kidnapping at home.