Baseball in Venezuela originates with the early twentieth century cultural influence of United States oil companies, and is the country's leading sport. The Venezuelan Professional Baseball League (VPBL) is a winter league that was established in 1945, with Leones del Caracas the leading team; another leading club is Valencia's Navegantes del Magallanes, established in 1917. There is a Venezuelan Summer League established in 1997 and composed of teams affiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs. The Liga paralela is a secondary Venezuelan winter league, with the teams acting as farm teams for VPBL clubs.
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Venezuelan teams have won the Caribbean Series a number of times. The Venezuela national baseball team won the Baseball World Cup several times in the 1940s, and the baseball tournament at the Pan American Games in 1959. The team finished 7th in the inaugural World Baseball Classic and 3rd in the 2009 event, but has dropped to 10th in the 2013 event.
Over 200 Venezuelans have played in Major League Baseball since 1939. The Luis Aparicio Award was established in 2004, in honor of Luis Aparicio, the only Venezuelan ballplayer to have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The award is given annually to honor the Venezuelan player who recorded the best individual performance in Major League Baseball, as voted on by sports journalists in Venezuela.
Six MLB teams maintained training academies in Venezuela in 2010, down from 21 in 2002. Possible reasons for the decline include strained relations between the U.S. and Venezuela and the increasingly ubiquitous presence of MLB teams in the country creating more competition for talent there.
The high crime rates prevalent in some parts of Venezuela have occasionally affected those involved with baseball. In November 2011 Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped while home to play for his Venezuelan winter league team, Tigres de Aragua. Two days later he was rescued unharmed by police commandos in the mountains of Carabobo state. Eight people were arrested in connection with the kidnapping.
- Kraul, Chris. "Venezuelan baseball dreams survive political tensions." Los Angelos Times. April 1, 2011. Accessed April 9, 2011. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/01/world/la-fg-venezuela-baseball-20110401
- McTaggart, Brian. "Astros To Close Venezuelan Academy." Baseball America. December 19, 2008. April 9, 2011. http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/majors/international-affairs/2009/267358.html
- Gardner, Steve, "Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos kidnapped in Venezuela", USA Today, November 09/10, 2011 2:15 pm update. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
- "Eight Arrested in Wilson Ramos Kidnapping", Associated Press via Fox News Latino, November 17, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-17.
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