- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela No jam-packed stadiums. No hot dogs. No seventh-inning stretch or shouts of "Play bol."
The 3-week-old general strike against President Hugo Chavez has thrown a curveball at Venezuelans' cherished winter baseball season.
With games suspended because of the turmoil, the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd have been replaced by the din of people banging pots and pans to support or protest Mr. Chavez's rule.
American players signed with the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and other big-league clubs abandoned the country after the U.S. Embassy advised U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Venezuela.
Even though local players, managers and coaches were willing to take to the diamonds, the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League reluctantly suspended the season Dec. 9, saying it couldn't guarantee the safety of sluggers and spectators.
Baseball helps Venezuelans come together and temporarily ignore their other obsession politics. But now politics has left the ballparks empty, the players and fans desolate.
"This is the saddest moment of my life as a ballplayer," lamented Luis Sojo, the former New York Yankees' World Series veteran who is an infielder with the Lara Cardinals team in his native Venezuela.
"I get choked up to see the stadium empty day after day, and how each time there are fewer players out here practicing," said Mr. Sojo, who in the summer coaches a Yankees farm club in Norwich, Conn.
This season was supposed to spotlight Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, the right-handed pitcher whose mixture of dazzling fastballs and confounding sliders caused a sensation as his Anaheim Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants in the 2002 World Series.
Venezuelans managed to see him play only four innings in two appearances before the winter season was halted perhaps to the relief of executives with the Angels. Many major league teams are reluctant to let top talent play in the winter leagues for fear of injury.

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