Venezuelan baseball players have slowly started dominating the Major League Baseball in North America. While many have been quick to attribute the successes of said Venezuelans to the US influence, baseball in the Latin American country has been carving out its own identity and style since 1941.
This video essay deconstructs the history of Venezuelan baseball, as well as its relationship with Cuba and the US. Featuring quotes from an original interview with writer and historian Milton Jamail.
Colleen Brenton’s road to working as a reporter on the Green Bay Packers for Wisconsin radio station WTMJ is a fascinating one.
As she told Elephant Sport, it was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team on the radio as a kid that changed her career path and life.
The baseball regular season is 162 games long, a baseball game lasts about three and a half hours, so keeping up with a team is difficult for most avid fans. If you’re a fanatic of Major League Baseball, you’ll spend a considerable amount of hours watching baseball each year.
“Bob Uecker changed my life, really”
To put that into perspective, if you watched every game of your team in full during a season, you’d be sitting down to watch for 567 hours, or 23 and a half days.
The very essence of the baseball’s lengthy format therefore leads fans to explore all the different methods of following games, whether it be partial season tickets, short highlights, condensed game highlights, or even just reading boxscores in newspapers.
But for Colleen Brenton, growing up over a thousand miles from her nearest team, she only had one choice when she was growing up in the 80s: radio.
An essential medium
Baseball is a very conversational sport. With notable gaps between innings and pitches, it gives commentators a chance to breathe, and share personal anecdotes. The best commentators often make the game seem like it’s being played around their spoken cues, and engage their listeners in their musings from their lives in the sport.
The continuing importance of radio coverage of baseball, has made many broadcasters famous down the years.
During the summertime, they’re heard in millions of American homes, in cars and while out and about over portable devices. Most people are too busy to invest multiple hours five days a week to watching the sport.
The best commentators – like Vin Scully, who has been calling Los Angeles Dodgers games for 66 years – feel like family to the fanbases they talk to, and employ a masterful sense of timing and pace.
“I swear,” exclaimed Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd last September on his radio show The Herd. “It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable. All his stories end perfectly with a catch.
“He’ll tell a nine minute-long story and then say: ‘and man landed on the moon… Oh, this ball looks like it’s headed to the moon, and it’s gone! 3-2 Dodgers, home run!’ That’s the power of his announcing.”
For Colleen Brenton, who grew up in Idaho, it wasn’t Scully who provided her window into the baseball but another US baseball broadcasting legend: Bob Uecker of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The first pitch
“Bob Uecker changed my life, really,” Brenton told Elephant Sport. “My parents were never interested in sports when I was growing up, so I pretty much had to fend for myself.
“The Boise State Broncos – who play college football to a decent standard – are the only relevant sports team in the whole state, so finding a team to follow was hard because there wasn’t a local pro team for me to latch onto. I had to look outside my state. That’s when I found the Brewers.”
“It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable”
Milwaukee just happened to be the closest team to Brenton, as well as the smallest market in the Major Leagues. It suited her to be supporting ‘small town’ team after living in a state which is ranked 39th out of 50 in terms of population.
“They’re the underdogs. They don’t have the money to compete with the big teams, or the location. But that’s what makes the fanbase what it is, and it’s special,” she continued.
During mid 1960s, Milwaukee had it’s first taste of Major League Baseball, when the ‘Braves’ played at County Stadium. Financial issues forced the team to switch to Seattle as the ‘Pilots’ but they lasted just a single season before going bankrupt again and moving back to Wisconsin, becoming the Brewers.
That season away from the Mid-West came as a wake up call for much of the fanbase, who have remained some of the most loyal fans in the sport since.
“I remember what happened, I was tuning the dial on the radio – I was 14-years-old and it cut to a Brewers-Cardinals game. Now the Brewers rivalry with the Cards is pretty heated, and it hooked me immediately.
“I’d never seen a baseball game before, I knew nothing about the team, or the sport but the enthusiasm of Uecker was infectious. I continued listening for the rest of the season and beyond.
“I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers”
“I find that baseball in many ways is better on the radio than it is on TV and even live because of the way colour commentators describe the game. I found that as I grew up Uecker was always there for me, almost every day, during the summer, through thick and thin, he was on the radio in my room.
“Maybe that’s because how I grew up following it? Back then it wasn’t even on TV in Idaho outside of the World Series.
“I then became desperate to see the game properly, after just hearing it for so long, so when I learnt to drive at 16 I drove to all the way to Milwaukee to see the team for the first time.”
Going to your first baseball game live is a real milestone for many Americans, and it was no different for Brenton, when she saw the Brewers at County Stadium playing the Chicago Cubs for the first time.
“After falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream”
“Can you imagine being a fan of a team for years, and never seeing them with your eyes? I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers. I had only ever seen the World Series on TV.
“I remember Greg Counsel hitting a home run to give the Brewers the lead, jumping up and down and screaming in the aisles.
“When I left County Stadium, I had seen baseball – and sport – in a different light. It was that day that I decided it was such a big part of my life, that not only did I want to work in the sport, writing about it, but move to Wisconsin to be closer to it.
“And in 2012, after falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream.”
When she arrived in Wisconsin, finding a job covering the Brewers was harder than she thought.
Writing about baseball is by no means an easy job, as so many people want to do it. So instead, she took a different approach, taking an internship at WTMJ – a local radio station – which eventually allowed her to cover the Packers during the season for a full-time wage after years of writing for free.
“It’s my dream job, writing about sports. It’s even more of a dream because I worked so hard to get there. I’d always loved writing as a kid, and I didn’t know back then that writing about sports would be how I’d earn a living. I love it!
“I may not be writing about the Brewers, but it’s because of them that I’m writing about sport. Without Bob Uecker’s radio calls, I doubt I’d be living in Green Bay, Wisconsin right now, writing about American football for a living.
“And I certainly wouldn’t have a Brewers season ticket…”
Anyone serious about watching American sports in Europe these days, will have become used to streaming games via subscriptions packages, which allow fans of both big and small teams to access every game live and on-demand for a yearly fee.
It’s only going getting bigger and increasingly fitting to the busy life of a modern-day sports fan.
When I first discovered the joys of American sports, I started watching the NHL (National Hockey League) back in 2004, all I could see was one game a week on Channel 4 through the night on a Wednesday. As a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes – a relatively small franchise – that meant I could only see one, maybe two games a year.
Nowadays, and only a few years after I fell in love with the sport, for roughly the price of a couple of DVDs a month during the season, I can see all the games, and every post-season game involving not only the Hurricanes, but every team live and on-demand via streaming.
Not only that, but it’s available not just on my laptop, but on almost every device I own that can connect to the internet.
One sport, multiple devices
I now watch NHL plus NFL, MLB, College Sports and the NBA in my room, on the train, in the car, on my TV via a streaming box and while I’m abroad; all for one price, using one service for each sport.
“It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!”
Watching the Hurricanes has never been easier; and it’s the same with all the major professional American sports and who year-on-year expand on their already versatile streaming services.
On the flipside, watching my BPL team Tottenham Hotspur seems way too difficult for a sports fan in 2015.
Unable to see every game in full, I, and most other fans who choose to watch their teams legally find ourselves having to constantly juggle between BT Sport, Sky Sports and the BBC’s Match of the Day to see our teams each week during the season.
It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!
It baffles me that those of us who don’t have the time or money to see live games often should have to go through so much to see our team each week.
A successful trial
“It was amazing,” said Daniel Greear, a Washington Redskins fan living in Virginia after the Bills-Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium last October.
The NFL made the game available for free via Yahoo! to a global audience, broadcasting it over the internet for the first time.
It enticed millions of fans who would normally watch the NFL on TV to try a new way of watching the sport without having to pay.
“Usually I watch games on TV, but being able to access a high-quality broadcast on my phone and tablet made the experience of watching a game that didn’t matter as much to me extremely convenient.
“Does it make me want to pay for an NFL Gamepass subscription to see the ‘Skins as well as all the other games I don’t usually watch on a Sunday? Absolutely, if I can watch them anywhere, it’ll make my lunch break at work fun during the season.”
The viewing figures were staggering. Across the world, a game between two teams that didn’t make the playoff, had 15.6 million viewers online. 33% of them, came from fans outside of the USA. (According to Yahoo! Sports’ public data)
“The current Premier League TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive”
This, for the league’s first attempt at mass-streaming was extremely encouraging and has sparked a bidding war to secure streaming rights between Apple, Verizon, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AT&T. The price for the Thursday Night Games – which are touted to be the first big prospects for free-streaming going into next season – are therefore likely to be high.
“The streaming quality is fantastic,” said Marcelo Fujimoto, a Cleveland Browns fan who watched the Bills game in São Paulo, Brazil on Twitter. “It’s just like watching a game on TV.”
Easier said than done?
In the UK, the current BPL TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive. For one, Sky and BT are paying between £7m and £10m for the rights to each live game, and unless they got a piece of the pie for a very small fee, wouldn’t be interested in someone cannibalising their viewing figures.
“Outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind”
The FA also want to encourage people to attend the games not shown during primetime. This is a totally different issue though. No 3pm games on a Saturday are televised domstically due to a fear that attendance figures will be hit. Instead, in an average week, just six BPL games are shown on TV, out of a possible 20.
The NFL created a similar system known as the ‘Blackout Rule’ during the mid-00s, meaning each team wouldn’t be broadcast in its own market if the the game didn’t sell out (the rest of the country still saw it however).
However, a couple of years ago, the NFL eliminated the rule and found that, according to Colin Cowherd’s investigation on Fox Sports Radio: “Attendance only dropped a couple of percent. It was a similar sort of fluctuation that happens each year anyway.”
Across the world, outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind.
” I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…”
“I can watch every Premier League game, on every device, and I get all sorts of pre- and post-game coverage,” explains Jake Swann from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“It works perfectly, as it’s on in the morning before other major sports start. I’ve adopted a team off the back of it. American coverage is both flexible and entertaining.”
Some 3,000 miles away from Lambeau Field, I can see every moment of the Green Bay Packers season. Four miles from White Hart Lane, I can see one Spurs game every two weeks if I’m lucky.
It’s a shame. I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…