ISLA DE MARGARITA, Venezuela -- A team from Puerto Rico has not won the Caribbean Series since 2000, but the island is off to a good start.
Puerto Rico defeated the Dominican Republic, 7-6, in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon to improve to 31-24 overall in the first game of the Caribbean Series since 1950, when it began play in the tournament. However, the country has struggled in the last decade, sporting a 28-39 overall record in the last 10 years. In the last five years, Puerto Rican teams are 14-16.
"We arrived 4:45 a.m. on Saturday and didn't get to their team hotel until after 6 a.m., and I know they are tired, but I told them we can do it," Puerto Rico manager Carlos Baerga said. "We hit-and-run a lot, and we play small ball. If we can continue to do that, we have a chance. But really, nobody has an advantage here because every team can play. We have to be ready to play every day."
Cuba in first Caribbean Series since 1960
ISLA DE MARGARITA, Venezuela -- Members of Cuba's baseball delegation made history at the Caribbean Series before a pitch was even thrown in Saturday's night game between Mexico's Naranjeros de Hermosillo and Cuba's Villa Clara.
Less than an hour before the start of the nightcap, Villa Clara manager Ramón Moré addressed a group of reporters covering the Caribbean Series in an impromptu press conference in a tent near the concourse. The meeting marked the first time a manager from Cuba has had the opportunity to speak to media at the Caribbean Series since 1960, when the country last participated in the annual tournament.
Villa Clara is participating in this year's event as a special guest.
"We've come with a lot of desire to be a part of this spectacular event," Moré said. "For us, it's a great responsibility and honor to represent our country in the Caribbean Series for the first time in over 50 years.
"It's a tremendous honor that the Cuban League has allowed for us to be here," he added. "We won our title, and we have the rare responsibility to be here. We have the best intentions, but you can lose or you can win. The whole world knows how a game begins, but nobody knows how it is going to end. "
An original member of the Caribbean Confederation along with Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Cuba won seven titles starting in 1949. Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and ended the country's participation in the event after 1960.
"We have an invitation for next year's Caribbean Series in Puerto Rico, and I think it's important for Cuba to be back in the Caribbean Series," Moré said.
Because the United States, which includes the U.S Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, has an economic embargo against Cuba, Cuban teams that participate in the Caribbean Series are not paid and cannot receive awards.
In transition period, Marmol eyes tourney win
ISLA DE MARGARITA, Venezuela -- Former Cubs and Dodgers reliever Carlos Marmol is out of work but says he is not worried about finding a big league job.
"I'm fine; my future is fine," Marmol said. "What happens, happens, and I'm optimistic things will be fine. I hope to be somewhere for the start of Spring Training."
Marmol gave up three hits and two runs in 2 2/3 innings for the Dominican Republic club Licey during the regular season. He also struck out three batters and walked two in three games for the Tigres. On Saturday, he pitched a perfect ninth inning with the score tied at 6 against Puerto Rico. (The Tigres lost, 7-6, in 10 innings.)
Marmol, who has 117 career saves in the Majors, made a combined 52 appearances for the Cubs and the Dodgers last year, ending the season with a 4.41 ERA. Still, he averaged a 93.7 mph fastball in 2013 and finished with a 2.53 ERA in 21 regular-season games with the Dodgers.
"I'm here to play hard and win a championship; I've been a Licey fan since I was a kid," Marmol said. "I'm not just here to represent Licey; I'm also representing the Dominican Republic."
Marmol's Dominican Republic teammate Emilio Bonifacio is also hoping his winter ball experience with Licey helps him secure a job. Bonifacio was designated for assignment by the Royals on Saturday afternoon.
"That's not something I can control, so we'll see what happens," Bonifacio said. "This series can help me. I will come out to play hard and play my game like I always do."
Tournament hosts range of familiar names
ISLA DE MARGARITA, Venezuela -- The names of the former players in attendance reads like a Who's Who of baseball in Latin America.
Manny Acta, the former manager for the Nationals and the Indians, is on the island as the general manager of the Dominican Republic's Tigres de Licey, and former catcher Ivan Rodriguez is in attendance as the general manager for Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez. Former big league infielder Carlos Baerga is the manager of Puerto Rico. Former pitcher Mario Soto, who currently works for the Reds, is in town as the president of the confederation of players from the Caribbean.
"I laugh because some of the biggest names here are in the front office and not on the field," said former manager Ozzie Guillen, who is broadcasting the games for Spanish television. "But I don't blame players for not coming. I came because we needed money to survive. Players today don't have that, and they represent an investment from teams. I understand if they are not here and don't want to risk injury. I get it."