Caribbean Series: What do you know about this historic baseball tournament

A tournament of champions like no other in the game, the Caribbean Series wraps up the winter season each year in a historic gathering of baseball-crazy countries up and down the Western Hemisphere.

Even Willie Mays was drawn to baseball’s Royal Rumble in the Caribbean Series. In 1955, not far from his nearly two years in the Korean War after being drafted into the United States Army, Mays was so hungry to play more baseball, he joined the Cangrejeros de Santurce of Puerto Rico to play through the winter.

Mays was coming off an MVP year in 1954, one of the best single seasons in major leagues history, and was named over the shoulder for taking out Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the World Series. distance giants He won the series, joining Roberto Clemente and Don Zimmer in Puerto Rico and winning two more titles for Santurce that winter, including the Caribbean Series. “I don’t care about the league, I live to play ball,” Mays said that year.

The history of the Caribbean Series goes deep – with the 65th edition set to begin this week in Venezuela.

So what exactly is the Caribbean series? And why is it so important?

What is the Caribbean Series?

Sometimes known as the Caribbean World Championship, it is now an eight-team tournament featuring Winter League champions from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Cuba and Curaçao.

While the World Baseball Classic is played between all-star national teams, it is somewhat similar to soccer world CupAs the championship of the winning club teams, the Caribbean Series operates much like soccer Champions League in Europe.

Winter leagues sometimes give young shortstop players valuable experience during their offseasons, and the major leagues give veterans a chance to expose themselves to free agency. But the teams that qualify from the leagues that make up the Caribbean Series are largely local clubs and are often points of pride in their respective cities.

When did the series start and why?

The Caribbean series was born partly out of turmoil in Cuba and the death of the Negro leagues in America.

In 1941, an upstart team from Venezuela won the Baseball World Cup, then known as the Amateur World Series, upsetting the heavily favored Cuban team. This team became known in Venezuela as “Los Héroes del ’41” and set the country’s fandom on fire. Baseball remains the number one sport in Venezuela.

Then, after Jackie Robinson broke into the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as MLBThe first black player in the game, segregation began to wane. But as more and more black players found a way into the major leagues, they appeared less and less in the winter leagues, causing a talent drain.

Two men in Venezuela, Oscar Prieto and Pablo Morales, were looking to satisfy the desire of new fans in their country. They wanted to spread the game to other countries in South and Central America, so the idea of ​​the Caribbean series was born. They pitched the concept at a conference in Miami in 1948 and by 1949, Cuba hosted the first tournament.

That first Caribbean Series was four of the best teams from Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela each playing a series of doubleheaders over the course of six days. Alacranes del Almendares—one of the three original teams of the old Cuban league that formed in 1878, two years after the start of the national league in the United States—dominated in the first tournament, sweeping all six games.

Who plays in the tournament?

The field of teams has evolved over time, particularly after Fidel Castro banned professional leagues in Cuba and required that the match be played at the amateur level.

Over time, 28 clubs have won at least one Caribbean Series, led by Tigres del Lice of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, who have won 10 titles. Its primary rival in the Dominican League, Aguilas Cibinas, has won the second most championships with six. Two Cuban teams, Cangreiros de Santurce and Criollos de Caguas, have won five titles each.

By country, Dominican teams have won 21 Caribbean Series, followed by Puerto Rico with 16. Teams from Mexico have won nine.

Cuba will return this year after an absence of three years. Curaçao, an island nation in the Caribbean that is a constituent country of the Netherlands, was added as an eighth team this year following an invitation from the Caribbean Professional Baseball Federation. Together, their additions would make the largest field in Caribbean Series history.

Colombia was added for the first time in 2020 and quickly won its first and only title. Caimanes de Barranquilla are the defending champions of the tournament, but they failed to repeat the league title in Colombia.

This year the teams include Tigres (Dominicans), Indios de Mayagüez (Puerto Rico), Leones del Caracas (Venezuela), Cañeros de los Mochis (Mexico), Vaqueros de Montería (Colombia), Federales de Chiriqui (Panama), Agriculturas (Cuba) and WildCats KJ74 (Curaçao).

Who is your favorite this year?

Tigres have won the most titles and survived a gritty field in the Dominican Republic, finally edging Estrellas Orientales to Winning a record-breaking league championship. The rosters haven’t been set yet, but Tigres’ lineup includes several players familiar from the major leagues, including Robinson Canó. Previous-Padres Catcher Jorge Alfaro, who was reported to have signed a minor league contract with the red sockswas named MVP of last week’s League Finals for Licey.

Despite this, Indios de Mayagüez has partially led this season Citizens Shortstop Jeter Downs and pitcher Braden Webb, a third-round pick from the righteousness in 2016. And Leones del Caracas, who won a Game 6 playoff Monday night after Harold Castro hit a home run in the 11th inning, has Brave shortstop Orlando Arcia and his older brother, Oswaldo, at second base.

When, where and how do you watch?

This year’s Caribbean Championships will run from February 2 through February 10 in a round-robin format. The four teams with the best record advance to a one-game semi-final, and a one-game tournament is scheduled for February 10.

The tournament is taking place between the host countries and will be held in Venezuela between the cities of Caracas and La Guaira. Miami is preparing to host the 2024 Caribbean Series, the first to be held in the United States, at the Marlins’ home park.

This year’s games will be broadcast in the United States on ESPN Deportes.

(Puerto Rico photo Edwin Diaz (left) and Venezuela’s Willians Astudillo: Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

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