If you scour the playing fields at the 2014 Caribbean Series, being held this week on Venezuela’s Margarita Island, you'll find Major League Baseball’s fingerprints at every position. Although the United States doesn’t participate in the Caribbean Series – often referred to conversationally as the Caribbean World Series – dozens of players employed by MLB teams pepper the rosters. (Except for Cuba’s Villa Clara squad, that is, and they’ve gone 0-3 so far and are all but guaranteed to be the odd team out when the semifinals start on Thursday.)
But the connection is more than just field-deep. The know-how in the dugouts and in the front offices of the five teams vying for the championship is also largely drawn from the U.S.
Take, for example, the manager of Venezuela’s Navegantes del Magallanes, Carlos García, a 10-year major league veteran who represented the Pittsburgh Pirates at the 1994 All-Star Game (he smacked a single off Randy Johnson, no less). During the summer, he manages the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, the Pirates’ AA minor league affiliate.
Over on the Naranjeros of Hermosillo, representing Mexico at the Series, Matias Carrillo Sr. holds the reins of the team on the field. Although you have never heard of him, Carrillo does have a big-league pedigree. A former all-star outfielder from the Mexican Leagues, Carrillo amassed 204 plate appearances in the big leagues in the early 1990s, mostly with the Marlins. (His career stat line: .251 average, 0 home runs, 12 runs batted in.)
Meanwhile, the most successful team in the history of the Series, with 10 titles, the Dominican Republic’s Tigres del Licey, has not one but two bona fide big leaguers in its brain trust. Their on-field manager is two-time MLB all-star infielder, José Offerman. In a 15-year big-league career, the San Pedro de Macorís native, now 45, hit .273 with an impressive .360 on-base percentage.
Although he last played in the big leagues with the Mets in 2005, the reputation he built up as major leaguer was pretty much wiped out when, as he put it to the Chicago Tribune, he “lost it for about 10 seconds.”
What Offerman was referring to is an episode in 2007 when he played for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. After getting hit by a pitch, Offerman charged the mound with his bat, struck the opposing pitcher in the hand (broke a finger) and, incidentally, hit catcher John Nathans in the head, effectively ending his career.
Offerman pled to second-degree assault and served two years of probation. Yet the number of major league players who vouched for his character was long and included soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine. “He’s about a quiet a teammate as I’ve ever played with,” Glavine has said.
Offerman was hired by Licey in 2009 and immediately guided them to a championship. He has generally avoided the U.S. press since.
In 2013, Licey added former Indians and Expos/ Nationals manager, Manny Acta, as its general manager. The fact that they play in the winter is essential for him, as he moonlights as an ESPN baseball commentator during the MLB season.
And Acta knows all about Licey, having managed the team to one of its Series titles in 2004. “I took this [GM] job as a challenge,” he told MLB.com last week. “The Licey board of directors and fans had a dry spell of five years without winning, they showed some desperation and were acting like they hadn’t won in 20 or 30 years.”
But, he added, “My passion is being on the field.”
Three-time American League All-Star, Carlos Baerga raves about Acta. “Manny is one of the most respected men in baseball,” he said. “He coached with the Montreal Expos, so he knows all about challenges and various situations.”
Oh, and by the way, did we mention that Baerga is in Venezuela as the manager of Puerto Rico’s Indios de Mayaguez?