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Team Venezuela mourns President Chavez's death

JUPITER, Fla. -- About three hours prior to the Venezuelan national team's exhibition game against the Miami Marlins, some much bigger news than baseball emerged from its home country. Hugo Chavez, president of the South American nation, died on Tuesday afternoon at 58.

The pregame warmups and game went on as scheduled. The Venezuelan flag flying beyond the left-field wall at Roger Dean Stadium was briefly at half-staff during batting practice.

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Chavez, who had ruled Venezuela since 1999, had long battled cancer.

"It's a very sad moment for our country," said Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo. "He's the Venezuelan president. I wish the best to his family. I know they're going through a tough time right now. We knew about two weeks, a month ago that his condition wasn't the best. It's a very sad moment for our country.

"He used to be a baseball man. In 2006, 2009, [during the World Baseball Classic] the first call in the morning was his. After the games he used to call me also."

Hector Rodriguez, the minister of sports in Venezuela, passed along a message for the team before it faced the Marlins. Rodriguez requested that Venezuelan players "concentrate on sports and leave the political stuff out," according to a representative of the team.

Some Venezuelan players did just that. Anibal Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval were among those who elected not to comment on Chavez. Pitcher Carlos Zambrano expressed sympathy for Chavez and his family, and said he hopes there will be a moment of silence before Venezuela's first game in the Classic.

"Those are things that we can't control," Zambrano said of the decision not to have a moment of silence prior to Tuesday's game. "Things that we can control [are] in the game. Whatever they decide to do before and after the game is not our matter. I think for the respect of Venezuela, they have to do something [before] the first game against the Dominicans."

Zambrano also pleaded for peace in Venezuela in wake of the president's death.

"It's very sad," he said. "I'm asking all Venezuelans to be calm. We have to understand that the president has a family. He's a human being. I feel for the Chavez family. As someone who believes in Christ, I pray for the president."

Venezuela begins Pool C play on Thursday against the Dominican Republic in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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