Venezuelan teams to meet in Florida

Venezuelan teams to meet in Florida

MIAMI -- In an ambitious initiative to expand its horizons and reach a greater market in the United States, the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League is bringing a series of two games to Homestead, Fla., this weekend.

The Aguilas de Zulia and the Cardenales de Lara will square off on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Homestead Baseball Complex.

"We had been talking about doing this with the directors of several teams for a long time," said Humberto Oropeza, executive president of the Cardenales. "The United States was something we wanted to explore, because the Latin market grows there every day. I wanted to take the risk, because I thought it would be good from all viewpoints."

Among the familiar faces in the series will be former Major Leaguer Luis Sojo, current manager of the Cardenales. Sojo is excited about bringing the Venezuelan League to the U.S.

"It's really important for all of baseball in general, because it helps to internationalize our baseball in a place where there should be unconditional support," said Sojo, who played for the Blue Jays, Mariners, Yankees, Angels and Pirates. "It's not easy for us to play [on Friday] and turn around to come here to Miami, but I told [my players] and reminded them that these games do count, and we need them to get to the postseason."

The president of the Aguilas, Luis Rodolfo Machado, is also happy to see this series come to fruition after several months of planning.

"Long before the annual convention of the Venezuelan League in May, Humberto and I talked about having some games in Florida," Machado said. "Humberto asked me if I'd want to come along if he financed the games, but I told him I wanted to go 50-50 on everything. If we come out ahead or not on the financial side, we'll do it together. But it was really Humberto that put everything together for the event."

For Oropeza, this foray into the U.S. market could be just the beginning.

"We expect this to be a complete success and hope to do it again, not only in Florida but in [other places] in the U.S., in general," Oropeza said. "The [Venezuelan Professional Baseball League] has big expectations, and the other teams are paying close attention to how this goes. We could even have interleague games with other [Caribbean] leagues in the U.S."

This will be the first time the Venezuelan League has played in the U.S., but Oropeza has experience with bringing Venezuela and MLB together. In the 1990s, he brought a Spring Training series between Tampa Bay and Atlanta to Caracas, and another, pairing Cleveland and Houston, to the city of Valencia.

Now, it's time for Venezuelan baseball to shine in Florida.

"For us, it's a special moment, because it's our team's 40th anniversary," said Machado. "It's a gift for our fans in the U.S., who probably haven't been able to see our team in a long time. It's a nice experience for everyone."

Boris Mizrahi is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.