Reporting from Venezuela: Sam Freeman

Springfield Cardinals reliever Sam Freeman will guest blog for The Cardinal Nation as he participates in the Venezuelan League during the winter season. This is his first report.

What's up Cardinals Nation? My name is Sam Freeman and I'm a left-handed reliever in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. I recently finished up a my first full season after missing the last six weeks of the '09 season with an elbow sprain and missing the entire '10 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Currently I'm playing winter ball in Venezuela for the Bravos de Margarita. I will be blogging once a week to give you some insight on some of the things I'm experiencing while I'm out here.

As far as the decision for me playing winter ball, there really wasn't any discussion about innings or anything like that. One day before practice in Springfield, there was a sign-up sheet for players interested in playing winter ball and I figured playing was a lot better than going back to work the front desk at 24 hour fitness washing/folding/handing out towels and scanning cards as a "Front desk representative".

I received a call from the GM for the team in Margarita and that's pretty much how I ended up here. I was kind of nervous about coming over here to play because I had never left the country before and my Espanol isn't quite at the functional level, so I knew there would be some issues at some point with the language barrier.

I came in on the same flight with three other Americans (Rob Bryson, Anthony Claggett and Ryan Tatusko). Fortunately, Anthony had played here the year before so he was able to give us some insight on what would take place at various times during our stay.

The Bravos de Margarita play their home games on Margarita Island so we had to fly into Caracas, Venezuela and catch another flight onto the island. Once everyone got their bags, a few of the team employees were there to take us to our hotel then for our first practice.

Driving through the city, I definitely noticed some differences between here and the States. For instance, they have timers on top of the stop lights. There's not too many newer model cars on the roads, at least here in Margarita. One of the biggest things I noticed was the driving. I saw more red lights being run my first week here than I had my entire life back in the States; I thought that was pretty funny.

Once we got to the hotel, we set our bags down and headed to the field for our first workout. We arrived here in the middle of their spring training so I just threw a pen and shagged for batting practice. One of the biggest differences as far as baseball goes is, down here, batting practice can last a good 1 hour and 30 minutes every day. I'm guessing the reason for that is that we have a 34-man roster and more position players means more groups.

The first week I was here, we just practiced. Start time of the practice was either at 9am or 4pm. On the early practices, I just woke up, cleaned up and went to the field. Practice ended around 12 and after that our driver (since all of the Americans stay in the hotel they have a driver take us to and from practices and games) would take us to get something to eat if we asked. Most times we just ate at the Casino next door to the hotel where we were staying at the time.

After we ate, we had the rest of the day to do whatever. There was a mall close by and a casino next door so a lot of time was spent there. Other free time was spent in the hotel lobby on the internet trying to catch up on things back in the States.

On the days where practice was at 4pm, I slept in until about 12pm, went and ate at the casino, then got on my computer until it was time to get to practice. After, I would eat, and get on the computer again. I don't spend too much time watching TV, even though there are some channels with the shows speaking English, I'm not a fan of watching CNN or shows with Kim Kardashian on E.

Games started on October 12th. Here we play six games a week and have every Monday off. I think the schedule works out to where we alternate a week of games on the road then a week at home, I'm not exactly sure.

We started the first week playing the Leones of Caracas in Caracas, Venezuela. We took a flight into the Caracas and drove about 45 minutes through the city into the stadium. Again, the drive through the city was completely foreign to what I'm used to seeing in the States. I'm not big into geography or anything like that but apparently there are a lot of mountains throughout Venezuela and it seemed as if our team bus was driving on the edge of the a cliff about half the time. There were houses on top, top of houses, on top of houses on top of houses...on the edges of the cliffs of these mountains. It was pretty incredible.

Opening day in Caracas was amazing. The only thing I can compare it to is a college football game. There were 20,000+ fans in the stands, cheerleaders dancing, drum lines doing their thing, vuvuzelas (those loud, sometimes annoying horns that I mostly hear at soccer games) being blown the entire game. I didn't know it coming into it, but I definitely know now that that this league down here is big time to these fans. This is their Major Leagues.

We played one game in Caracas, then went to Maracay for two games where we played the Tigres. There I saw Jose Rada, Jose Garcia and Jose Martinez who all play with that team. It was good to see some teammates from back in the States in their home environment. There weren't as many fans in Maracay, but the atmosphere was still very good. After to two games in Maracay we played one game in Valencia and finished the road trip back in Caracas to face the Tiburones.

When we got back to Margarita after the road trip, we moved into another hotel, a resort called Laguna Mar. This place is incredible. It was late Sunday night when we got in and everyone was too tired to check the place out but the next morning when I woke up to go to breakfast I saw the beach about 300 yards away from our wing of the resort. As I walked to the building where the breakfast is, I see three swimming pools, a gym, another gigantic pool with two huge water slides and about 5000 tennis courts. Needless to say, they hooked it up out here.

I'm going to end this week's write-up with that. I know I skipped around a little bit and left out some details as I am trying to tie up two weeks into one post. Next week, I will get into more detail about things like our coaching staff, the food, and these senoritas that leave me speechless everywhere I go.

Springfield Cardinals' outfielder Chris Swauger blogged during the 2010 winter season.

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