Why Not Colombia?

A quick look at what may be an emerging baseball hotbed and home of former Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria.

There is currently a lot of excitement over the 16 nations and potentially 400 major leaguers eligible to play in March's World Baseball Classic (how can anything be called "Classic" in its initial year of existence, anyway?).


In addition, the major baseball-playing Latin American countries are currently competing in hopes of winning the Caribbean Series in February. They are the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.


However, there is one nation that can boast of several bonafide major leaguers that is not fielding a WBC squad, nor is a part of the Caribbean Series.


But, that doesn't mean their residents don't love the game. I am talking about the Republic of Colombia, which happens to be the homeland of star MLB shortstops Edgar Renteria of the Atlanta Braves and Orlando Cabrera of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


The Colombians are in the midst of rebuilding their homeland baseball program once again. Yet, there is progress. They are elated in the news that their league, the LCBP, or Liga Colombiana be Beisbol Profesional Colombia, has been formally endorsed by Major League Baseball.


The fact is that winter baseball has been played in Colombia for over 60 years. In the earlier days, from 1949 to 1958, up and coming big names like Brooks Robinson, Tito Francona, Willie McCovey, Jim Grant and Earl Averill all competed there.


In the 80's, there was a renaissance in Colombian baseball, as soon-to-be big leaguers Howard Johnson, Willie McGee, Mariano Duncan, Billy Hatcher were among many who suited up.


After another hiatus from 1988 to 1994, play resumed. Starting in 1999, Edgar Renteria has sponsored the league, with his brother Edinson in charge.


Here is what Edinson Renteria had to say about "Team Renteria's" mission. "We look back and we saw many youths built up hopes with playing if they found the support of somebody. For that reason, we take a risk to develop this called project Team Renteria to leave our countrymen something of what God has given to us."


Establishing the Team Renteria Foundantion and Team Renteria Baseball Academy, their mission is to nurture young Colombians in hopes of making them into future major leaguers like Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera. Among the other MLB players who have participated in the LCBP in recent years include Jose Macias and Jolbert Cabrera.


As a scout, the Cabrera brothers' father recommended Renteria to his original signing team, the Florida Marlins. "We have been friends for a long time," Renteria told MLB.com. "His father was the one who helped me when I was a little kid." That eventually helped Renteria become the first player from Colombia to play in the All-Star Game.


There are four teams that had been playing in Colombia this winter. The league began December 2 and competition was balanced. After the 30 game schedule was complete on January 19, only three games separated the first and fourth-place teams. In the order of the final 2006 standings, the teams are Tigers of Monteria, Caimanes of Barranquilla, Cardinales of Barranquilla and Toros of Sincelejo.


The names of the players in the Colombian Winter League this year are neither easily recognizable nor are coming soon to your major league park – not yet, anyway. But, don't think it cannot happen.


The Renterias would like to establish and fuel baseball interest in their young countrymen, hoping some could replicate the success major stars Magglio Ordonez and 2004 American League Most Valuable Player Vladimir Guerrero enjoyed after playing in Colombia in recent winters.


We can assume that Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' Vice President for Baseball Development, is looking into Colombia, so perhaps seeing another Renteria in a St. Louis uniform sometime in the future is not entirely out of the question.


Here's hoping they are successful.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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