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An (almost) perfect trip

The Caribbean World Series this year will be a Cuban coming-out party, held on a tropical island off the Venezuelan coast. But Venezuela’s crime woes makes this a potential risky road trip.

When Mexico’s winter-league baseball champions take the field in Venezuelanext month in the Serie del Caribe, they’ll be facing a club that no one has seen in this series for more than half a century.

A club from Cuba.

For the first time since 1970, the winter ball champs from Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic will face a Cuban side, Orangemen of Villa Clara, the in the eight-day tournament that starts Feb. 1.

The venue this year, as it was in 2010, is Isla Margarita, a resort island about 200 miles east of the the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

For baseball enthusiasts across the Americas, this is historic.

From its founding in 1949, Cuban teams practically owned this series until 1960, when Fidel Castro pulled Cuba out of Major League Baseball — and out of the Serie.

The tournament wasn’t held again until 1970, without the Cubans.

That will change at 8 p.m. local time on Feb. 1.

These aren’t a bunch of wide-eyed, pubescent hopefuls and grizzled has-beens scuffling in minor-league ball. Nearly every one of these teams has current or former major-league players on their rosters.

I’ve attended Series in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It’s one of the best times you can have in a ballpark. The games are great, but with national pride on the line, the real show is often in the stands. Flags waving, drums pounding, noisemakers rattling.

And under all the noise, some of the most passionate, knowledgeable baseball fans anywhere.

Isla Margarita, the site of this year’s series, has its own star potential in Caribbean tourism. It’s got 50 different beaches on a coastline more than 100 miles long. It’s got mangrove lagoons. It’s got old Spanish castles and churches. It’s got golf courses, horseback riding, duty-free shopping.

And it’s only a 35-minute flight from Caracas.

All in all, it could be a terrific venue for an international baseball road trip, but for one big caveat: Street crime has plagued Venezuela for years. In years past, players on Series teams have been robbed in their hotels.

Isla Margaritas has had its own crime problems in recent years, including a Dutch boater killed trying to fight off a robbery on his yacht, and a group of 30 Brazilian tourists held up by more than a dozen armed men.

The US State Department travel warning on Venezuela spells out in blunt terms, which include:

  • “…violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior. “
  • “Incidents of crime along inter-city roads, including carjacking and kidnapping, are common in Venezuela.”
  • “Whenever possible, U.S. citizens should travel in groups of two or more persons.”

Does this mean that under no circumstance whatsoever should you even consider checking out the Serie del Caribe on Isla Margarita? No, it doesn’t mean that at all.

It does mean this is one baseball road trip you don’t make casually.

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