A journey to Caracas for Phils next season? They have a big Venezuelan influence, including Bobby Abreu, and MLB has the regular-season wanderlust.

Posted: April 11, 2001

The Phillies are under strong consideration to play a regular-season game in a faraway place next year.

Major League Baseball intends to play more regular-season games outside North America, and according to a major-league official, the Phillies could play in Caracas, Venezuela.

"The Phillies have definitely been talked about," the official said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it's them."

The official indicated that it was possible the Phillies could open their season in Caracas, or play a game there later in the season.

Three Phillies players are from Venezuela - rightfielder Bobby Abreu, one of baseball's rising stars; pitcher Omar Daal; and infielder Tomas Perez.

Abreu and Daal both play winter ball for Los Leones (the Lions) de Caracas. The team plays its home games in 25,000-seat Estadio Universitario, the same ballpark where Major League Baseball would like to schedule a game next season.

Perez said the possibility of the Phillies playing a game next season in Venezuela has been rumored in his home country for several weeks.

Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro, who played eight seasons of winter ball in Venezuela, has also heard the talk. However, he said the Phillies had not heard anything from Major League Baseball.

"We've had no contact with Major League Baseball about this," Amaro said. "It would be a wonderful thing for our players, but we don't know anything about it."

If Abreu, Daal and Perez have any say, the Phillies will be packing their bags.

"We're praying for it to happen," Perez said.

"Let's go for two games," Abreu said.

"It would mean a lot to me," Daal said.

Perez described Venezuelan baseball fans as enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

"They would love to see the Latino players," he said. "But they'd also like to see players like Scott [Rolen] and Pat [Burrell]. The fans in Venezuela know all the players. They're outstanding fans."

If the Phils are selected to travel to South America next season, their opponent would likely be a team that also has a Venezuelan star or two on its roster.

Andres Galarraga, who came back to play for the Braves last season after sitting out a year with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is the most popular Venezuelan in the majors. He is playing in the American League with the Texas Rangers this season, and it's uncertain where he'll be next season.

Possible opponents for the Phillies could be the New York Mets or the Houston Astros, both of whom have star Venezuelan players on their teams. The Mets feature second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and the Astros have slugging outfielder Richard Hidalgo.

Whether the Phils might play in Venezuela on opening day or later during the season seems to hinge on baseball's efforts to schedule a game in Japan. There have been indications that baseball would prefer to open the 2002 season with a game or two in Japan.

Last year, the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs opened the season with a two-game series in Tokyo. The Seattle Mariners - with two star players from Japan (outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki) - would be a likely candidate if baseball returns to Tokyo.

The tradition of playing an opening-day game outside the continental United States and Canada is only three seasons old. The Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres hooked up in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1999.

This season, the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays opened in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Those teams were chosen because each has a star player - Ivan Rodriguez of Texas and Carlos Delgado of Toronto - born on the island.

Toronto won that game, 8-1, which was played in front of an enthusiastic sellout crowd at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

There have been major-league exhibition games played in Venezuela over the last few years, but never a regular-season game.

Could the Phillies play in the first one?

Jim Salisbury's e-mail address is jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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