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NOTES

Venezuela Supplies Another Fall Star

October 26, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The national pastime is importing its newest stars, and not just seasoned Japanese players or the latest crop of Dominican shortstops. For the second consecutive year, a 20-year-old Venezuelan rocketed from double-A obscurity to playoff stardom, to the delight of a baseball-loving homeland.

In 2002, reliever Francisco Rodriguez captured the imagination of fans with his lightning arm and "K-Rod" nickname, as he was entrusted with the most critical of situations during the Angels' World Series title run. This year, Miguel Cabrera, a double-A third baseman in June, batted cleanup and played outfield for the Florida Marlins.

"Last year, we had Rodriguez. Now we've got Cabrera," said Venezuelan Luis Sojo, a Yankee coach and former major league infielder. "They're huge."

In the United States, a 20-year-old player is in the minor leagues, or in college. Yet Cabrera, like Rodriguez, displays no hint of nerves. Cabrera said he started playing at age 3.

"They grew up to be in that position," said Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen, a Marlin coach and former All-Star shortstop. "They grew up playing baseball. They live baseball. They breathe baseball."

Cabrera hit a home run off Kerry Wood in Game 7 of the National League championship series and off Roger Clemens in Game 4 of the World Series. He has set rookie records for postseason homers and runs batted in, and Guillen sees great things ahead.

"I think Cabrera can be the next Manny Ramirez," he said. "He's a better fielder. He runs better. He'll hit the same."

*

The Marlins' business staff has worked furiously over the last few weeks, trying to leverage playoff excitement to sell sponsorships and season tickets for next year. That task will become infinitely more difficult over the winter, because the Marlins are expected to jettison several regulars eligible for free agency or arbitration.

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, whose $10-million salary makes his return uncertain, publicly lobbied owner Jeffrey Loria not to tamper with the roster.

"If this team stays together the way it is, I think they can be like the Yankees," he said before Saturday's game. "They can win probably pretty much every year in the playoffs and win more World Series."

*

As if the Marlins winning the World Series wasn't crazy enough, some other stuff:

* In their 11 years of existence, the Marlins have finished above .500 twice. Both times, they won the World Series.

* The Marlins hit only two home runs in the Series, the fewest for a winning team since 1985.

* The Yankees had a 2.13 ERA in the series, the lowest for a Series loser in 59 years, since the St. Louis Browns had a 1.49 ERA in 1944.

Staff writer Bill Plaschke contributed to this report.

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