The whole country celebrates together

MARACAY, Venezuela -- At least this week, baseball has achieved what politics or religion has not: unite Venezuela for a single purpose.

Venezuelans did not care about differences in race, social status, religious beliefs or politics, and came together to support the Caracas Lions, who were trying to win the Caribbean World Series.

After defeating the Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic) on Tuesday in a dramatic ninth inning, almost all 25 million Venezuelans joined in the celebration.

The Caribbean Series -- which pits the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela winter league champions in a round-robin tournament -- took place from Thursday to Tuesday in Maracay and Valencia, Venezuela.

Even though Valencia and Maracay are home to Caracas' biggest rivals in the local league (Magallanes Sailors and the Aragua Tigers, respectively), both cities provided unconditional support to the team representing their nation.

"When a team plays in the Caribbean Series, we cheer for them because they are playing for us", said Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who scored the winning run Tuesday.

Venezuelans came together to support the Lions, who were fighting for Venezuela's first title in 17 years.

When Gonzalez drove in the tying run in the ninth inning of the decisive game, Venezuela's roar was heard from East to West.

Even louder was the yell when Gonzalez scored the winning run on a pop-fly double by Henry Blanco.

"It's strange to see a Magallanes or Aragua fan rooting for Caracas. Especially after Caracas eliminated Aragua in the Venezuelan League final", said Jose Luis Lopez, baseball writer for the Caracas-based newspaper Ultima Noticia.

The Lions, who finished the tournament with a perfect 6-0 record, became the first Venezuelan club to win the tournament since 1989, when the Zulia Eagles took the trophy in Mexico.

Venezuela now has six titles in the Caribbean Series. Caracas also won the championship in 1982 in Santo Domingo.

Venezuela had not had a winning record in the Series since 1994, when Magallanes finished second at 4-2 in Puerto La Cruz. Caracas is the first Venezuelan team to finish undefeated.

The last three series champions also were the host teams: the Dominican Republic in 2004, Mexico in 2005, and now Venezuela.

Venezuela did not participate in 2003 in Puerto Rico, due to political turmoil at home, and almost missed this year's tournament for the same reason.

But that is now history.

Sluggers Gonzalez, Alex Cabrera and Ramon Hernandez, together with pitchers Jeremi Gonzalez and Francisco Rodriguez, among others, buried all the bad memories and did something not seen for a long time here: They united the country.