Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids Kernels coach Luis Rodriguez thinking about his native Venezuela as it goes through chaos

Cedar Rapids falls to Bowling Green, 2-0

Luis Rodriguez, Kernels infield coach
Luis Rodriguez, Kernels infield coach

CEDAR RAPIDS — About 10 to 15 years ago, Luis Rodriguez couldn’t wait to get home to Venezuela after the baseball season.

These were back in the days when the Cedar Rapids Kernels coach was a major leaguer. He played 407 games in the bigs as an infielder for the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

Times were good.

“It was one of the Latin countries that was rich,” Rodriguez said, before C.R.’s 2-0 loss Thursday night to Bowling Green at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “You had everything. When I played in the big leagues, I’d book my flight for the day right after the season. I knew we didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs, so I wanted to go home right away. You feel free, you want to be in your country. You can do everything you want.”

Not anymore. Venezuela is in full crisis: the economy is awful, in part because oil prices have dropped, food and other everyday items are scarce and socialist president Nicolas Maduro is fighting to stay in power.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido urged government workers this week to strike and military members to defect to his side in order to oust Maduro. Chaos has erupted in a country where electrical blackouts for hours at a time are common.

“The last two or three days have been bad,” Rodriguez said. “Today was kind of like yesterday. People are in the streets fighting each other, trying to take out the president. It’s a tough situation right now in our country. You can’t find food, medicine. If you find it, it’s really expensive. Really, really bad right now.”

Rodriguez, 38, has lived for the last five years in Orlando, Fla., but his parents, brother and sister still reside in San Carlos, Venezuela. He is in daily contact with them and says they are doing OK.

But he constantly worries.

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“I have to send food and medicine to them. Every month,” Rodriguez said. “I have to do it. I’ve done it the last three years. Just have to do it. It’s tough, man.”

Rodriguez said the last time he was in Venezuela was 2016, when he played winter ball there. He doesn’t have desire to go back.

“There is just so much danger there now,” he said.

The Kernels have three pitchers from Venezuela: Carlos Suniaga, Luis Rijo and Jose Martinez. Rodriguez said their families are fine, though he’s most concerned about Rijo, who is from Valencia, where there has been much violence this week.

“The military is why (Maduro) is still in power,” Rodriguez said. “Those guys, they steal money, man. I hope they don’t have too much time left. Something is going to happen, I think, in the next couple of days.”

The Kernels (12-14) dropped the rubber game of this three-game series by coming up less than clutch offensively in the late innings. Cedar Rapids loaded the bases with none out in the seventh and eighth innings, but somehow failed to score.

Bowling Green (16-11) scored single runs in the fifth and ninth innings. Starting pitcher Andrew Cabezas was the tough-luck loser, giving up four hits and a run in six innings of work.

Dayton comes to town for three games beginning Friday night.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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