CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Maria Graciela Briceno and her two best friends squeezed into their seats behind home plate at the baseball stadium in Venezuela’s capital, knowing this season’s opening game wouldn’t measure up to past years.
A deepening crisis has left her nation in shambles, and a recent curve ball from the Trump administration prevented big league players in Major League Baseball from taking the field, stripping away star power that fans have come to expect over decades.
Briceno, a 30-year-old makeup artist, said little would keep her from the stadium.
“I knew it wouldn’t be a season like we’re used to,” she said. “I still love baseball, I’m still in Venezuela and there’s no way you can keep me from coming here — even in the worst of conditions.”
Venezuela’s beloved Winter League baseball season opened Tuesday with hundreds of cheering fans converging on the stadium in Caracas and elsewhere throughout the South American nation. The tough economic times have also shortened the season by a third of its games and it started weeks late.
In Venezuela, however, local baseball remains a passion. For a few hours, it’s an oasis for people feeling overwhelmed by life. It’s a safe place to drink beer, hurl insults at players and blow off steam.
It’s also reserved for the fortunate few. The luxury of a night of fun for a couple at the stadium buying tickets, beer and hotdogs easily costs $15 — or about double the minimum wage that most Venezuelans earn each month.
This season came at the end of a tumultuous year for Venezuelans. Massive street protests erupted behind opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who vowed to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. Guaidó appealed in vain for a military uprising, leading to clashes between protesters and security forces. A…