Venezuela's Baseball Team, Fans React to Death of Hugo Chavez

Sorrow and joy on and off the field in Jupiter as baseball team plays Miami Marlins

It was a mix of sorrow and joy on and off the field Tuesday night in Jupiter as Venezuela's baseball team took on the Miami Marlins in a warm-up game for the World Baseball Classic just hours after it was announced that president Hugo Chavez died.

The Venezuelan squad was taking pregame batting practice when players heard of Chavez's death.

"It's a very sad moment for our country. I wish the best to his family, I know they're going through a tough time right now," manager Luis Sojo said.

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Sojo said Chavez was a big baseball fan and fan of the World Baseball Classic, even calling him before and after games in previous years.

"He's a baseball man, he used to be a baseball man," Sojo said. "In 2006 and 2009, the first call in the morning was his. And after the games, he used to call me also."

Though Venezuela lost the game 6-5 to Miami, many in the stand were still buzzing about the president's death.

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"I am very happy that this is a new beginning for Venezuela," one fan said. "I don't celebrate that no one dies, but this is a new beginning for Venezuela and it's time to get a new face and it's time to get new things and good things for Venezuela."

"I'm super excited that we finally get to celebrate, I can actually say the word celebrate for the death of somebody that we no longer want in the country, the Communism is gone and we finally get to have the peace that we wanted and we are ecstatic," said another fan. "As you can tell here at this game, we're just rambling about how happy we are and how we get to just represent our country the right way and hopefully it's a fresh start for all of us."

Some players struck a more somber note.

"It's sad what's happening to our country," first baseman and former Marlin Miguel Cabrera said. "We send our condolences to his family. This is something you don't wish on anybody.

"I don't know how his family is right now. He's no longer with us - it's very sad. I cannot comment a lot on it because I feel a lot of pain, and I'm not there in Venezuela."

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Pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who pitched for Miami last season and is currently a free agent, said he hoped his fellow Venezuelans would come together.
"I'm very sad. I ask that the Venezuela people stay calm," Zambrano said. "We have to understand that the president had a family. He's a human being and it's sad. We send him the condolences to the Chavez family. We know it's a difficult moment. This caught us by surprise."
Some players did not want to discuss Chavez's death. Pitcher Anibal Sanchez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval both declined when asked to comment.
A Venezuela spokesman said the team had requested a pre-game moment of silence for Chavez and asked that flags be flown at half-staff, but was told all parties involved - the Marlins, Major League Baseball and Roger Dean Stadium - were not prepared to do so.
"There are things we can't control," Zambrano said. "For the respect of Venezuela, they have to do something before the first game against the Dominican Republic (at the WBC in Puerto Rico)."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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