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Advanced Metallurgy The boys from Maracaibo arrived with one bat and left with all the hardware

Sept. 04, 2000
Sept. 04, 2000

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Sept. 4, 2000

Olympics 2000 [bonus Piece]

Advanced Metallurgy The boys from Maracaibo arrived with one bat and left with all the hardware

In four days Maracaibo went from El Ridiculo to lo sublime. El
Ridiculo is the name of the only bat Venezuela's
infield-dirt-poor team brought to last week's Little League World
Series in Williamsport, Pa. "El Ridiculo is dented and scuffed
and made of the same lightweight aluminum used in fences," said
team manager Eduvino Quevedo, "but it was all we could afford.
Without it, we would never have played for the title."

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2000 issue Original Layout

El Ridiculo had accounted for 72 runs over 10 games in
Venezuela's national tournament and another 41 runs during the
six-game Latin American regionals. But on Aug. 21, following
Maracaibo's 3-0 triumph over European champ Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
(didn't any of the organizers take geography?), in Williamsport,
Little League sponsors laid some heavier metal on the
Venezuelans.

Only a few of Quevedo's players brandished El Ridiculo in the
pivotal 5-4 round-robin victory over Toronto on Aug. 22. And
nobody swung it last Thursday during a 5-4 upset of Tokyo in the
International Pool final. "We've retired El Ridiculo," Quevedo
said before facing U.S. champ Bellaire, Texas, in last Saturday's
finale. "It will have to watch us from the bat bag."

Quevedo purchased El Ridiculo at Ferreteria Bicolor, the
Maracaibo hardware store where he works as a salesman. The shop
also supplied the team's cleats, none of which have names, but
many of which Quevedo paid for out of his own pocket. The parents
of his players had so little cash that only five could afford the
trip to the U.S. First baseman Adrian Chourio's father, who
scratches out a living by renting out his four washing machines
at $5 a day, could spare his son just $10 in spending money.

Maracaibo's field in Venezuela is as cratered as the surface of
the moon. "It's a bunch of holes and bad bounces," Quevedo said.
"At the Williamsport ballpark you can eat off the ground."

In the International final Maracaibo made Tokyo--representing
defending champion Japan--eat crow off Lamade Stadium's turf.
Because his boys had routed the Venezuelans 10-0 in the
round-robin opener, Tokyo manager Masami Ohmae bypassed
unhittable ace Leo Nakayama for the eminently hittable Kazuma
Yamada. The second-stringer lasted 1 2/3 innings, long enough
for Maracaibo to score five runs, all it needed. The victory was
a classic example of a small but mobile guerrilla force
outmaneuvering and defeating a better-funded but overconfident
enemy.

Bellaire manager Terry McConn was equally dismissive of
Maracaibo. "We came here to win the U.S. title, which we did," he
said after his team pasted Davenport, Iowa, 8-0 on Aug. 24. "To
us, the game with Venezuela is just an exhibition." McConn may
have forgotten his boys were playing in the Little League World
Series.

Quevedo never did. Noting that Bellaire hitters had been feasting
on fastballs, he started his best curveballer, a righthander
named Ruben Mavarez. "Curves are very dangerous for cars and
women," said Quevedo. "Also hitters." Mavarez, reverently called
Mother Superior by his teammates, approaches pitching as if he
were a nun delicately receiving communion. He grips the ball with
his thumbnail, which makes it plunge like an Internet stock.

McConn countered with Alex Atherton, whose own corkscrewy curve
seemed to start around Philadelphia, circle Pittsburgh and swerve
toward Williamsport. Though his pitches routinely bounced on the
plate, the Maracaibans couldn't lay off them. "They were las
curvas de Jennifer Lopez," cracked Quevedo. "They drove my kids
crazy."

They made Bellaire catcher Terrence McConn a little nutty, too.
With the bases loaded and two out in the first inning, Atherton
wild-pitched in two runs. Two innings later Mavarez doubled, and
then Bellaire rightfielder Andy Zizinia misplayed Manuel
Castellano's fly ball like, well, a Little Leaguer. The error
brought home the deciding run in Maracaibo's 3-2 victory.

With runners at the corners and 42,000 spectators on their feet,
Mavarez ended the game by striking out Hunter Johnson on La Recta
Celestial, his Celestial Fastball. Fans of Maracaibo raised long,
yellow balloons, and the stadium emptied like a grade school at
the start of summer. "I feel good to be 12 and a champion," said
Mavarez. "Next year I can't play Little League. It's a shame to
have to grow old."

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Mavarez (kneeling) ended the game by striking out Johnson on his Celestial Fastball.