Buenos Aires, 4 September 2023 – When Carlos Gimenez learned that his family would depart from their native Venezuela for Argentina in 2015, the then 18-year-old instantly knew what he would miss most: baseball.
“The passion is completely cultural in Venezuela, it is the number one sport, and we all want to play it,” says Carlos, who has played baseball without interruption since he was five years old and had long dreamed of going professional when he grew up.
After all, in Argentina where football reigns, Carlos’s favorite sport was all but unknown. The young Venezuelan pitcher is now 26 and has become the first Venezuelan to debut on the Argentinian National Baseball Team.
“Argentina gave me what my country did not,” he says. “I would have never imagined becoming a professional player abroad, traveling and representing another country, for me it is unique, and I will be eternally grateful.”
Carlos recalls when he landed in Argentina without much hope of being able to earn a living doing what he loves most. But thanks to his talent, determination and enthusiasm for the sport, Carlos managed to sign with the Ferro Metropolitan Club in his early days. Yet his greatest joy in the world came last year when he became a professional player in the National League.
However, the pitcher’s daily life is not easy: he works at a gym and studies Physical Education at the university, besides his duties with the Argentine National Baseball Team. “I get up every day at 6:00 am and get back at 10:00 pm but I chose this, and I am very happy with it,” Carlos says. “I work in a gym eight hours a day, study in the afternoon and train in the evenings but it is a worthwhile effort.”
Baseball reborn with Venezuelan migration
Football-obsessed Argentina is receiving a boost from talented Venezuelan baseball players who have settled in the country. Nearly 220,000 of the estimated 7.3 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees who left their country in recent years have settled in the country. Like Carlos, several of the migrants residing in Argentina met because of their passion for baseball, one of the most popular sports in the Caribbean.
“Baseball skills are in their genes, passed down through their culture,” says Gino Monis, a baseball player and coach who has supported Carlos over the past years. “The arrival of Venezuelan players, where baseball is much more popular brings quality and quantity. It is a welcome contribution because it enriches our sport. Everything is positive.”
Carlos has become close to his fellow players of other nationalities; he says that joining the team made him feel at home in a new country. “Baseball takes me back to Venezuela. When I play, I travel to the streets where I grew up in Barquisimeto. Also, playing this sport abroad is a blessing because I can meet many Venezuelans and talk about issues in our country,” Carlos says. He believes that while playing baseball there are no differences. “When you are on a team, there are no nationalities. We are a team.”
Integration through sports
Baseball represents an unlikely connection between Venezuelan migrants and Argentinians in a predominantly football-loving country. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has supported the Argentine Baseball Federation and the Metropolitan league with equipment and organized the Baseball Without Borders Day, together, facilitating migrants’ inclusion, social cohesion and integration through sports.
“Sports significantly help young migrants in many ways,” says Gabriela Fernandez, Head of IOM’s office in Argentina. “It not only helps to break down barriers between migrants and the local population but enhances the capacity to cope with their past while looking forward to the future.”
Carlos has not returned to Venezuela since he left. Though sometimes he has nostalgia for his country, he now feels like he belongs to Argentina, where baseball has proven much more than just a sport for him.
“We are a family. The most beautiful thing about this sport is the Latin American brotherhood. We talk and share stories about the typical things from our countries. If it weren't for baseball, we wouldn't be able to do that,” says Carlos on a freezing night during training in Argentina’s capital.
This story was written by Gema Cortes, IOM Media and Communications Unit, Office of the Special Envoy for the Regional Response to the Venezuela Situation.