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A beginner’s guide to the Caribbean Series

The annual event that kicks off the international baseball calendar, the Caribbean Series is the closest thing the sport has to a Champions League.

The first major tournament of the international baseball season is approaching! No, we’re not talking about the World Baseball Classic, but the 65th Caribbean Series, an annual event that is baseball’s closest equivalent to the Champions League. And if you think that baseball as a sport is too slow and quiet, you need to check out the Caribbean Series for a second opinion.

Is it really baseball season in February? In parts of the world where it’s never cold and the summer brings torrential rain, yes it is. So if you’re hungry for high-level baseball already, let’s get you primed on the loudest and most exciting baseball tournament in the world.

How does it work?

Every year, select baseballing nations in the Caribbean send their winter league champions to a short-form tournament hosted by one nation. This year, the Series will take place in Caracas, Venezuela from February 2nd-10th in the longest form of the Series yet.

This is because for the first time, the Caribbean Series will host eight different countries: Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Cuba, and Curaçao, who is participating for the first time ever. The first six countries are automatic participants as members of the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation, including first-time members Panama and Colombia. Curaçao and Cuba are both participating via invitation, an annual political game that explains the on-again-off-again relationship the Confederation has with the Cuban Baseball Federation. But I digress.

What is the competition format?

Unlike the Olympics or the World Baseball Classic, the Caribbean Series is a club competition, bringing the champions from each country’s baseball league into a short-form tournament. As of yet, the only country to have settled a champion is Curaçao, who will be sending Wildcats KJ74 to Caracas.

Because the number of participants fluctuates every year, there is no set format like for the World Cup. This year, all eight participants will play in a round robin format where each country will play one another one time. After seven games played, the top four teams by winning percentage will advance to a semifinal knockout round, where a champion is determined after a single-elimination playoff.

This competition has been held since 1949 (with a nine-year gap in the 1960s where no tournament was played), and historically teams from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have dominated. The DR leads all countries with 21 titles, with the top two teams overall Tigres de Licey and Águilas Cibaeñas leading all clubs with ten and six titles, respectively. Puerto Rico has taken home the trophy sixteen times, while Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela each have nine, eight, and seven titles respectively.

What makes it fun?

Baseball games just about everywhere in the Caribbean are louder, more festive, and more exciting than games in North America. You can expect fans to arrive to the stadium with musical instruments, pots and pans, airhorns, noisemakers, flags, signs, and their best dance moves to the grooves of the PA system.

And though the level of competition isn’t as good as what you would find in MLB, it’s pretty close, especially since a lot of major leaguers spend their winters playing in these leagues (especially in LIDOM, the Dominican Republic’s growing baseball league). You should expect to see a lot of MLB prospects, fringe major leaguers, and longtime veterans participate in the competition, not for the money or the exposure, but for the love of the game.

These players are not limited to representing their home countries, either. Jorge Alfaro and Yoenis Céspedes, who will be representing Colombia and Cuba respectively in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, both have spent their winters in LIDOM aiming to make it to the Caribbean Series. Longtime stars Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz have been mainstays at the tournament for the last decade, and the Series also plays host to some of MLB’s best future talent. It’s a good time all around!

Where can I watch the Caribbean Series?

Historically, the Caribbean Series has been broadcasted in the United States exclusively in Spanish on ESPN Deportes, though there is no confirmation of that happening this year. SimpleTV is a big sponsor of the event, so there’s a good chance that the games will be broadcasted on that platform at least in Venezuela, if not all of Latin America.

More information about the broadcast should be revealed soon. And if none appears, you can always make your way down to Caracas to watch the games at La Rinconada, a brand new stadium that now stands as the largest baseball venue in South America. Seriously, this place looks beautiful. Go check it out if you can!