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Venezuela built an MLB-ready stadium

With the opening of Estadio Simón Bolívar de La Rinconada, Venezuela has built an MLB-ready stadium in time for the 2023 Caribbean Series.

The Oakland Athletics are looking for a home. They’ve proposed a billion-dollar plan to build a new stadium at Howard Terminal to keep the A’s in Oakland, though that plan increasingly looks jeopardized by local objections. They’re also looking at a billion-dollar construction plan on the Las Vegas strip, becoming the latest team to consider a move to Sin City. Whatever the case may be, MLB wants the A’s in a new stadium. Might they consider Venezuela?

Estadio Simón Bolívar de La Rinconada, or just simply La Rinconada, made its debut at the opening of the Caribbean Series on February 2nd. Baseball stadiums in Latin America are generally small, old, and hastily maintained, but La Rinconada breaks the mold. Seating 40,000 people, La Rinconada is the second-largest baseball stadium in Latin America and larger than six current MLB stadiums. And unlike most Latin American stadiums that offer standing room or bench seating, La Rinconada is an all-seater that features luxury boxes, a 50-meter LED jumbotron, full food service, and quite possibly the best stadium view in the world. Just look at this:

If you plopped this stadium anywhere in the United States, no one would confuse it for something other than a major-league park. It has everything the A’s are looking for in a stadium (minus a roof, especially if they move to Vegas), and I’m sure that fans of the A’s, Angels, and Rays would take this place as their home in a heartbeat. The fact that this stadium lives in Caracas is the only impediment.

But why does this have to be a problem? Why can’t we just put an MLB team in Venezuela?

Venezuela built La Rinconada without MLB’s help

To be clear: We’re not seriously proposing that the A’s, Rays, Angels, or any other MLB team move to Venezuela. The logistical nightmare created by the distance between Caracas and the rest of MLB alone makes this a non-starter, at least for now. Not to mention that the country is experiencing what Human Rights Watch calls a “humanitarian emergency” with its unstable political climate and economic freefall. It’s not a great place to be at the moment, which also begs to ask why the country put resources towards opening a modern baseball stadium in the first place.

But it also makes the accomplishment that much more impressive. That Venezuela has been able to open a jewel of a baseball stadium under such turmoil demonstrates the possibilities of stadium construction across Latin America. If Venezuela can construct an MLB-ready stadium without any of MLB’s help, then what’s to stop Puerto Rico? The Dominican Republic? Mexico?

A modern, close-to-MLB-ready stadium already exists in Mexico City, much closer to MLB’s southern border than La Rinconada. MLB has taken notice, making Estadio Harp Helú part of their international tour this year and hopefully for many years to come. It’s clear that Venezuela wants some of that action, building La Rinconada to host international tournaments like the Caribbean Series and the World Baseball Classic with the hopes of attracting MLB for a regular-season series. But why stop there? Why can’t we dream bigger?

MLB’s future is in Latin America

As we’ve argued here before, MLB would be smart in staking its long-term future in Latin America. The idea has remained out of reach for some time, and in many ways remains out of reach, but a big piece to this puzzle has always been a country’s ability to build a stadium to MLB standards. Both Mexico and Venezuela have now achieved that, and it should inspire the higher-ups at MLB to consider Latin American expansion.

The Caribbean Series will end soon, as will La Rinconada’s coming-out party. But the stadium isn’t going anywhere, standing ready to host the world’s biggest baseball competitions in South America’s most rabid baseball city. MLB’s presence in Venezuela, whether in an exhibition format or regular-season event, would not only mark a huge win for Venezuelan baseball but also a win for MLB expansion. It’s a no-brainer, and now Venezuela has built the venue to host the party.