In four days Maracaibo went from El Rid�culo to lo sublime. El I Rid�culo 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 Rid�culo 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."
El Rid�culo 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 Rid�culo 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 Rid�culo," 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 Rid�culo at Ferreter�a 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 Adri�n 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? 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 Rub�n Mav�rez. "Curves are very dangerous for cars and women," said Quevedo. "Also hitters." Mav�rez, 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 Mav�rez 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.