CLEARWATER, Fla. — Baseball is the national sport of Venezuela. The country has sent 428 players to the major leagues — a number topped only by the United States (over 17,000) and the Dominican Republic (794), according to the website Baseball-Reference.
Some of the sport’s biggest stars over the past few decades are from the South American country: Miguel Cabrera, Félix Hernández, Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, José Altuve. Venezuela’s newest star, Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, trails perhaps only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts as the best player in baseball.
Given this rich tradition, many in the sport were astonished that a Venezuelan had not reached the upper ranks of a major league club’s front office until December, when the Phillies promoted Jorge Velandia, a former player who had been working his way up through the organization, to assistant general manager.
“When we were first getting ready to make an announcement and we were talking about it and somehow it came up, that this was going to be the first assistant general manager from Venezuela, I was like: ‘Really? I had no idea,’” said Dave Dombrowski, the Phillies’ president of baseball operations, who has run teams for more than two decades. Dombrowski’s teams featured Venezuelan stars like Magglio Ordóñez, Carlos Guillén, Víctor Martínez and Cabrera but never one of their countryman as highly placed as the 46-year-old Velandia.