Peloteras: Venezuelan Women Chase Gold

by Sofía Agostini

The Venezuela Baseball Women’s National Team trains under precarious conditions to keep their spot on the podium in Canada. Photographer Silvana Trevale flies back home to capture them mid-workout.

 

It is the early afternoon of January 12, 2024, and players from the Venezuela Baseball Women’s National Team meet at the Forum de la Guaira, a four-year-old stadium with direct access to the Caribbean Sea and home of the Tiburones de la Guaira.

"Some of the girls had to rush off to work as waitresses at a nearby restaurant, while others had to catch buses back to different states”, says photographer Silvana Trevale. “It was a challenge to gather them all, we were able to confirm the shoot just a week before! They're all remarkable, and so beautiful."

After climbing to the podium in the Women's Baseball World Cup in Japan 2023, Venezuela holds third place in the rankings by the women's branch of the World Confederation of Baseball and Softball (WBSC), trailing behind only Chinese Taipei and Japan, who have kept their place for the last two years. Venezuela’s main goal is to remain at that podium, at whatever cost, at the Summer World Cup in Canada.

Peloteras is one in a series of trips Trevale is making to Venezuela to portray home. Home is the country she no longer lives in, but doesn’t want to leave, fully. She feels it is her responsibility to document certain traditions before the fade: traditional joropo dancers, carnival costume designers, burriquita makers. She also refuses to let the overarching narrative of decay and corruption taint her memory of home. At times, one will find her photographing the faces of working women in environments that are usually assigned to men. It may be women claiming a spot fishing on the shores of Choroni, women picking cacao in the dusk of dawn near the sea in Chuao, or these girls that play professional baseball, scattered all over the country, and defy all odds in international championships. “I’m looking to document resilience.”


“Everybody I spoke to, that knew about Venezuelan baseball, told me that women only played softball. And I thought: that’s weird”, she remembers. Trevale, who lives between Barcelona and London, has a journalist’s nose. She knows a good story when it hasn’t been revealed to her in its entirety. After some digging, Silvana met Guillermo Yaber, the Media Manager of the Venezuelan female team. He is a journalist who used to manage a male basketball team from the Venezuelan Central Coast.

“The league is not stable, more like a tournament than an actual league, where you would have sponsors. Unfortunately, we don’t have any,” says Yaber over the phone.

“[The players] are constantly training on an individual level and they compete in state tournaments, municipality games, and that is how they stay warm,” ads Yaber. “The best leagues in the continent are in Mexico and the US, and Venezuela usually comes after. Worldwide, Japan and China have great leagues.”

Ruclaireth Tovar, 19, a pitcher and third base, says she has been playing since she was 6 years old, and learned to love the game because of her dad, who played softball and used to take her to his games. “I played for a long time with boys, my dad took me to a division called Caribes and presented my case because I was a girl who wanted to play baseball”, Tovar recalls. “Not so much now, but back then this sport was seen as something that only men would play, very macho, so that was a bit of a complicated process. They had to put it to a vote [the parents] until I was finally allowed to start playing with them.” Tovar feels that it gave her a certain advantage to play with boys first, their game is tougher, “but it is the same game at the end of the day”.

Marbel Denys Diaz Linares, 20, is a baseball coach for little leagues, sells sports apparel her family sends from Equator and plays center field. She has been playing since she was two years old, “I started playing baseball because my mom worked next to a field”, Denys recalls, “I kept seeing the children playing. I was running there all the time because the category starts from the age of three onwards, but since I liked it, the teacher just taught me.” She was the only girl but remembers the coach didn’t pay much attention to it.

Marbel still plays with men, it’s a good way to practice, she agrees. But nobody prepared her for three days on a plane when they went to Japan for the IX Women’s Baseball World Cup in 2023. “I logged into any Wi-Fi I could find, but still!”

Ruclaireth Tovar remembers Japan as nothing short of spectacular, “I was very impressed by them [the Japanese team], by the discipline and synchronization they have. Warming up, practicing in every possible way, and seeing them on the field, we are a little more messy. We had the level to compete, unfortunately, we couldn't win that game because of the little things that happened. But the level is there.”

Resources are scarce to travel abroad, and there are still no funds to travel to Canada in the Summer, but Yaber, the journalist and media manager, is hopeful that they will be secured. Uniforms should be taken care of, and plane tickets might be a mix of private and public enterprises chiming in.

Srishna Aranza Arciniega Rojas, 23, is a utility. She was studying to become a dentist at Universidad Central de Venezuela, but had to stop during the pandemic, and hasn’t been able to get back at it. She is working as a coach now. “[What I want most is] to continue with my studies”, she told Silvana. “Continue growing as an athlete, learn more about the world, other countries, cultures, languages. I do this sport because I am passionate about it, I feel like it has been in my blood since I was very little.”

It is pitch dark when Silvana wraps up the photoshoot at the Forum de la Guaira. Some of the players have left, the ones from out of state remain, their moms agreed for them to spend the night in Caracas and take a bus back home the next day. When they are done, Silvana drives them back to Caracas. They talk about Japan, Canada, dreaming of having an iPhone and listen to the radio while they make their way through the belly of the mountain range that separates La Guaira from the capital.




Team Béisbol Venezuela shot in La Guaira State, Venezuela, 2024. Estadio Forum de La Guaira in the Parroquia Macuto • Photography: Silvana Trevale • Photo Assistants: Antonio Chinea and Diego Aquiles • Production Assistant: Maria Dager • Players: Valentina Linares, Mariana Natera, Mariana Valdez, Ruclaireth Tovar, Johelis Colina, Marbel Díaz, Marlyn Yendez, Srishna Arciniega, Alexandra Mendoza and Astrid Rodríguez. Special Thanks to: Team Béisbol Venezuela, Yermain Ávila, Cindy Anzola, Anderson Bastidas, Mario Paiva, Guillermo Yaber,
Humberto Lira, Valery Bentolila y Raymond Fuenmayor • All images © Silvana Trevale.

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