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Venezuelan Outfielder Booed For Supporting Chavez

Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez, shown here in February 2007, has heard boos for his support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
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Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez, shown here in February 2007, has heard boos for his support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Outfielder Magglio Ordonez made the American League All-Star team six times, first as a member of the Chicago White Sox and now with the Detroit Tigers. But it is his membership on another team — Team Chavez — that has brought the wrath of the Venezuelan fans during the World Baseball Classic.

After every at-bat boos rain down on Ordonez from his team's own supporters, and cheers erupt from Venezuelans in the stands when Ordonez strikes out.

At issue is Ordonez's vocal support of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president known for his commitment to socialism and the glee he takes in criticizing the United States. Other famous Venezuelan players past and present have voiced support for President Chavez, and the fans have cut them a break.

Venezuelan baseball expert Leonte Landino says in the cases of Melvin Mora, Ozzie Guillen, Dave Concepcion and Francisco Rodriguez, fans acknowledge "you can think different from me, but still you're a baseball player and you're representing Venezuela."

But Ordonez is in another category, says Landino, who was working as a producer for ESPN Deportes during the World Baseball Classic games. Ordonez actively campaigned with Chavez, even appearing at softball events held to promote a vote to change the Venezuelan Constitution and eliminate term limits. That effort succeeded, allowing Chavez to run for re-election again in 2012.

That Chavez won the vote indicates that he still enjoys some measure of popularity within Venezuela. But the fans who are wealthy enough to travel to games or who already live in the U.S. are disproportionately anti-Chavez, which is another strike against Ordonez.

"I have nothing against [the fans]," Ordonez said, but adding, "I don't think they're well-informed."

When Chavez himself was informed of fan reaction, he called it shameful. The president who as a youth dreamed of a career as a pitcher called on all Venezuelans to support Ordonez with the words "Viva Magglio and all our patriots."

While the Venezuelan team has advanced to the tournament semi-finals, Ordonez is looking like he can use whatever support he can get. The former batting champion has only three hits in 20 at-bats in the tournament thus far.

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