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COMING UP:Share Opener Variant 1



>> For decades, baseball crazy Venezuela has been sending talented players to America's major leagues. Think future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. But now the country's economy has fallen into such disrepair that acute food shortages leave many of the nation's prospects on the brink of malnutrition.
And that's scaring off big league scouts and the big contracts they bring with them. Reuters correspondent Hugh Bronstein.>> We're in Caracas at a showcase for young talent, showing off their skills for Major League Baseball scouts. This is part of the academy system that Venezuela has developed to bring up young players who wanna end up in Major League Baseball.
But there's a problem. Over the last few years, Venezuela has been in a nutritional crisis in the sense that food has become so expensive as to be out of reach for low income families. I'm told that to buy one kilo of hamburger costs one week's wages. Which of course is zoning out an entire part of the population from even being able to bring their kids up to the age of 13 in good enough shape to get into one of these academies which feed Major League Baseball.
>> One such family that has it's hopes bent on baseball are the Escalonas. Their son Aibert started playing when he was three and a half years old, and says he wants to join the Saint Louis Cardinals some day.>> This is the dream, that our kids get into the big leagues, into a professional baseball academy and become professionals.
That they become great men, athletes, and that they put our name on the only good thing that Venezuela has going for it now, and that's sports.>> For Venezuela's poorest, the live-in baseball schools don't just provide a shot at the big leagues. Kids fortunate enough to get in are fed six times a day, learn English and are even tended to by psychologists hired to ensure they can handle it when and if they sign with a major league team.
A stark contrast to what life would be like for them in the low income barrios where parents often skip meals to feed their children. The crippled economy and rampant crime has pushed 14 out of 18 major league teams to abandon their training facilities here. Only the Cubs, the Tigers, the Rays and the Phillies are still sticking around.
That's a crushing blow to a nation that trails only the Dominican Republic in sending players to the US. There are still about 100 privately owned baseball academies in the country. And increasingly, many see it as one of the only ways left to escape Venezuela's poverty.