Baseball fans don’t often think of umpires as the star of the show, but in the Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional (LVBP) one umpire certainly stands out as a celebrity in his own right.
El Jefe (“The Chief”) goes by the nickname Moñoño. He is a Venezuelan baseball legend. We don’t know how it exactly he became to most beloved umpire in this country, but watching him is pure joy and pure entertainment. Moñoño knows everybody and everybody loves Moñoño.
As we were crossing a bridge on our way to the ballpark in Caracas, a fan driving along the busy highway slowed his car down to yell, “Moñoño, Moñoño!!” Never mind the traffic along the highway, this fan yelled until he got a wave and a smile from El Jefe.
Walking along the streets of Valencia, a four year old girl hand-in-hand with her father began waving excitedly while saying, “Ump-pire, Ump-pire!” at the sight of Moñoño.
In every city we visit, fans jump at the chance to get a photo with Moñoño and he always stops to chat with fans of all ages, telling jokes and doing what he does–making people laugh.
On the field, it’s even better as if his presence commands respect. Players don’t say a word, even at the most questionable calls. And he always gives the fans something to cheer about.
I’ve seen him dance ever so slightly to the lively Latin music played in-between innings….I’ve seen him sign autographs for fans in-between innings and pose for quick a picture…and every media outlet attempts to get a pre-game interview with Moñoño.
Fans down here don’t take their baseball lightly. Baseball is life. If a favorite team blows a game, the “faithful” wait by the bus, so they can curse and yell at their team. It’s not uncommon for fights to break out in the stands between fans of rival teams. And celebrations are even more interesting. When the favorite team scores a run, beer cups, with the beer still in them, are launched into the air. Freebies often also go sailing through the night sky.
One night, Magallanes, the Yankees of the LVBP, took the lead in a big game that sent fans into a frenzy. A local company had given out free hand fans as a gate giveaway. Well, the fans threw the fans straight onto the field. The announcers made a nice announcement asking fans to refrain from throwing anything while the game was in play. The reckless crowd didn’t even faze Moñoño. When the announcement was over, in grand fashion, he walked towards foul territory along the third base line, puffed his chest then reached his right arm to call the grounds crew to attention, he then dramatically pointed along the grassy area where most of the trash had landed, then with his left and right arms he swiftly motioned for it all to be thrown right back at the fans. The grounds crew quickly carried out his nonverbal orders then the game resumed play.
With over two decades in the LVBP, Moñoño is Venezuelan baseball’s top authority. A legend.