CARACAS, Venezuela – For Venezuelans, Major League Baseball's official recognition of Miguel Cabrera as the American League MVP was just a formality.
The truth is he's been their Most Valuable Player since he entered into the league in 2003.
Jose Torres, one of Cabrera's uncles in Venezuela, said he celebrated by setting off fireworks in the working-class neighborhood where the Detroit Tigers' slugger grew up in the city of Maracay.
"When the neighbors heard the fireworks, they came out of their house to celebrate with us," Torres told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Cabrera, baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, also became the first Venezuelan player to be chosen MVP in the major leagues.
Torres said he had fully expected his nephew to win, "but baseball can bring surprises, so while waiting we were a little nervous."
He said Cabrera's mother gave him the news after her son called her from Miami. Torres, who still coaches kids on the field where Cabrera once practiced, said: "It was so exciting. We're very happy."
At a baseball game in Caracas on Thursday night, a crowd of about 15,000 applauded enthusiastically and blew horns after Cabrera's selection was announced over the loudspeakers.
"It's very great joy for Miguel, for Venezuela," said Luisa Tunez, one of the fans at the game, which pitted top rivals Leones against Navegantes in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League.
Tunez recalled Cabrera's struggles with alcohol, saying the award shows he's been able to overcome such troubles. She and other Venezuelans often refer to him affectionately as "Cabrerita," or little Cabrera.
"Cabrerita showed that when we focus on something positive, we're capable of lifting ourselves up and winning," Tunez said.
In a message on his Twitter account, Cabrera said: "This MVP was for the fans in Detroit and Venezuela. Support from God, my family, and teammates made it possible."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.