Safe at home gains new meaning in Venezuela

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Miguel Montero left his home in Caracas to

report to spring training last week, he left behind the iconic statues in the

Plaza Bolivar and the art of celebrated painter Emilio Boggio.

Also left behind: His bulletproof vehicle and personal bodyguard.

When Arizona hitting coach Don Baylor rides the team bus to a neighboring

Phoenix-area ballpark this spring, none of the passengers will be packing a

9-millimeter handgun for security reasons.

That was not always the case this winter on bus trips around the Venezuelan

League.

The perils of the modern athlete – of anyone of means, actually – are great

in Venezuela, a point that was driven home again this offseason when Washington

catcher Wilson Ramos was abducted and held for ransom. He was freed unharmed

from mountain captivity after a shootout a few days later.

Those who call Venezuela home understand the dangers.

“I love Venezuela. I love my country. I was happy to be there,” said

Diamondbacks catcher Montero, who owns a home in the Phoenix area but returned

to his home country for a month this winter.

 

“Obviously, there is danger everywhere. You just have to deal with it. DWI.”

 

DWI was the message a Navy Seal team delivered to the D-backs to handle the ups

and downs of the baseball season last spring, but it has additional meaning

overseas.

Ramos, a casual acquaintance of Montero, reportedly was simply idling

with friends when he was abducted.

 

Montero, Henry Blanco and Gerardo Parra — the three native Venezuelans on the

D-backs’ 25-man roster — said they took everyday precautions that would seem

excessive in the US while playing this winter — Blanco for Margarita, and

Parra in his home town of Zulia. Baylor managed in Margarita, an island just

off the north coast of Venezuela.

 

They tried to avoid staying out late. Blanco said his self-imposed curfew on

non-game nights was 9 p.m.  Their main concern, of course, is for their

families. Montero, who signed a $5.9 million contract in the offseason, has two

young children, the youngest is just 3 months old. Montero’s bodyguard

accompanied the family every time they left home.

 

“You just try to take precautions,” Montero said. “It (abduction)

happens every day. You just never hear about it. Ballplayers and other people.

There are a lot of people who need to be more secure.”

Venezuela native and new Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is a national

hero in some parts of his country. He and his wife set up the Ozzie Guillen

Foundation to provide assistance for cancer patients there. Yet, even Guillen

spends much of his downtime in his well-equipped home.

 

The D-backs sent a half-dozen minor leagues to teams in Venezuela this winter,

including Barry Enright and Zach Kroenke. General manager Kevin Towers said at

the time of the Ramos kidnapping that the D-backs would rethink their

involvement in Venezuela. There were no further reported incidents, and Towers said

Wednesday the D-backs will not restrict players from going there in the future.

Native players have been the only ones targeted in the past.

 

“You need to be aware of what’s happened in Venezuela over the last few

years,” Towers said. “Players need to know what the risks are. Some

have been there in the past and enjoy going there.

“Being in Venezuela is probably no different than going to Mexico. They just

have to use good judgment, no different than using good judgment here. We’re

not here to baby-sit them. They are grown men. Hopefully they are smart enough

to know it is good to be in your hotel and in bed rather than places you

shouldn’t be.”

 

Baylor, who played winter ball in his early years with Roberto Clemente and the

Alomar brothers among others, went to Venezuela this winter to experience the

fun of managing again. Baylor said he never felt threatened, finding more

aggravation in the haphazard schedules the airlines kept. 

Blanco, who lives 50 miles from Caracas, did not take the extreme measures

that Montero did, but he was cautious, especially because family was

involved.

 

“We know how to act around our own country,” Blanco said. “It’s not

like everywhere you go something bad is going to happen. But stuff

happens, and what can we do? It can happen to anybody.

“You don’t want that to happen to any baseball player, any person, but that

is the type of country we are living in right now.”

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