Venezuelan turmoil hits close to home for ballplayers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The political unrest in Venezuela also is being felt 3,300 miles northwest. As protestors occupy in the streets of Caracas and other major cities, nine native sons gathered for a somber picture outside Salt River Fields the other day, promoting hope.
"Paz" read a poster held by Henry Blanco, a sign that also had a hand-colored Venezuelan flag of yellow, blue and red. Gerardo Parra's poster said simply: #Pray for Venezuela. It also included a flag drawn by hand.
Martin Prado and Colorado right-hander Jhoulys Chacin helped hold aloft a cloth flag, the eight stars in the blue field representing the country's eight provinces. Several of those provinces are in turmoil because of devaluation of the currency and a dislike, especially among students, of president Nicolas Maduro, who replaced Hugo Chavez after Chavez died last year.
Players fear for family members. D-backs catcher Miguel Montero calls home every day to check on his mother and extended family.
"Obviously I'm concerned, because I see a lot of people in the street dying," said Montero, who was raised in Caracas but has lived in Arizona the last three years.
Montero's mother spent the offseason in Arizona but returned to her home when spring training began, and almost all of Montero's relatives lives in Caracas, the seat of the government and his hometown. Blanco and Parra also have relatives in the country. Recent reports indicated that 13 people have died, 150 have been injured and more than 500 have been arrested during the disturbance that began two weeks ago, just about when spring training opened.
Demonstrators erected barricades in Caracas on Monday, closing some of the main streets, and street fires also have been set, forcing many citizens to remain indoors. The El Universial newspaper published an interactive map of locations where protestors have been killed.
"I have family down there, pretty much my whole family. Mom. Sister. Niece. It's just scary," Montero said. "I see all the news, all the pictures and all the things that are happening. And they are really happening. You want that over. You want everything to stop. You hope it gets better."
Venezuelan athletes, especially baseball players, have been the targets of ransom in recent years. Washington catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped at gunpoint from his mother's home in Valencia in November 2011 before being rescued by police airlift. Pitcher Victor Zambrano's mother was kidnapped and held for three days before being released in 2009.
Montero has great affection for his home country, but he admits the mood makes him leery.
"It is scary for us to go. I don't even go, because I have two little ones," he said, referring to his children. "I don't want to go down there.
"I'm scared of getting robbed. I'm scared of getting killed. I'm scared of the insecurity down there. I don't want to go down there just to stay home. If I go there, I want to go out with my family and my friends and go different places and enjoy my time. And I can't really do that.
"Sometimes people in Venezuela say these guys (players) never come here. Well, we have a reason why we don't go down there, because we don't want to, god forbid, if something would ever happen."
Montero and the others have considered moving their relatives to the U.S., but that can be an involved process.
"I would love to bring them over here to live here, but it is hard," he said. "The paperwork to be a resident to stay here is not as easy as it looks."
So for the time being, Montero continues to stay in touch while wishing for a quick end to the strife.
"I call them every day to see how they are," he said. "They are doing fine. The area is not as dangerous, but it is just scary."