Thursday, November 10, 2011
The Precarious Life of Ballplayers in Latin America
Latin America is probably my favorite place in the world to visit. I understand the attraction of Europe as a travel destination with it’s rich history and marvelous mixture of cultures all within short distances of each other. I understand Asia’s enchantment and the exoticism of Africa, but for me, Latin America is that region of the world that interests me the most, and is so close.
I have traveled the streets of Managua and Masaya, Nicaragua. Climbed to the top of Costa Rica volcanoes, boated in Andean lakes in the Patagonian region of Argentina, bicycled on cobblestone streets of Uruguay, sat in the stands of Buenos Aires La Bombonera Stadium watching a riotous championship soccer match. I have watched Mexican League baseball in Mexicali and enjoyed numerous vacation venues in Mexican coastal cities, rode in a cable car to mountain tops in Bariloche and have enjoyed the beaches in Lima, Peru and endured tropical storms in El Salvador.
Without a doubt, cruising through Latin America streets is something I have indulged in and enjoyed. I interact with the people, and there are so many other spots that I have yet to visit that I hope to do so before my life is through. However, the recent kidnappings in these regions of the world have forced me to re-think this crazy travel hobby of mine.
Today, in the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, Washington Nationals 24-year old catcher, Wilson Ramos was kidnapped out of his home by armed gunmen that will be seeking ransom from this athlete’s family. The abduction of high profile athletes or their family members is on the rise in this region of the world, where lawlessness, kidnapping for ransom, and extortion is becoming more and more common. In statistics that are 5 years old, the insurance industry estimated that 7,500 kidnappings a year are reported in Latin America. Unreported abductions would probably double that amount. Kidnapping has become a profitable and serious business.
Ramos at this time is most likely in a remote jungle outpost under heavy guard while negotiations will probably soon be underway to arrange his release in exchange for a multi-million dollar payment. This is an ugly reality that is making travel to this region a precarious business.
In 2004, the mother of Florida Marlin relief pitcher Ugeth Urbina was kidnapped and held captive for 4 months before a successful rescue attempt liberated her. A strategically planned commando raid was successful in freeing her, where one of her captors was killed. This was a rare instance where no ransom was paid. Captors demanded $6 million from Urbina.
Two years ago, the 56-year old mother of journeyman pitcher Victor Zambrano, was kidnapped in a three-day ordeal that also resulted in a strategic rescue that safely returned her to her family. The same couldn’t be said for Victor’s cousin, Richard Mendez Zambrano who the week before was kidnapped and killed.
In 2009, current Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba’s 11-year old son and his brother-in law were kidnaped and released a day later, most likely after a ransom was paid.
This most recent incident with Wilson Ramos has reached the highest levels of government that has gone public and called for Ramos’ return. The AP is reporting that top investigators and law enforcement officials of the Venezuelan government are currently working on the Ramos case. This is the first time that a player was abducted and not a family member. The Venezuelan Winter League has continued on, with a moment of silence at the beginning of each game. Arizona D-Back Melvin Mora requested that the league cancel all games until Ramos’ situation is resolved, but the League decided to press on.
Venezuela League President Jose Grasso is calling the Ramos kidnapping “an isolated event,” but locals know that not to be true. Ball players in the region are now known to hire extensive security for themselves and their families and to change their routine and patterns of travel.
Insurance coverage for kidnappings in the region has become a big business, as well as the security and body guard protection industry. As the region’s law enforcement has weakened in such countries as Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and various Central American countries, celebrities and athletes have seen the need to seek this coverage to protect themselves.
Washington Nationals officials confirmed that they are aware of Ramos’ abduction as they wait helplessly for news. Rumors of Ramos’ death have filtered through social networking sites on the internet, but authorities of the Venezuelan government are saying that those are strictly rumors and nothing more.
The Venezuela periodical, El Periodiquito, reports a neighbor that witnessed the abduction state that Ramos’ family members attempted to follow the abductors as they fled, but were unsuccessful in keeping up with them.
Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Times calls me “brave” for coming up with some positive accomplishments of the McCourt regime stating that I “tried really hard.”
To be completely honest. I started writing that post thinking of a few positives from the McCourt group, and by the time I reached point number 3 or 4 and I started to measure up those accomplishments, I soon realized that I was just adding to the list of negatives that have been well chronicled over the past couple of years.
To those of you that fired off an email to me objecting to my post and thinking that I am in favor of that ownership. Please read my post from January. It was my open letter to Bud Selig, written well before the Commissioner assigned a conservatorship to oversee the business dealing of the Dodgers.