Venezuela Unrest Impacting MLB Players, May Cost Prospects Careers
The unrest in Venezuela is impacting Major League Baseball players who have been lucky enough to make it to Spring Training and may ruin the careers or some top prospects from the nation.
Amid the bloody violence against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Detroit Tigers coach Omar Vizquel, who is also a former player, tweeted out a photo of Venezuelan players on the Tigers holding the country's flag in a sign of solidarity.
That sentiment--along with anger and fear--is being felt around MLB Spring Training complexes.
Fox Sports interviewed many Venezuelans players who made it to Spring Training and were all expectedly preoccupied with their homeland.
Gregor Blanco of the San Francisco Giants said, "I feel angry about being here."
"I see Venezuelans dying," Blanco continued. "I see on the news, the videos, all those people fighting for the country. I have all my family down there. It's been really hard for me, for us. We've got like 12 (Venezuelan players) in camp. We're trying to make a comment. We will make a video to support our guys fighting for freedom. That's really important.
"It's not about politics right now. It's not about sides. It's about how you see everything is getting worse. People are dying without food. They're killing people without reason. All that should stop. Find peace. It's not about taking out the government. It's about having a better country."
Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who pitched a no-hitter last year, said that "his 2-month-old daughter became intoxicated and suffered swelling in her face after tear gas from a street riot entered the family's Caracas apartment."
Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez said that "everybody's nervous':
"It's hard for our family to leave. Not every baseball player has their entire family here (in the US), because our parents are old and want to be in their country. If something happens down there ...
"Miguel Cabrera has his family in Venezuela. Felix Hernandez. We all talk. We all say, 'What are we going to do if something happens? Are we going to have to send a plane there and bring all our family, because it's going to be that way?' We've been keeping an eye on it. Everybody (in my family) is there, except my wife and my kid."
Miguel Cabrera, the country's biggest star, actually "accepted a 'silver bat' award from Maduro in January for his distinguished representation of Venezuela nationally and internationally" and may be in a difficult situation as the crisis unfolds. Cabrera held a "corner of the Venezuelan flag on which "SOS" had been written" in the group photo that Vizquel tweeted.
"It's a tough situation for us, because our country is split," Gonzalez told Fox Sports. "If you say something, they're going to define you as, 'You're on the government side,' or, 'You're on the other side.' You don't want to go either way, because, for us, we try to represent our country the best way. We have the opportunity to play in the big leagues. Anything we do (well) here, everybody feels happy. You don't want to make people unhappy by saying something."
The Colorado Rockies organization has decided it was too dangerous for the team's Venezuelan players to visit their families before the season starts.
"Our young Venezuelan players usually go home for a week to 10 days, to see family, kiss and hug babies, tell their wives goodbye," Jeff Bridich, the team's senior director of player development, said. "We just made the decision two days ago, basically, that we're not taking the chance of sending any Venezuela players back to Venezuela. They have their visas. They're ready to travel. But unfortunately they can't go home and see their families. They can't say goodbye one last time. They're coming right to the US from the D.R."
Former Dodgers player Cesar Izturis thinks the situation in Venezuela could actually end the careers of some some players who won't be able to make it to Spring Training in time because they will be behind in their development as players. Scout Peter Greenberg noted that the"visa issue" is "hurting the chances of guys who signed late."
"The embassy won't take new appointments. We signed a minor-league guy with the Red Sox who was supposed to report Feb. 28: Wilfredo Boscan, a pretty good pitcher, a young guy, pitched well in the Caribbean Series," he said. "He was supposed to compete for a Double-A/Triple-A job. Now they're saying the embassy won't take appointments until after April 1."
The Tigers are one of the few MLB teams that has a full operation in Venezuela. The team has many of the country's top player like Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Anibal Sanchez, and president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said the organization was extremely concerned about the situation and would be closely monitoring it along with the league's Venezuelan players.